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Lake George Mayor Bob Blais says 'goodbye and thank you' after 52 years

 Lake George Mayor Bob Blais (file photo)
Lucas Willard
Lake George Mayor Bob Blais (file photo)

Wednesday is the last day on the job for New York state’s longest-serving mayor. Bob Blais has led the Warren County village of Lake George for the past 52 years.

WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard called up village hall to ask Blais how he was feeling on his last day in office:

It's bittersweet. I thought it would be a bit sad. And it's been, it's been a happy day. There's been a lot of a lot of people calling, a lot of feeling of gratification that, you know, you feel as though you've made such a difference in 52 years,

Probably about a year ago, when you said this would be your last year on the job, you had told me that you wanted to just leave, hopefully, Lake George at a better place than when you found it. Do you think that's true 52 years later?

Well, I hope so. I know that most of these people that are calling today and sending messages, and the reader boards in the village, and that, perhaps believe that and I do. I think that the village had a much different image back in the early 70s, with the so-called riots and the young people drinking in the streets and the proliferation of alcohol. And I think some of the projects that we've done -- some of…the sign ordinance, the lakefront walkway, the visitors center, the expansion of our parks and recreation center, and the emphasis that we put on the importance of Lake George -- I think has made a difference. Certainly, it's showing up in our numbers of tourism and in our success that we've had here, particularly the last few years.

There's a number of big projects -- public infrastructure projects, and public events -- are there any developments from the last few years that you're particularly proud of?

Well, I think the Krantz cottage –  which is the vacation home established here by the Ronald McDonald charities, which I put together the idea – the only vacation home for families that have children that are seriously ill in the world. And the fact that we were able to locate that here in Lake George really rounded out our image as a family resort. And you know, after that, again, the lakefront walkway, which took us 12 years from start to finish, to build a beautiful walk down by the lake that has, you know, made people turn to the lake when they come here, experience the lake, understand the importance of it, I think, was extremely important to Lake George and the entire region.

Residents chose at the ballot box last fall that they didn't want to dissolve the village of Lake George. Were you pleased with that outcome? And what kind of changes tweaks do you think might be necessary in the future to help alleviate some of their concerns?

Well, I think duplication of services is a big reason why people want to do away with local governments. But here in Lake George, as we explained prior to the hearing, no community that I'm aware of shares more services with the town and village. And that results in a tremendous savings for our taxpayers. Of course, the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the village and they were rewarded this year when we did our budget for next year. Because of the shared services with the town, because of the way we've accumulated our finances and the revenues that we have coming in from other people, in a 6-and-a-half million dollar budget, we're only loving a little over 1 million on our local taxpayers, which resulted in a tax decrease of $1.03 or 20%. And the tax rate in the village of Lake George, this year, will be less than it was 12 years ago. I don't think there's very many communities in the country that can make that statement.

Do you have any advice for officials who may be in positions higher than you, but certainly don't have as much local government experience, about working with state government, county government, federal government about how to engage small communities Lake George.

Well, here, unbelievably so we're one of the few nonpartisan villages in the state. So, we don't run parties, political parties. That's been a tremendous asset to us to get things done on the village board and at the level of the county and the town. But again, you have to have a good idea. And then you have to know how to listen to the people. And you have to know how to make compromises. And sometimes you have to take a step back, and certainly rebound from disappointments. Don't throw your hands up in the air. But the greatest thing of all, I think, is to be able to listen and treat everyone the same and with respect, and dignity, and work within the system. Work with people rather than against them to get things done. And I think that's what we've done here. And, again, even though the mayor gets, you know, the headlines and you're talking to the mayor now, every single problem that we solved, every single project that we accomplished, was a team, a team working together to get the job done. And that's exactly what you need on any project.

Is the village going to be left in good hands when you leave office?

Absolutely. The person who won the vote as mayor has been on our village board, Trustee Perry now to be Mayor Perry. We've had three excellent candidates running for the two spots, and the village board. So, we've got two new young, vibrant, young people coming. One's a business person which we needed badly on the board. So, I feel very confident that, you know, we're leaving the village in good hands.

And what's next for you? Tomorrow is your first day of retirement, I guess.

Tomorrow, I'll be traveling to Pawleys Island, which is just the whole Murrells Inlet. My daughter lives down there with her family and my grandchildren and great grandchildren. And then I'll be back near the end of the month and assume my new role as Director of Special events, which I've done as part of the marriage job. And I intend to do it for a couple of years to just bridge the gap between the new administration and the old administration and to continue the success that we've had with the Charles R Wood festival space, which I have been managing for the past eight years or so.

Well, Mayor Blais, thank you so much for your time. Any words for the people of Lake George here on your last day?

Goodbye and thank you.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.