When Democratic Chairwoman Heather Reylek asked Jim Colligan last spring if he was interested in interviewing with party leaders for a Town Board slot, he did what he always does when making major life decisions: He went home to discuss it with his wife, Margaret.
Once she was onboard, he was ready to make the run in November. He handily won a seat, replacing Councilman Peter Reich, who opted not to seek another term.
The man whose careers have included military service, teaching, educational administration and coaching, first became known to Islanders through his community activities, including volunteering at Mashomack Preserve and serving on the Nature Conservancy Board of Trustees.
Mr. Colligan has been a regular volunteer for various activities at Our Lady of the Isle Church.
Trading on his years as a basketball coach in Carle Place, where he twice took teams to state semifinals, he volunteered as an assistant to Shelter Island School’s basketball coaches — first Mike Mundy and then Jay Card Jr.
He also has been chairman of the committee that established the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
As president of the Silver Beach Association, a natural step, he said, was accepting an appointment to the town’s Deer & Tick Committee.
In giving up his seat on that panel to become a councilman, he expects he’ll take on a new role, as the Town Board’s liaison to the committee.
Through the years, he refers back to lessons learned during his military service, which started right after his graduation from Niagara University in 1969. He was sent to Vietnam and earned a bronze star and rose to the rank of colonel in the reserves.
Mr. Colligan remembers a period when he was stationed at California’s Fort Bragg, when segregation of troops in both work assignments and housing was still very much the norm. He said he came down hard trying to change attitudes. Ultimately there were changes, but some of his troops suggested he might have handled the situation with more finesse.
That’s a lesson he carried forward that became evident during his tenure with the Deer & Tick Committee. He has demonstrated an ability to bring about consensus among members with divergent views.
“It’s authentic,” Mr. Colligan said. “I’m not just throwing around compliments.”
His goal as he embarks on his first political office at age 68 is “to perform and perform well.”
He believes the Town Board has accomplished a great deal dealing with such issues as water quality and deer and tick problems. He agreed with his colleagues with whom he interviewed applicants to fill Councilman Ed Brown’s seat, that “we don’t want this place to become the Hamptons.”
He loves the diversity of Shelter Island and hopes there’s a focus on ways to provide more affordable housing, especially for those who grew up here, left for college and now feel they can’t afford to come back to live.
Increasing dialogue and communication can help move important issues forward, Mr. Colligan said. On that score, he will encourage his colleagues to consider a joint meeting with the Shelter Island Association, where there are representatives from throughout Island communities.
Although there has been speculation about that Mr. Colligan might be the Democratic standard bearer for supervisor if Jim Dougherty opts out of seeking another term, that’s not even on the new councilman’s radar.
He isn’t even sure whether he would seek a second term on the Town Board at the end of the current four-year term.
Aside from family, the Town Board is his top priority, he said. That requires cutting back on some of his other activities.
Hardest to leave behind will be his volunteer work at Mashomack Preserve.