Saturday, October 7, 2017

2017 election: Town Council Candidate Cyndy Montana

Today's candidate interview is with Cyndy Montana, Democratic Party candidate for Grand Island’s Town Council. She is running for one of two open seats on the Town Council. The incumbents, Ray Billica and Chris Aronica, have chosen not to run for re-election. The election will be held on November 7th.

Tell me about you.
 I was born and raised on a dairy farm in Quebec, so we would get up and milk the cows at 4:30 every morning. That’s where I learned my work ethic. I was going to be a lawyer. I worked in a hotel one summer and fell in love with hospitality. I love serving people, making people happy, and helping people.

I am 44 years old. I have one brother, who is a year and a half younger than me, and he has the farm. My parents, Butch and Phyllis, are both gone, but I was blessed to have incredible parents and a wonderful relationship with them.

Basketball was my passion. I played power forward. I was named one of the top five basketball players in eastern Canada. 

What types of jobs have you had and what did you enjoy when you weren't working?
I started my career as a bar manager at the Four Seasons in downtown Toronto. From there, I was recruited to be the front office manager at the Prince of Wales in Niagara-on-the-Lake. In my spare time, I started going to Williamsville to Howdy’s, a country bar, because I love dancing. That’s where I met Pete, who was born and bred on Grand Island. While we were courting, I changed jobs, and I started working for a shelter for abused women. I did fundraising and public relations.  It really changed me, in a better way. 

I would have lunch with the women every day in the shelter and I’ll never forget one day, when there was a little boy, probably seven or eight years old, and he commanded his mother to make him a sandwich in a disrespectful way. To the children in an abusive home, that is normal. Unless those children can be removed from that environment, the cycle of violence will continue. When the child becomes a man or woman, they are going to look for partner who will let them perpetuate what they believe to be normal. All of the training that I went through was so eye opening. It’s so hard to believe that this happens. I never understood why women stay until I’d done all of that training and worked at that shelter. Their self esteem is so beaten down by this person who “loves” them. They are told every day that no one else wants them, and they start to believe that. The abusers usually stop them from seeing their friends and family. They isolate them. It happens in all socioeconomic levels.

How long did you work at the shelter?
I worked there for three and a half years and then I left there to go to Brock University. I did fundraising and public relations there, as well. That was in 2002, the year that I got married. We got married back home under a tree. It was a gorgeous day. Pete lived with me in St. Catharines, while we worked on my legal status. I worked for Ontario’s Finest and was inspecting hotels and spas across Ontario for Quality Assurance, from the customer’s perspective. I went in and they didn’t know who I was. I did that for ten years. It was a side job. 

We also started building this company called beer hats. They were cowboy hats made out of beer cases. It started as a complete joke, and we took it to half a million dollars in sales and then sold it. So Pete is the dreamer. He has multiple patents and big ideas. He comes up with the ideas and gets them started and passes them to me to be the business side of the project.

When did you and Pete move to Grand Island?
In 2005, I got my legal status, and we moved to the United States. It probably took me a year (to get legal status). I was eight months pregnant, and I had to find a new doctor. It was quite an adventure. Pete wanted to move back to Grand Island. When he suggested that, I googled Grand Island. I saw that there was a low crime rate, a beautiful location, and that it was close to everything. I said, yes, let’s move to Grand Island. That’s the best decision that I ever made. I absolutely love Grand Island. I’m from a 200 acre farm.  I lived in eleven places in ten years. And now, finding my forever home on Grand Island fulfills so much for me. I have this little piece of land. I need that. I can never live in an urban environment. There is land and nature all around, and it's ten minutes from a Sabres game or the Canadian border. It’s so perfectly located. The sense of community makes it feel like a small town, and I’m from a town of 4,000 people. I had Kaylee in 2005, and I had Jaxen in 2007. He’s in fifth grade, and she is in seventh.

We also started a Grand Island limousine company. We’re very entrepreneurial.

Tell me about getting involved in this community.
I got involved in Grand Island right away. It was mostly through the PTA. I was also part of the committee that helped lay out how the $55 million capital campaign was going to be spent, and I helped market it. I also physically built the Kaegebein Elementary School playground in 2015. I was part of the committee that raised the money to build it. I became a citizen after the capital campaign referendum. I spent months and months of work on this project and then, I went to vote, and I couldn’t vote because I wasn’t an American citizen. Wait a second! I want to help this community. I need to have my voice heard. So that’s when I applied for my citizenship. I now have dual citizenship.

I was part of the school system but, as my kids were getting older, I wanted to help to make the town better. I want them to grow up some place where they want to stay and that they are proud of. So I had breakfast with Ray Billica and said, “I want to get involved, what should I do?” He first suggested the Economic Development Advisory Board, and I went to a few meetings. But when he suggested running for town council, my interest was piqued. He suggested that I meet Bev Kinney and, after that meeting, I was hooked. She was so motivational, wanting to get more women involved. She had a vision that I was really intrigued by. And so, that’s when she said, “You’ve got to meet Jim Sharpe because he is the chair of the Democratic Committee." He’s the one who put together our motley crew. There was me, a Canadian; Nathan McMurray, who was unknown at the time; Sybil Kennedy, the long-standing judge who was rejected by her party; and Jim Sharpe’s sister, Bev Kinney. But we totally connected, and Jim is an incredible leader. We took the town by storm. Nathan was not expected to win. I’m the only one who didn’t win.  I only lost by 50 votes. It’s the best thing that could have happened that I lost. But I became part of the team anyway when I reluctantly became Nathan’s assistant. I’m not an office job kind of person, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. I was determined to help Nathan with the transition because I believed in his vision. So that’s why I did it. I promised him one year, and I was there a year and half and decided to run again.

What is campaigning for office like for you?
The campaign process took an emotional toll and was more difficult and unpleasant than I ever anticipated. But I am so excited about where Grand Island is headed,and I so want to be a part of it that I’ve decided to put myself out there again. The best part of campaigning is meeting so many people with big hearts, who love Grand Island as much as I do.

What is your vision for Grand Island?
I really want to preserve the uniqueness of Grand Island, with its green space. I want to help support farming and promote ecotourism. I also want it to be more family focused. If kids aren’t athletic, there isn’t a lot offered on Grand Island other than sports. Even with sports, some have to go off island. I am specifically about helping it be better for teenagers. We need a new, fresher version of the old Reality Café. When I lived in St. Catharines, I sat on the board for a teen drop in center called the Raft. Some of these kids had nowhere else to go. They didn’t have an interest in sports. There were no programs. The Raft gave them somewhere safe to be. We don’t have that in Grand Island. 

I want to attract Green business, like the medical corridor. I don’t want industry, but we need to build our tax base, and the way to do that is through business.  We can keep our taxes under control by tapping into grants and not increasing taxes. Over the last few years, with a new administration, we’ve brought so much to Grand Island, without exceeding our budget or raising taxes. It was done through grants and perseverance. So my vision is about keeping Grand Island green and special, making it more family friendly, supportive, and attracting smart economic development. 

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Dr. Amrita Basu Misra said...

I am very impressed by Cyndy's interview .Whta a beautiful vision.Green ,ecofriendly and not a tax burden. Sound sense with economic sense.I so wish India had a few such people.We are struggling badly.

Janice Gill said...

Very good interview with lots of details and real insight. Thanks for sharing.

Rajlakshmi said...

Cyndy is so inspiring. I loved her views on women empowerment and her work in shelter. So nice to read about such a strong and wonderful human being.

Theresa Squillacote said...

Very good interview