NEWARK — The Arcadia Town Board has a new councilman. Richard VanLaeken was unanimously appointed to fill the seat left vacant following the recent passing of Gary McIlwain.
McIlwain died on April 16 following a battle with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, but he had been absent from many meetings since his diagnosis as his condition deteriorated. State law requires a Town Board member need only attend one meeting a year to maintain a councilman seat, Supervisor Dick Colacino said. Fellow board members often checked in on McIlwain, offering rides to the meeting when he was feeling up to it. The board had a moment of silence at the beginning of the May 13 meeting to honor McIlwain’s memory and service to the community.
Councilman Mike Diamond made the motion to appoint VanLaeken. Diamond noted VanLaeken came through the GOP caucus last year with the top number of votes, marking him as the candidate the people wanted.
“He ran on the ticket and the people spoke,” Diamond said at the meeting. “The people made their choice.”
VanLaeken received 78 votes at the last caucus, which drew more than 140 Republicans — the largest crowd a caucus had seen locally in years. Nominated by Gary Wells, VanLaeken was described as a smart businessman who knows the importance of providing value to his customers.
“I didn’t like some of the things that were happening,” VanLaeken said of his decision to run for office following the caucus. “Instead of complaining, I decided to run for office.”
Running against Diamond and former supervisor and current Councilman Joe DeSanto, VanLaeken stayed in the game through the end, losing by only 100 votes in what proved a very close race.
VanLaeken has stayed active in the town since the election, attending Town Board meetings and accepting an appointment to the Planning Board.
DeSanto put his support behind Diamond’s motion at the May 13 board meeting to appoint VanLaeken to the Town Board. The appointment is effective June 1, and VanLaeken has since tendered his resignation to the Planning Board.
“I’m honored for the appointment,” VanLaeken said, adding that he was saddened the appointment comes due to McIlwain’s passing. “Gary leaves some big shoes to fill. I will do my best and do all I can for the community.”
VanLaeken’s appointment is only good for the remainder of the year, and he must run for election in November to continue on the board in 2015, which will complete McIlwain’s term. VanLaeken will have to run again in the November 2015 election to win the councilman seat for a full four-year term that would start in 2016.