The town of Chili has almost classically developed a "negative capability." The town's politics are to a large extent defined by something that's not there, a plan that didn't happen. The non-entity is the Chili Thruway exit, which, had it become a reality, would have brought heavy traffic onto Route 259 in the southern part of the town.
The idea of building the exit goes back decades. But more recently, says Chili-based County Legislator Tracy Logel, the catalyst was the Genesee Country Museum in Mumford, south of the Thruway. The museum, she says, wanted an easier way for visitors to get there. She also figures the exit would have benefited communities like Mumford and Geneseo more than Chili.
The exit was put on permanent hold a while back, after public opposition mounted and an official study pulled the rug out from under various proponents. But the town is still divided along the fault lines the controversy opened up. In political terms, the controversy is still haunting Chili Supervisor Steve Hendershott. He supported the exit to boost economic development within the town. Chili Democratic Party activist Jason Elliotto was one of his opponents then. Today Elliotto's seeking the supervisor post for himself.
Elliotto's got the Democratic Party nomination sewn up, but he recently lost a highly publicized court battle over his claim to run for the Independence Party line. (The matter was complicated by charges of conflicts of interest concerning Independence Party chair Don Porto and Hendershott, who both are fans of wind-energy development.)
But Elliotto may not be running against Hendershott. It will all depend on the outcome of two party primaries:
• George J. Bartnett, a semi-retired businessman, is running against Hendershott for the Conservative Party line.
• Tracy Logel is battling Hendershott for the Republican Party line.
Hendershott is the party's designated candidate in both contests. But primaries have been known to produce upsets.
Hendershott didn't return our calls for comment. But his opponents in the primary aren't shy about addressing the issues and expressing their hopes.
According to Logel, open government, or rather Hendershott's aversion to it, is the key issue. "He claims he's for [it], but he's not," she says. "He's prevented the taxpayers from having access to their government."
How so? Logel cites a procedural detail: Hendershott, she says, changed the town board's regular meeting time from 7 to 6 p.m. (Most other town government meetings still begin at 7 p.m. or later, according to the town's official calendars.) This shift, says Logel, makes it difficult for many working people to get to these important meetings on time, or at all. And those who would like to speak at the meeting, she says, must get there by 5:45 p.m. --- another disincentive. She adds that Hendershott once rescheduled a board meeting for 6:30 a.m.; the early hour, she says, prompted people to protest by showing up in pajamas and housecoats.
Other issues? Logel raises concerns about planning and development.
"We have a master plan, but there seem to be so many deviations," she says. Under Hendershott, she says, "Chili looks like it's becoming a developer's paradise --- and a citizen's jail." (On that last point: Logel says current town rules keep people from riding motorcycles on the their own acreage, and she's impatient, too, with certain restrictions on lawn signs.) "We have to stop and smell the flowers," Logel says. "I don't want another Ridge Road [here]. With planning and proper development, we could develop a proper, I don't want to say, ambience." She says Chili has to deal with its lack of a town center, as well --- an issue made more challenging by the fact that Chili is divided into several school districts.
Some people recall that Logel supported the Thruway exit, however, and that the exit could have brought inappropriate development to town. But Logel doesn't remember it that way. "I supported a study," she says emphatically. Moreover, she says, the study eventually bore out what the opposition and she herself believed: that the exit wasn't necessary.
Logel defends the deliberative process, even though it took some time to reach a conclusion about the exit. "Studies do work," she says.
George Bartnett is concerned that his own party doesn't work, at least not in the way it approaches town politics.
Bartnett filed for a primary to pull the Conservative Party endorsement away from designated Conservative standard-bearer Hendershott. He doesn't think too highly of Hendershott --- but he seems almost more upset with Tom Cook, the Monroe County Conservative Party leader. Cook, says Bartnett, "handpicked the Conservative candidates without input from Conservatives in the town of Chili... The first, most important thing for Conservatives is home rule. Cook took that away from us." Bartnett adds the selection process was changed on Hendershott's watch. (Cook didn't return a call for comment.)
Nor is Bartnett too happy with Chili's economic state under Hendershott. The supervisor, he says, is taking credit for bringing in new businesses like Northern Soy. (The soy foods company recently moved there from a city location). "He fails to mention the 10 to 15 companies that have left Chili," says Bartnett, adding his impression that many new businesses there "are pizza parlors."
Does Bartnett have any other reasons for running? "Honesty, integrity, and openness," he says. "This administration has a special dictionary. When you look up open, it says 'secret.'"
Primary elections will be held for several elected offices in Monroe County on September 9. To vote in a town primary, you must be a registered member of the political party holding the election and a town resident. Polling hours will be noon to 9 p.m. Information: Monroe County Board of Elections, 428-4550 (TDD: 428-2390).