For the first time in village history, Geneseo has elected two students to the Village Board of Trustees. Spanish major freshman Mary Rutigliano and political science and history double major junior Matthew Cook—who each ran under on an independent ticket—beat Republican Leslie Carson, incumbent Democrat Bob Wilcox and Democrat Phil Jones with votes totaling 685 and 553 respectively.
Political science major senior Sean Perry and biochemistry major junior Sam Larkin managed both campaigns alongside approximately eight student volunteers who acted as agents in distributing and collecting absentee ballot forms to students across campus. The March 15 election fell during Geneseo’s spring break, during which many students traveled away from campus.
“We successfully changed the electorate of who was going to vote in this election,” Perry said. “We knew exactly what we needed to win—we knew we needed to mobilize the student vote.”
The influx of absentee voter ballots pushed the student candidates to the top of the polls, but both received votes in person on Election Day as well. Rutigliano added 173 to her count and Cook received 55.
Although the campaigns catered largely to students, both Rutigliano and Cook went door-to-door throughout the Village, canvassing to townspeople directly in order to further connect with the community.
“Our whole idea was to bring together two parts of Geneseo. Geneseo has a high ceiling and we really want to make it the best that it can be,” Cook said. “Both parts separately are great, but when you put them together, who knows what could be done?”
A Geneseo native, Rutigliano emphasized that canvassing helped her and Cook address the concerns of the community regarding their commitment to the positions. Village Trustees serve four-year terms and both have said they plan on fulfilling those duties.
Mayor Richard Hatheway appeared to respond positively to the election of two Geneseo students. “These people were elected by the voters of Geneseo and we look forward to working with them,” he said in a phone interview.
Wilcox said he hopes it “doesn’t change anything at all,” although he noted that this election could potentially change the dynamic of local governments across the state where SUNY campuses could dominate those electorates.
“I have no idea how things will go,” he said in a phone interview. “But I hope the students stick with it. I hope it works out well.”
Rutigliano and Cook will be sworn into office on April 4. Both plan to address issues regarding “brain drain” over the next few weeks, combating Geneseo’s consistent failure to attract new residents and keep recently graduated students in the Village. Cook also expressed a desire to continue a conversation regarding the Social Host Law and its potential danger to students without a Good Samaritan clause.
Wilcox expressed concern that the law dominated students’ reasoning behind their support for Rutigliano and Cook and that the vast majority “don’t care” about other aspects of the local government. His fear extends to the candidates’ motivations as well.
“I’m not mocking or against the students,” he said. “It just has to do with experience.”
Cook remarked that no matter the election result, four of the five people were going to be new at legislating.
“The only person without this problem would have been Bob Wilcox,” he said. “You don’t have to be an expert on everything, but you have to do your research, your homework and talk to people to see what they want. That’s how you make your decisions and move forwards.”
The concern regarding students’ incentive to vote sparked criticism from both Wilcox and residents of the Village. The Livingston County News reported that Judy Devries, a first-time voter as a Geneseo newcomer, questioned, “Do [the students who voted with absentee ballots] have the right to vote here? Most of them are probably on their parents’ tax return and they really should be registering where they live. I question the legality of their votes.”
Rutigliano addressed the concerns head on, explaining that students are a part of the community, spending as much time here as a senior citizen who winters in the west or Florida.
“[The students] spend their money here. They make their decisions here. They bring a lot to the Geneseo community,” she said. “I think that makes them just as legitimate as a member of the community [as a resident]. That’s the law and if you have a problem with the law, talk about that, not how students aren’t legitimate.”
Both Trustees acknowledged the importance of keeping students politically involved in the future, encouraging the establishment of a student voice in the local government. “Hopefully, in the long term, we can organize where voting locally is a thing that Geneseo students just do,” Rutigliano said.
Other election results include incumbent Republican Bradley Janson’s win against Bill Brennan for Village Justice. Johnson received 409 votes to Brennan’s 387.