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Andra BensonEditor's Note: Andra Benson was not able to be interviewed this election season because she is caring for a close family member with a serious illness.  I called Andra and suggested that, in the interest of fairness and having all four candidates represented in this series of interviews, that I could run her interview from the election four years ago so that readers could get a sense of who she is as a candidate.  I also, of course, offered to interview her if she could, so the questions would be the same as for the other three candidates.  Given the circumstances she opted for me to run her 2015 interview.  I am hoping for her family member's quick recovery, and I hope that readers will understand the circumstances and that doing it this way will still be a valuable tool as you decide who you want to vote for.

Andra Benson is one of the two Democratic candidates for Town Board in next month's election.  She has lived in Lansing for 46 years.  Her family owns Bensvue Farms.  She lives in a renewable energy powered home on the property with her husband, Chuck.  They have eight children 25 grandchildren.

Benson served on the Lansing Board Of Education for ten years, and serves on the Lansing Community Library Board Of Directors, where she also volunteers as a bookkeeper.  She is a founding member of the Lansing Youth Services Commission, and is the Director of Religious Education at All Saints Church.  She also serves there as teen minister.  For years she has been the announcer at Lansing Boys Varsity Swim Team home meets.  She also volunteers for Organic Valley projects.

She met with the Lansing Star in her home to talk about why she is running and what she hopes to accomplish, if elected.

Lansing Star  Lansing Star: What prompted you to run for Town Council now, in this year’s election?

Andra Benson  Andra Benson: I decided after the uproar about the agricultural district -- which has been in existance for many years, but refining and getting an ag committee -- that we needed a representative form the agricultural sector in Lansing.  We're big landowners, and I don't think we have a voice.

Lansing Star   What would you say your most important accomplishments were when you were on the board in the past?  (For Rick: What would you say are the most important things the Town has already accomplished?)  How will you build on that, if elected?  I know your term was truncated.

Andra Benson  Yes, I was on the Board a little less than a year.  I think the first year is a big learning curve, a huge learning curve.  Whenever I voted I voted with a lot of thought.  I tried very hard not only to represent the agricultural sector, but everybody in the Town.  When I was on the Lansing School Board for ten years, I always thought it's for all the children.  So I feel it's for everybody in Lansing.

Lansing Star  What do you think is the most important thing that Lansing needs right now?  How will you make that happen?

Andra Benson  I think the most important thing we need is a very sane budget.  Being a landowner and paying taxes in Lansing for 46 years -- that's how many years I've lived in Lansing -- and a sizable amount of taxes due to the farm that we own, I'd like to see our money used extremely wisely, but I do understand we need money to run the Town.

And I understand that we shouldn't be tapping into any reserves.  That's an important part of your budget.  So I would like to see an extremely good budget, and we are watchdogs of the budget, I understand that.  But something that is sane.  That is usable, so we won't run into problems and have to tap into reserves, which I think is happening now, but I'm not positive.

Lansing Star  Where do you stand on repowering Cayuga Power Plant?

Andra Benson  Ive thought about this a lot, and I'm very mixed.  Very.  Very torn.

Number one, I believe 100% in renewable energy.

Lansing Star  Which your house is.

Andra Benson Yes.  Our house has geothermal heating, solar tubes for hot water, and solar panels for the electricity.  So we pay no monthly power bills at all.  I would love to see that happen for everybody, but I also know that's probably not realistic.  And I also know we cannot live without energy.  We cannot live without electricity.  None of us -- no business, no home.

I would like to see coal not burned any more all over the United States, not only on Cayuga Lake.  I would like to see (the plant) turned into a renewable resource for electricity.  I think until that's done, unfortunately, we may have to repower it with natural gas.  I'm not happy about it, but I don't have my head in the sand either.

Lansing Star  Speaking of natural gas, where do you stand on the proposed gas pipeline through Dryden to the Warren Road area?

Andra Benson  Unfortunately I think it's necessary.  I do feel for anybody who owns property that they claim with eminent domain.  I personally think that's wrong that the government allows utilities to do that.  We have power lines through our farm that they took land for by eminent domain.

Again, I understand when there is a greater need than just our farm, but still, that's hard.  Very, very hard.

I also worry about accidents.  You hope that the proper technology is used, because you don't want any accidents, which would be on a very big scale.

If you have development, whether it's houses, apartments or businesses, they need power.  I would love to see us move toward -- you build an apartment you figure out geothermal.  The US Army is doing that with almost every building they put up.  It has to have geothermal sourced heating.  I think if they could do it, maybe the Town of Lansing could do it.

Lansing Star  There has been a lot of talk about new development and traffic in the Town.  Do you agree with the comprehensive plan?  If not, would you follow it anyway as representative of what the Town, as a whole, wants?  Do you have an action plan as to how the comprehensive plan should be implemented or not implemented?  And my side comment is that I don't really think anyone has paid attention to it in the past ten years or so.

Andra Benson  I guess I'm not terribly qualified to answer this, because I really don't know all the parts of the plan.  But I have to agree that it's pretty old.  I think we have to update it.  I think that has to be done every five years.  You can't leave a plan in effect for 20 years.  A lot changes in 20 years, and I think you have to get input from the people and say, 'what do you want your town to look like?'  But I think it should be done every five years.

Otherwise things that were approved 20 years ago, a developer who had it approved, but did nothing, turns around and says 'Oh, we're going to do it' when things have changed.

Lansing Star  After years of political split on the board, people are saying the election this year is an important one.  Why would you say this election in particular is important for Lansing?

Andra Benson  I think all elections are important, but I agree.  I think the Board will have a completely different flavor if it's completely one party or completely another party. I don't think that's terribly healthy.  Even though I think parties shouldn't matter so much on the local level, they really shouldn't, I think a lot of behind-the-scenes people influence how you think.  Maybe that shouldn't be, either.

Lansing Star This next question ties into this.  Votes on the board have been very much along party lines.  I'm not talking about work-a-day votes that everyone agrees on.  I'm talking about votes on current issues of substance.  First it was three Demorats and two Republicans, and now it's three Republicans and two Democrats, so you could say both parties are doing this. What would you do to help people come to more of a consensus, as opposed to just polarized voting along party lines?

Andra Benson  The people in the Town of Lansing and the Village of Lansing should vote for candidates who are very respectful to each other, who listen to other people's opinions, who weigh everything before they vote, and not just weigh what the national party or the state party thinks.  I think they have to always keep in mind what's good for the people of Lansing.

People do come to the Town Board meetings.  Not everybody, but I think you can keep your ear open and see what's going on.  The way people want to see their town, the comprehensive plan, or budget.  I think that's the only way you're going to get very thoughtful people who don't vote along party lines.

In the short time I was on the Board I did not vote on party lines, because I knew I didn't really believe in a lot of the Republican positions.  I switched parties, and I don't know if I really believe in... I know I don't believe in everything that the Democrats stand for.  Maybe I'm just more independently minded.  I really think you have to vote with a very good conscience.

I think people in town should vote for the people they think will cast the votes that are good for everybody in Lansing, not one little part of Lansing.  And even though I said I'd like to represent the agricultural sector, that doesn't mean I don't understand or I don't feel for people who are either rural residents or who live in a development.  I do.  I understand it.  I lived in Westchester County -- that's where I grew up -- and I understand suburbia, which is similar to the developments here.

Lansing Star  Of the four candidates for Town Board, what makes you the best choice?

Andra Benson  It's very hard to blow your own horn.  At least it is for me, you know, to say I'm just the very best.

Lansing Star But you wouldn't be running if you didn't think there was good reason for you to win.

Andra Benson  Yes, I think I'm a good choice.  I think I'm a person of integrity.  I am not swayed by anybody in the background.  I am nobody's puppet.  Absolutely nobody's.  And I vote for the good of everybody, thinking how is this going to affect us?  Is this a good decision for everybody, not just for me or my family, or even all the farmers in Lansing -- even though many times I think that people don't understand agriculture, especially new people who move in.  I think we all have to educate each other about many things.

So I think I have an awful lot of integrity and I think I'll be good.

Lansing Star  What would you like people to know about your candidacy that we haven't talked about?

Andra Benson  I have tons of experience.  It may not be sitting in the Town Hall or on the Town Council, but I'm proud of my experience raising eight children, having foster children, scores of international students, working for my church, working for the library, working for Lansing Youth Services, starting the Drop-in Center.  I helped to start the Drop-in Center and it's still going.  I also helped to start Lansing Youth Services and it's still going.

I'd like to feel that I speak for everybody, but especially for children.  That's a place where I've put a lot of energy.  They can't vote and I think they're very important, and I'm very proud of what our town does with it's parks and recreation and different services, and excellent schools.  I'm very, very proud of that.

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