A little more than a month stands between now and Petersburg’s municipal election, and the competition is fierce. Most of the races up and down the list are contested — including the one for Borough Assembly. The terms of assembly members Jeff Meucci and Dave Kensinger are ending, with four in the running for those spots. 

As KFSK’s Shelby Herbert reports, Meucci is stepping up to the plate again, and Kensinger is stepping back. 

Jeff Meucci began his career in local government long before Petersburg was even a Borough. He started out in Parks and Recreation, then sat on City Council from 1990 to 95, and was the mayor from 95 to 99. He said he’s throwing his name in the hat again out of his sheer love for small town politics — and because, as a retiree, he has a lot of time on his hands. 

“It’s a lot of work from time to time — a lot of reading, and a lot of contacting people,” said Meucci. “I kinda like the process of how policy works working with borough staff and working with community members who would like to see things done — whether it’s trails or housing or childcare.”

Meucci likes the balance and diversity of ideas spread across the assembly at present. But, he said, there are a lot of big financial questions in front of them. 

“I think we’re in a very solid financial situation in town — but that’s not always how it’s going to be,” said Meucci. “I think we have to have a little bit of vision to look three to five years down to line up about what impacts some of the spending that we’re having.”

Meucci hopes to be part of that discussion for the next three years. If he gets reelected, he wants to hold the line in support of a controversial new hospital project — but also keep working to assuage its critics. 

“We have to work hand in hand with the hospital board to make sure we help them with the ideas that they’ve got putting forward — and still ask the hard questions about finances,” said Meucci. “We hear from the neighbors of where the new hospital is going to go, and I think it’s important to see what we can do to mitigate some of their concerns.”

It’s also on Meucci’s agenda to advance collaboration between the Borough and the local Tribal government, Petersburg Indian Association.

“Their president, Chris Morrison, is very proactive and leading them in a good direction,” said Meucci. “I think there should be an opportunity for both of those governments to sit down and talk about what they have in common and see what they like to work on. And, and for the Bureau to understand more what’s important to the Tribal members of the community.” 

Meucci wants to stick around to help implement the protocols set forth by APEI, which is concluding a review of the Borough’s safety and hiring practices. He also sits on the Borough’s housing task force and wants to continue working to identify housing needs in the community. 

Meucci’s colleague on the housing task force, Dave Kensinger, has decided to bow out. He said it’s time for some new blood.

“I think it’s time for a younger set of people to start getting involved in local government,” said Kensinger. “I’m going to be 69 next month, and I’m a strong believer that we need to have more women and younger people on the assembly, and in all of our boards and commissions.”

Aside from Meucci, there are three other contenders for Assembly: Rob Schwartz, Rick Perkins, and former assembly member Jeigh Stanton Gregor. Kensinger isn’t shy about his preferences for a potential successor. 

“Jeigh’s the one who actually — I won’t say strong arm — but kind of convinced me that I needed to run for assembly three years ago,” said Kensinger.

Now, Kensinger wants to return that encouragement to Stanton Gregor, who lost his assembly seat in last year’s election. Kensinger said they don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but they agree on his two biggest priorities: building the new hospital, and maintaining adequate funding for Petersburg’s School District.

“I feel that if we don’t do those two things, we’re going to have a lot of problems,” said Kensinger.

With two assembly meetings left to go before Election Day, there’s one thing Kensinger wants to accomplish before he leaves. His swan song is raising the minimum age for those who can operate Borough vehicles.

“[It would mean] anybody under the age of 25 cannot drive a Borough vehicle — unless they have a CDL or commercial driver’s license or chauffeur’s license,” said Kensinger. “They must have a safety training program, if they want to have people under the age of 25 driving. It’s just a real common sense ordinance.”

He said a vehicular tragedy that claimed the lives of two Borough employees in 2016 spurred the idea for the ordinance.

“I don’t really care to revisit that accident because it’s been litigated in court for seven years,” said Kensinger. “But what I do think: the community wants to know this is fostering a culture of safety. I think if we had had that, that accident might not have happened. I don’t want to have something horrible like that happen ten, 15 years from now, when we’re all long gone.”

At present, the only community members running for the two open assembly seats are Jeff Meucci, Rob Schwartz, Rick Perkins, and Jeigh Stanton Gregor. Voters can’t write in candidates for the assembly race, but the deadline to submit letters of intent for write-in candidates for other boards and commissions is Tuesday, September 29th, at 4:30 p.m. Voter registration closes this Sunday, September 3rd.