MASSENA — An incumbent and a newcomer hope to take two Massena Town Council seats in the Nov. 5 election.
Democrats Melanie Cunningham and Loren Fountaine will be on the ballot. Mrs. Cunningham is seeking reelection, and Mr. Fountaine is making his first run for the town council. Councilman Thomas C. Miller is not seeking reelection.
Susan Bellor and Robert Elsner are the Republican candidates for the two seats and will be profiled in a separate story.
Mrs. Cunningham, the first woman to serve on the town council, said she wants to continue the work that she has been involved in since first arriving on the board.
“I like to be involved. I feel that if you’re not involved, you cannot make things happen. You cannot change things or move things forward if they need to be. I just want to keep moving Massena in the right direction in a positive way, to help reinvent Massena. It’s a process that has to be gone through. I’m willing to continue pushing and moving in the right direction,” she said.
Mrs. Cunningham said, as things change in Massena, so has her life over the years. She and her husband, Robert, worked at GM Powertrain and were both let go in 2009 with the plant’s closure. She had worked as a team leader, production worker and then benefit representatives, taking care of about 1,000 members and their families.
“They walked in one day and said, ‘You’re done.’ I did not receive any buyout money from GM. My husband was in the same boat. We had to walk in the door and tell our kid we had no job,” she said.
But, like the town of Massena is doing, Mrs. Cunningham reinvented herself, heading back to college to earn a nursing degree after being out of school for 20 years. She currently serves as elementary nurse for the Salmon River Central School District.
“It was a hard thing, but it was very gratifying,” she said.
Mrs. Cunningham, the mother of five children, is the first person from the area to sit on the New York State Professional Health Council, which deals with health issues across the state. She is a member of the Negotiation Team at Salmon River, and also serves as chair of the district’s Health and Safety Team.
“Every day with my job, I see what families are faced with here in Massena, socially and economically. I try to hook them up with agencies that are here to provide services for the needy,” she said.
She also serves as the town’s liaison to the Massena Rescue Squad, Massena Public Library and Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena.
As a member of the Massena Town Council, Mrs. Cunningham said she’s open and approachable, and does her homework before making any decisions.
“I do see both sides of a lot of issues. I like to find information on it and I do research. I like to know the facts,” she said.
If reelected, Mrs. Cunningham said she would like to continue focusing on job opportunities and economic development.
“We need to have living wage jobs. We need to create a business atmosphere and encourage investment. We are good, hard-working people here,” she said.
Mr. Fountaine, who lives in Massena with his wife and has two children, is running for the town council for the first time. He is also serving his second term on the Massena Central School Board of Education. During his tenure on the school board, there were turbulent times that eventually ended with the hiring of a new superintendent.
“It’s always been a plan of mine to jump into politics. My father (Larry Fountaine) kind of instilled in me the importance of being involved in the community,” he said.
“I consider the school board to be a political office. My first foray into public office was the school board in 2011. For me, it was more about bringing trust back to the school community. I see some similarities in this race. For reasons that may or may not be accurate, the board has lost a lot of trust because of the struggle between the town board and hospital board and the future of the hospital. I helped restore trust in the school district.”
Mr. Fountaine taught music in the Lisbon and St. Lawrence school districts and currently serves as a labor relations specialist with New York State United Teachers, a position he began in 2009. He serves as chairman of the Massena Central School District’s Finance Committee.
“Our programs are growing. We’re getting a lot of bang for our bucks. We’ve done a good job of providing services and keeping taxes down,” he said.
Because of his “experience in bringing two parties together,” Mr. Fountaine said voters should select him for a term on the town council. He said he’ll research each issue before making any decisions.
“I’m not a partisan person. We need to work together to make it successful,” he said.
One of his priorities is to “find a way to bring living wages back to Massena. It really is about how we create a sustained economy in Massena. We have to be careful about saying all jobs are great jobs. It’s a lack of living wage jobs. People have two jobs and are still living in poverty. That’s bad for families.”
Another long-term goal is to provide some type of adult education so residents can get the skills they need to be competitive in the work force.
“We have to find a way to help those people who want to get skills in an affordable manner. Sometimes people don’t have the skills to be able to fill the jobs that are already there in the community,” Mr. Fountaine said.
Massena also needs to continue working to make itself “business-friendly,” he said. “I really want to see us having economic growth. I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
With more jobs locally, that could mean more students stay in the area after graduation.
“If our children in Massena leave to be educated, they leave and don’t come back,” Mr. Fountaine said.
Among the endorsements Mrs. Cunningham and Mr. Fountaine have received are from the Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence Central Trades and Labor Council, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Locals 2032 and 1249, United Steelworkers Local 420-A, New York State Nurses Association and Civil Services Employees Association Local 887 at Massena Memorial Hospital.