Michael Villa, a long time City of Amsterdam resident and former member of the Amsterdam Police Department, announced his intention to run for mayor on the Republican ticket last November. I recently had a chance to talk with him at the library in the Walter Elwood Museum. I asked him about his life experiences in Amsterdam and what led to his decision to run for office.
Villa spoke fondly of growing up in the city and raising his three children with his wife Patti. He talked about the positive, formative experiences he had working for twenty years on the police force. However, his position as an officer and later as a detective also exposed him to the problems inherent in the city.
“I saw the great things of Amsterdam as a child and as a young adult,” said Villa, “then as a police officer for twenty years, I started to see the degeneration of the way things were and what was happening.”
He recounted starting work at Coleco in the customer service department in the early 1980’s and was soon promoted to a production controller. In 1985, the frequent layoffs at the company compelled him to seek out more stable employment. He decided to take the police officer’s exam and was hired at the APD soon after.
“That was the best decision I made in my entire life,” said Villa.
Villa said his work on the police force involved networking with many different local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
“I think that formed a lot of who I am,” said Villa. He said it was “remarkable” to be able to “work with so many different agencies with no one really caring who got the credit.”
Villa said he currently works for Montgomery County Social Services as a welfare fraud investigator, a position he has had since 1998. In 2010, he took a supervisory position in that department.
After retiring from the police force, and with his children grown up and out of the house, he and his wife decided they needed a change and moved to Saratoga Springs. Villa said that while he enjoyed living in Saratoga for six years, “You always know when you’re not home.”
Villa said the idea to run for office was one he had been thinking about for some time.
“About three years ago I made the decision that I was going to come back and seek public office,” said Villa. “I wanted to make a change. My dad was mayor for twelve years, so I know what it’s like to be in this political atmosphere. I lived it.”
With the full support of his wife, the couple moved back to Amsterdam in May of 2014.
Villa said that his ability to “bring people together for a common cause” is one of the most important skills he learned as a police officer that he would carry to the position of mayor.
“I really believe the mayor and the common council has to have a united front. There has to be a good solid relationship led by the mayor,” said Villa.
“You’re not going to be a successful mayor without the council. I’m sorry, that’s just my opinion. You have to be able to bring the council together. You can disagree, I know that there are going to be differences of opinion…but we have to find a way.”
During his time on the police force, Villa said he had to intervene in arguments and disputes in the field all the time. “I had to learn how to talk, I had to learn how to mediate. I made people both feel like they won, so I wouldn’t get killed,” said Villa with a laugh. “It served me well as we’ve gone forward.”
I asked Villa about what his platform would be and about his vision for economic growth in the city. He replied that it was still early in the campaign and that details would come out in the coming months. However, he stressed that the concepts of leadership and accountability were going to be two key pieces of his campaign.
“Everything starts with leadership,” said Villa. “For me it’s starting with the inside before I can even look on the outside. To me that means we have to get our finances in order…number one top priority.”
“I have to smart small…We have to start at the base which is inside city hall. We have to clean up what’s there, and then branch out and do the things to bring this city forward.”
“When I say accountability, I mean every department head has to be accountable for every single tax dollar that is spent. How do we do that? We have to be more transparent than ever.”
“What is each department head’s goal? When you sit down, you can’t just go through the year and hope you get through the year, and then next year we do the same thing. We have to have a goal. I want to know what this department head’s goal is. Is he going to cut 5% [for example] out of the budget over the next year by streamlining, by being more efficient, by cutting overtime? Whatever the case may be, each department head should have a goal. Because after all, if you’re not looking at something or striving for something, you’re just going to get complacent. I think a key ingredient to success is making them accountable. If you become accountable, you are usually going to be financially responsible. I don’t think you can have one without the other.”
I asked him about the controversy surrounding the construction of the pedestrian bridge, to which he said “We have to make it work. To say anything less would be irresponsible…We can’t be divisive anymore. It’s here, let’s do the best thing we can do and make it a positive for Amsterdam.”
Villa said he’s been encouraged since he announced his intention to run. “I’m humbled by the response I’ve received. It’s been extremely positive.” He added that donations are already coming in through his website.
“I’m excited,” said Villa, “we’re going to work our tails off, that’s all I know!”
Michael Villa’s official campaign website is www.villaformayor.com.