Special Report: Tom Santulli Reflects on Career in Local Government
Chemung County, N.Y. (WENY)-- When the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, Chemung County will have a new Executive for the first time since 2000. For the past 18 years, Tom Santulli has held that position. But now, he says it's time to retire. WENY's Cody Carlson sat down with Santulli as he reflected on his 36 years of public service.
Born and raised in Elmira, Thomas J. Santulli has been serving in local Government since 1983. He was the Supervisor of the Criminal Unit in the Probation Department when he was asked to run for City Council.
"So in 1983 I ran, did a ton of door-to-door I can still remember it, knocked on everybody's door about three times, and as luck would have it, I won," Santulli recalls.
He served 8 years on Elmira's City Council as the 3rd District Representative until 1991, when he became Chemung County's Deputy Executive.
"I started here, right in this same office in 1991. Enjoyed working for Tom Tranter, he was a great County Executive," Santulli says.
In 2000, Tranter left to work for Corning Inc, and Santulli lined himself up for the job.
""I immediately positioned myself, because I had been Deputy by then for 10 years, called all the committee people in the party and said I was going to seek the office in November of that year," explains Santulli.
He ran unopposed to finish the remainder of Tranter's term from 2000-2002, then ran every four years after that, never facing opposition. Santulli says being County Executive allowed him to continue working toward the goal he first had when he got into local politics.
"I really saw an opportunity to get involved in the community where I was born, where I lived, where I had a full time job," says Santulli.
Under Santulli's 18-year reign, Elmira was awarded millions of dollars from the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, the Elmira Corning Regional Airport was awarded millions of dollars from the state for upgrades, and the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine was approved to open up a campus in Elmira, just to name a few. But his proudest accomplishment, he says, happened during his first year on the job.
"The fight we did back in 2000 to get a cap on Medicaid," Santulli explains.
At the time, Santulli says Medicaid was a massive, unfunded mandate. He says almost the entire county tax levy was used to pay for the local share. Santulli, who at the time was President of the New York State Association of Counties, led a statewide movement to put an end to the growing cost. After traveling across the state, gathering signatures and giving talks, they got the tax cap.
"To this day, we contribute $7.5 billion all counties do. It would have been $12 billion had we not received a cap from then Governor George Patacki and again with our current Governor," explains Santulli.
With 18 years at the helm, Santulli is the longest tenured executive in New York State. He spent eight years on the City Council, nine as Deputy County Executive, and eighteen as County Executive. He's been to the White House, met Presidents and Country leaders like President George W. Bush and Senator Bob Dole, and worked with executives across the state. But the thing he's going to miss the most, is working with the people right in the Chemung County community.
"The part I really did enjoy the most were all the positive relationships I was able to have with the public, with the business community. Again, this community has been very, very good to me. It's been a great place to live and to work," Santulli says.
But do you know what he's not going to miss? Wearing a tie.
"I'm in a shirt and tie I'll tell you a minimum of 6 days a week, sometimes 7. Just to wear an open collared shirt, not to have a tie on, not to have a suit jacket on," Santulli says.
When asked about the timing of his retirement, Santulli says he's ready to move on.
"All I can tell you is, what people have told me, you'll know when you're ready. One day I woke up and said I love this, but my time has come," Santulli explains.
When the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, Executive-elect Chris Moss will take over. Santulli says he's looking forward to seeing what Moss can do.
"I look forward, I hope Chris Moss has a great run. We need him to succeed because we have to keep the energy going," says Santulli. "My hope is, and I believe he'll be a successful County Executive. Again, I tell everybody, get behind the new County Executive. We need him to be successful," he adds.
Just because he's no longer in the County Executive seat, doesn't mean you won't see Tom Santulli around Chemung County
"Listen, I've lived here since 1949, we love this place, it's been good to us. I want to continue to help, maybe be a part of it, but in a little different way," explains Santulli.
Santulli says he's not sure what's next for him, but he says he would like to travel more with his wife, and play more tennis.