Since buying the Clifton Store in 1989, Tom McNamara has been a familiar face there. Customers come in as much to say hello and learn the latest town gossip, as they do to buy things.
McNamara, 54, and his wife Judy — who runs a florist shop next door, "A Flower Blooms in Clifton," have been married almost 29 years and have four children, sons Sean, 21, Jamie and Kevin, 18-year-old twins, plus daughter Katie, 14.
As if all that didn't keep him busy, McNamara is running against incumbent Jim Chesley in the upcoming Clifton mayoral race. He served three terms on the Clifton Town Council, from 1994-2000, and is now aiming for the top job.
"A couple folks in town approached me about running," he said. "At first, I wasn't sure I should or wanted to, so I made a list of the pros and cons — and the pros won out. I decided it was something I really wanted to do."
McNamara said change is often good, and he has some fresh ideas of things he'd like to do as mayor. He also believes his style of doing things is different from Chesley's.
"One of the things I'd really like to accomplish is to have friendlier Town Council meetings," he said. "It's a small town; people feel emotionally strong about their opinions, and it's a public forum where they can express them. But I'd like to see them do it in a more neighborly way. I don't have a confrontational personality, and I hope it would permeate the council meetings."
The town's two new neighborhoods, Frog Hill and Clifton Heights, have 21 homes total, and McNamara wants to encourage those residents to come to the council meetings and get involved in the town government. After all, he said, they account for a 30-percent hike in Clifton's population.
He also wants to establish an actual mayor's office — a building near his house. "I'd love to set up a small office on my property with a phone line and office hours, a couple afternoons or evenings a week," he said.
"That way, people could come in and talk about the problems and issues they have," said McNamara. "The new residents would have a place to go to get information they need — for example, where to get an Architectural Review Board form to put up a deck." Between the store and office, he said, he'd be easily accessible.
"I'm approaching the idea of mayor with an open mind," he said. "My ideas aren't in stone, and I'm a good listener. I think the role of mayor should be more of an administrator and facilitator. I think the council members and residents would have more of a voice in the town. They'd have more chance to express themselves in a more comfortable environment.
McNamara believes it'll be a "real close" race. He said it's a small town composed of two entities, the town council and the Clifton Betterment Association (CBA) — he's CBA vice-president — "and they often don't get along."
"If I win, I think I'd resign my position on CBA so it wouldn't be a conflict of interests," he said. "And since I have a great relationship with the people on the CBA, I think I could bring these two entities together. I just don't have much stomach for this neighbor vs. neighbor stuff."
Saying his platform is "unification and getting people together," even if he loses, McNamara says he'll still live and work in Clifton and continue participating in the town. "The best part of being a part of the community is that sense of belonging," he said. "When my mom recently passed away, I got such love and support, and that's what's neat about a small town. When you need them, people are there for you.'
Resident Bill Hummell says McNamara has worked hard at the store to create an environment where people feel welcome. And he noted that, in McNamara's previous career at JCPenney's, he did lots of corporate training.
Helen Rusnak, a 20-year Clifton resident, is also a fan. "Tom and Judy have been family friends since they first moved to Clifton," she said. "I think he's one of the finest people I've ever met. He's a kind, caring person and is very civic-minded and has the town's best interests at heart. I think he'll make a good mayor; my family and I plan to vote for him."