Above: Matthew Avitabile coordinating volunteers at the Middleburgh Municipal Offices five days after Tropical Storm Irene flooded Main Street Middleburgh in Schoharie County. Photo by Marty Rosen for the Watershed Post.
A 25-year-old who earned his community's trust during Tropical Storm Irene ousted the sitting mayor in the Village of Middleburgh last night in one of the most heated races of the Catskills village election season.
After last fall's flood, Matthew Avitabile -- then a village trustee -- coordinated a massive volunteer effort to help his neighbors rebuild. For ten days, he was a fixture at the village offices, dispensing help and advice to anyone who needed it. One night, he slept there.
When a correspondent for the Watershed Post visited the Middlebugh village office five days after after the flood, Avitabile was the village official she encountered.
Now the village of Middleburgh has expressed its gratitude. According to the Middleburgh village clerk's officeAvitabile received 193 votes, while his opponent, the incumbent mayor William Ansel-McCabe, got 169. (A third candidate, Thomas Wargo, got two votes, according to the Daily Star and the Schoharie Times-Journal.)
"I’m honored for this chance to serve the community, especially in these tough times," Avitabile said today. "I appreciate the confidence in the future of Middleburgh."
The race was a tough one. Avitabile was angling to become what he believes is the youngest mayor in village history, a hard sell against a seasoned incumbent.
On top of his youth, Avitabile had to contend with a scandal involving the village fire chief, a drama that divided the town into Avitabile supporters and McCabe supporters.
According to the Times-Journal, Middleburgh Village Fire Chief Brian Devlin was arrested for allegedly driving drunk and for speeding last July. Three months later, Devlin allegedly got into a drunken brawl at a party at the village firehouse.
In November, Avitabile voted with two other board members to respond to Devlin's alleged fisticuffs with a one-month suspension. That didn't go over well at the fire department. At a heated village meeting in December, 25 firefighters protested Devlin's suspension, and one threatened Avitabile, according to the Times-Journal. (In a small-town twist, the Times-Journal reporter who covered the story is Matthew Avitabile's father.)
The scandal died down after the holidays, but incumbent mayor McCabe, who voted against suspending Devlin, later enjoyed the support of many of Middleburgh's firefighters during his mayoral campaign. (There is still some anti-Avitabile sentiment on the Middleburgh Fire Department's Facebook page.)
To win an election against an incumbent after publicly taking on the village fire chief is no mean feat -- for a 25-year-old, it's even more impressive. It looks like Mr. Avitabile has a mandate in Middleburgh.
Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously stated that Middleburgh Fire Chief Brian Devlin was driving a village-owned vehicle when he was arrested for allegedly driving drunk and for speeding. In fact, he was not driving a village-owned vehicle at the time of his arrest. Also, a previous version of this story stated that Avibatile's reported that he got 197 votes. He actually got 193.