COEYMANS — While the assembly and state senate seats representing Coeymans and Ravena are both up for grabs, along with a number of state-level races, including governor, on the local level there is only a single race this Election Day — the battle for Coeymans town justice.
Two candidates will be on the ballot come Nov. 6 — incumbent Kevin Reilly, who will be running on the Independent and Conservative party lines, and challenger Rocco Persico, who will be on the Democratic line.
For the past 22 years, incumbent Kevin Reilly has been both a town and village justice in Coeymans and Ravena. In his professional career he started out with Blue Circle Cement, and eventually retired from Lafarge, which took over the plant, after 38 years of employment.
He said he takes his position of town justice to heart.
“Being a judge is not a job — it’s a position your peers elected you to,” Reilly said. “I never considered it a job. It’s a position, and a position of honor.”
“To me, it was always about giving something back, and being able to help people and make a difference in someone’s life,” Reilly continued. “A judge has enormous power — you have the ability to take away someone’s freedom and at times you have to do that. When you take away freedom, you have to be sure the person is in need of incarceration, but sometimes there are other things you can do.”
As an example, Reilly pointed to other ways of dealing with some charges. Sometimes, he said, drug treatment is the better option. And for charges such as marijuana possession, Reilly feels mandating community service can be a better choice compared to hefty fines or jail time. Sometimes, he added, that service can have a wider benefit as well.
“We are very fortunate in the village of Ravena to have a young man who works with the village highway department who takes young men who receive community service and they do jobs like scrape down fire hydrants, trim grass, do minor landscaping around the village,” Reilly explained. “That has worked quite well, and it is something where the village gets something out of it, too.”
He said requiring community service in lieu of harsher sentencing helps both the young person and their families, as drug convictions can impact other issues, such as college loans taken out by families.
Some of the most frequent issues he has handled as a town justice have been DWIs, or drunken driving.
“DWI is a very prevalent problem,” Reilly said. “Sometimes it makes up a third or more of our agenda.”
But the domestic violence cases can be the most difficult.
“Domestic violence cases are toughest because you are dealing with families, sometimes there are kids involved, and sometimes they have to be separated, so those are difficult cases to deal with,” according to Reilly.
He said one of the most important requirements of the job is being on call at all times.
“We are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Reilly said. “We are not large enough to have a holding cell, so sometimes you have to come out in the middle of the night. It’s a demanding job at times, but it’s one I really enjoy, and if I can help just one individual, that makes it all worthwhile.”
Challenging the incumbent on the ballot will be Rocco Persico, who was a village trustee for Ravena for eight years. He left the position roughly five years ago.
Persico is retired now, but has many years of experience working in the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Central School District.
“I was a school psychologist for 31 years — 29 years with the RCS school district,” Persico said.
He retired from that position in April of 2017.
After his retirement from his professional life and having taken a few years off after leaving the village board, Persico said he is hoping the justice position will be his next step.
“Being a town justice is something I’ve been interested in for a long time,” Persico said. “I knew it was something where availability is very important, and now that I am retired, I am available to dedicate the time that the position deserves.”
While he was a school psychologist for RCS and in school administration, Persico said he also served as chair of the district’s committee on special education. He said that post in particular gave him a solid legal grounding that would prove useful in the justice position.
“That role has a lot of legal ramifications — you are dealing with laws and other agencies, networking with lawyers, doctors and agencies. It is making decisions on what is best for kids in the context of the law, so in many ways it is like being a judge,” Persico said.
He said availability is key to the town justice post.
“I am going to show up when the calls are made. When calls come in from police in the middle of the night, I will be available to come down and take care of what needs to be taken care of,” Persico said. “I have a longstanding relationship with this community in trying to look out for the good of the families and the community at large, serving families’ children as a school psychologist, and working as a village trustee for the good of all.”
Persico is a member of the Knights of Columbus, coached golf at the high school for roughly 10 years, and was a coach in Little League for about eight years. He was also a member of the board of the New York State School Psychologists Association.
Election Day will be Tuesday, Nov. 6.