Write-in candidate challenges Tupper Lake village trustees

TUPPER LAKE – Four days before Election Day, Tupper Lake resident John LaMora told the Enterprise he is mounting a write-in campaign to become a village trustee.

LaMora, a Democrat who isn’t on the ballot, said Friday afternoon he is challenging Rick Donah and Leon LeBlanc for their two-year seats, which are expiring. Both incumbents are running for re-election on the Republican, Conservative and Independence party lines.

All three candidates support the Adirondack Club and Resort project, but some view it as more essential to the area than others. The Enterprise asked each candidate about the ACR, bringing in new businesses and what the future holds for the area.

Rick Donah

Donah is completing his first term as village trustee, and he said he’d like to continue moving Tupper Lake forward. He said the ACR will give the area the boost it needs.

“Private-sector jobs are critical to the growth of Tupper Lake, and real estate development is key to our economy.”

Donah said he’d like to help transition Big Tupper into a four-season resort and outdoor recreation center. He also said he’d like to see a hotel complex, possibly one with an indoor water park, come to the area.

To make that and other big projects happen, Donah said towns and villages here should take a regional approach.

“The status quo for Tupper Lake is not acceptable,” Donah said. “I would like to serve the village and the community of Tupper Lake by working more closely with elected officials in the town, county and state level, and move forward on these huge issues that are keeping us in check. Unfortunately, we seem to operate in these little pockets. We’re separated, not only geographically, but culturally.”

Donah said that cooperation could help the region overcome some of the difficulties faced in every Adirondack town.

“We need to consolidate and reform state agencies,” Donah said. “They won’t allow us to build a resort; they won’t allow us to build a recreational trail. Any private investor who sees that amount of difficulty is going to look elsewhere.”

Donah said the manufacture of wood products, sustainable energy and outdoor recreation can help Tupper Lake. He’d also like to see a more tech-savvy Tupper.

“I’d love to see technology-related industries here,” Donah said. “You can work from the Adirondacks with the proper broadband connections, which Tupper Lake now has. We can be an outpost for small technology companies.”

To boost technology, Donah said Tupper Lake should explore working with nearby colleges like Paul Smith’s and North Country to create satellite campuses.

“In order for someone to want to invest in a community, they have to see a community that is willing to move forward and help itself,” Donah said. “The conversation has to move beyond, ‘We have a beautiful place to live.'”

Donah acknowledged that the area’s natural beauty is a draw. To that end, he’s been actively working to attract snowmobilers to Tupper Lake. That’s why he supports converting the Remsen-Lake Placid rail corridor to a multi-use recreational trail.

“The current situation is not acceptable,” Donah said. “Tupper Lake has no train service, and we’re surrounded by 60 miles of dangerous and deteriorated railroad tracks. If they’re not going to fix them, rip them up.”

Donah said snowmobiling isn’t the only reason he sponsored a resolution last month, which passed by a 3-2 vote, to support tearing up the tracks. A trail would also draw some of the summer bicycle traffic from Fish Creek and Rollins Pond.

Donah said conflict holds back Tupper Lake the most.

“I think Tupper Lake has a reputation of fighting amongst itself as much as it fights with the outside world,” Donah said. “We need to work together to move Tupper Lake forward.”

John LaMora

Although he wasn’t officially endorsed by the Democratic caucus here, LaMora said he decided to run as a write-in candidate for village trustee because Tupper Lake needs a new outlook.

LaMora was raised in Saranac Lake and also lived in Lake Placid, which he said could help bring a different perspective to the village board.

“Tupper Lake doesn’t have to die; it doesn’t have to become a ghost town,” LaMora said. “It just needs to have a new outlook for the future instead of living in the past.”

LaMora said the ACR is a great start for Tupper Lake, but he doesn’t think the village should rely solely on that. He said a big-box store like Target or Walmart should be encouraged to move into the area.

“What I’ve seen is they make it hard for businesses to come here,” LaMora said. “Instead, we should be saying, ‘We have this space for you. Come check it out.'”

Advertising is a way to begin that conversation, and LaMora doesn’t think the village does that effectively. He said Tupper Lake should advertise in publications beyond its own boundaries to attract potential businesses.

“We need to put that knowledge out there that we might have grants available to help people start a business,” LaMora said. “I mean, I have a storefront, and I didn’t know until the steakhouse closed up that there was even a capital grant out there to start a business.”

LaMora agreed with Donah that the tracks along the Remsen-Lake Placid corridor should be removed and replaced with a multi-use recreational trail.

“I have a lot of friends down south, in New York, that snowmobile,” Lamora said. “We open up these tracks, there will be so many of these snowmobile clubs that will come up here and ride these tracks.”

LaMora said the ballpark is a great asset to the area, and added that events like baseball or softball tournaments would be a huge summertime draw to the area. He added that there are other missed opportunities.

“We don’t have the Northern Firefighters Convention up here anymore because our track isn’t updated, and that’s a great loss,” LaMora said. “Call the Lake Placid Firefighters Panthers (drill team). They bring in money having that track there.”

LaMora also said village board members have dragged their feet on the shared fire and police building.

“They need to start building,” LaMora said. “I understand that they promised everyone they wouldn’t build until they got that money, but do a press conference and apologize. Say, ‘We didn’t get that money but we still want to build.’ They felt they had $1.3 million in their pocket that wasn’t guaranteed.”

He added that costs associated with building are always going up, so in essence the village will spend more money the longer it waits to break ground.

LaMora said transparency is an issue with the village here, and that causes unnecessary problems.

“I’m a firm believer of not letting rumors start,” LaMora said. “Let it lie where it’s going to lie, but put it out there.”

Leon LeBlanc

LeBlanc was first elected to the village board in 2008, but he has been involved with the community here for 35 years. He said he is certain the ACR will happen and that it is local government’s job to help move that project forward.

Once it happens, LeBlanc said more good things will come to Tupper Lake.

“The mountain project is a start, and there will be followers that will come in,” LeBlanc said. “Once the businesses start to move, it will create more jobs, but we have to have a start.”

LeBlanc said he has always been in favor of a rails-and-trails approach to the Remsen-Lake Placid corridor. He added that even without the ACR, an influx of snowmobilers could have the same effect of generating more business in the area.

“I would like to see the unit management plan opened up and see the DOT and DEC review it and give us a better direction on which way to go,” LeBlanc said. “If they decide to tear up the tracks, I’m behind it 100 percent. Whoever comes forward with the best solution has my support.”

LeBlanc praised the job chamber of commerce Director Michelle Clement is doing. He also applauded the cross-country ski trails at the Tupper Lake Country Club.

“If people start to come in, our rates in our hotels are very reasonable, and we have good restaurants,” LeBlanc said.

To convince a business owner move to the area, LeBlanc said he’d stress Tupper Lake’s low tax base and strong community spirit. Other than that, he pointed to the ACR and encouraging snowmobilers to frequent the area as the saving graces for business here.

“Somebody has to step forward and start to bring businesses in here, and I don’t know how it’s done” LeBlanc said. “I don’t have the answer to that.”

LeBlanc said summertime events were top-notch this year, but he did make a suggestion for the chamber.

“We need to have more young blood on that board (chamber of commerce),” LeBlanc said. “The young people that are coming in now are bringing in great ideas for this area.”