Enough Grandstanding, Ossining Needs Leaders to Work With the Community

Screenshot 2018-10-25 11.33.19Last night my opponent opened the meeting by attacking my campaign with misguided and desperate threats. Everything in my statement, posted last Friday is accurate and true. I am the candidate with the maturity and knowledge base to keep Ossining on an upward trajectory, as I have for two terms. No amount of noise or threats will change that.
 
Following my opponent’s opening statement at the work session, several of us engaged in a discussion about the Safe Housing Community Partners meeting that the Village convened earlier this week. Around minute 17 of the video, I comment on my experience working with leaders in land use planning and economic development in both the public and private sector, and further clarify my statement of what makes for a wise approach to thoughtful economic development.
 
Click here to read my written statement about the Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant and my call for the Village to reopen the Comprehensive Plan. Instead of making a spectacle our public meetings, we need Village government to lead an intelligent process for engaging the community in shaping the future of Ossining.

Moratoriums Don’t Help Move Us Forward: Why New Rochelle won a $10 million development grant—and Ossining didn’t

Congratulations to our friends in New Rochelle for being awarded the $10M Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) Grant. This is the first time a Westchester community has won.

Ossining was a finalist again this year for the DRI. We have applied all three of the years it has been available, and we have been finalists twice. The DRI candidates in the Mid Hudson Region of the Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) face stiff competition. Ossining’s submission this year was excellent, thanks to the hard work and expertise of a team of people in Village government and the community. New Rochelle didn’t beat us because our submission wasn’t good enough. They beat us because they have demonstrated a commitment and a capacity for economic development.

For years I’ve attended conferences and heard about the New Rochelle Approach. New Rochelle’s approach begins with involving the whole community to establish clear priorities, and then determine parameters and incentives to achieve them. They institutionalized a process that operates smoothly regardless of any momentary political strife. A developer looking to consider New Rochelle knows exactly what they need to provide to the city, and the approval process for their application takes 60-90 days.  This streamlined process means that instead of a developer spending years and lots of money in the approval process, they can invest more into the project—investing more into achieving the goals of our community.NR DRI map

The REDC will only entrust $10M to a community with leadership that is committed to smart economic development. New Rochelle sent a clear message to the DRI decision makers that they are committed to smart economic development that reflects their community’s priorities.

Unfortunately, the current political climate in Ossining sent a very different message. When my opponent began publicly calling for a moratorium as a top priority in his vision for the future, the Village lost any chance of being awarded the DRI for 2018.

One clear challenge for Ossining to consider is how do we balance our desire for high quality housing at all income levels, with a crowded school system. The good news is, we are now refocusing our efforts on comprehensive planning. While the $10M DRI grant would expand our capabilities and resources for economic development planning, we have a strong foundation to build on—so long as we have leadership that is committed to smart growth driven by community priorities. We are fortunate to have Village Planner Tracey Corbitt on board to help guide the process.

It is time to work with all our community partners to establish a vision for who Ossining will be in the next 5, 10 and 20 years. Ossining working together is how we are all successful. In just a few weeks, we will know the outcome of the election. The voters will determine our path forward.

Elect Candidates Who Reflect Your Values

I would like to join with my fellow members of the Town of Ossining Democratic Committee and Chairwoman Thomasina Laidley-Brown in denouncing the offensive tweets made by Working Families Party trustee candidate David Kezafrika.

Our community is one of hope, diversity, aspirations and families. We are a village that works together and is stronger because of our diversity. Comments that disparage women and those of different races have no place in Ossining Village government.

I will continue to focus on Ossining’s strengths, and engage all of our community in planning an even brighter future together. I am proud to stand on my record of leading a progressive government that is inclusive, fiscally responsible, and supportive of local businesses.

Let’s Plan Ossining’s Future Together

Engaging with all community partners is essential in planning Ossining’s future. Small businesses are thriving for local entrepreneurs. That’s great for all of Ossining. Now it’s time to make big decisions about what kind of development we will welcome in the coming years so that we have intelligent growth that benefits our whole community. That process demands candid in-depth engagement with residents and public institutions, especially the School District.

New housing moratoriums haven’t always worked around the county, state and nation, and no matter how loud proponents are, we need to research and decide what model of growth works best here. Investment in Ossining is something we have embraced, and, with proper parameters we want to continue to attract new people and businesses to settle in our beautiful and historic village.

Ossining LandscapeConcerned parents leading the group Ossining for Fair Funding, delved into data provided by the school demographer, the Town Tax Assessor, as well as information about residential housing available through the freedom of information act. Their findings demonstrate that the increasing school population reflects several factors—and we all have a role to play in the solution. I applaud this community group, and would welcome a public conversation of their findings.

We all need to do our part to ensure that students who live in our community are able to access a terrific education—now and for years to come.

To address our crowded schools, the Village has a role to play with proactive code enforcement and smart planning. The School District and neighboring local governments have critical roles to play in addressing this challenge as well. We all must work together for the greater good.

We need to find the right balance. Together we will continue to support our thriving community, maintain a sustainable population in our dense village, encourage development that includes mixed use as well as mixed income levels, and reflect the unique character of Ossining.

This budget season, the Village will determine how we can dedicate more resources to code enforcement.

This week we had our first public meeting with the new Village Planner Tracey Corbitt. It was a productive start to a process we anticipated embarking on ten months ago. Last year we put a quarter million dollars in the budget to help us update the Comprehensive Plan. Many of us are frustrated that priorities shifted in the new year, and derailed any comprehensive planning efforts. Now is the time to refocus on comprehensive planning. That starts with a community conversation to clarify our vision. Who does Ossining want to be in the next 5, 10 or 20 years?

Advocating for Drivers Licenses for All

I am actively involved in the Greenlight NY initiative advocating for all NY drivers to become eligible to be licensed and insured—regardless of documentation status. Leaders in law enforcement agree, ensuring that all drivers know the rules of the road and have insurance, is better for everyone’s safety.

Last week I spoke about this effort in a televised roundtable. In this segment I express why it is important for local governments to send a powerful message to Albany that the people of our communities would benefit from this legislation.

The Local Live Roundtable

During this next segment I point out that New York would not be blazing any trails by passing this legislation. There are already a dozen states that provide drivers licenses regardless of documentation status.

The day after recording this show, I had an opportunity to speak with Governor Cuomo and I asked him whether he would sign the legislation if it is passed by the Assembly and the Senate. He said he would, though it must be a law, not an executive order. In this segment we discuss a bit of the political landscape and how this proposed legislation is being used as a divisive issue in some NY Senate races. Our conversation goes on to remind folks of the importance of voting.

I am proud to stand with Croton, Greenburgh, Irvington, Mamaroneck Village and Town, Ossining Town, Peekskill, Port Chester, and Yonkers in having taken this first step in sending a clear message to Albany that, for the sake of our communities, they must pass this legislation. I will continue to reach out to fellow chief elected officials across Westchester so that we can grow this list.

We often feel removed from decisions about immigration policies coming from the White House. Fighting for residents to have access to drivers license, regardless of documentation status, is something a tangible that can make a difference in the lives of Ossining residents.

 

9/11 Remembrance Remarks

Thank you to the Firefighters who bring us together every year for this ceremony. Ossining is a community that deeply appreciates the service of our first responders. We rest easier safe in the knowledge that you all stand ready to protect us.

By bringing us together for this remembrance each year, you not only keep alive the memories of that tragic day 17 years ago, you nourish this community by reminding us of the universal story we all share.

9.11 CeremonyWe are like communities all across America today who gather to share and listen. Most of us today were alive in 2001, and we recall our own stories. When we come together we listen to each other, and with each story we hear, we deepen our connections to each other.

While each personal story of that day is unique, it most always is also a story with the same theme about the unifying spirit that shined so brilliantly in the wake of the towers falling.

This weekend I had the opportunity to visit three houses of worship—Episcopalian, Baptist, and Quaker. While these all share a common scripture, they have their own vocabulary for expressing the foundation of every religion and every culture. Whether you are Christian or Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist or Agnostic—you have a way of expressing the same universal thing that we all share.

Whether you call it the light within, the Holy Spirit, God, Christ, Allah, inner wisdom, life-force, the word, or simply humanity, you know that it shines most brightly when we face the greatest evil. And thank God it does. Because, we need those personal stories to be about more than the agonizing loss, the violence, the fury.

There’s a song that’s been stuck in my head since I attended the musical program at Trinity Church on Saturday afternoon. So I will close with a verse from the wise spiritual leader, Bette Midler:

From a distance we are instruments
Marching in a common band
Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man

 

A Brilliant Future

On Wednesday I voted against ETPA. The intentions of this program are good for Ossining—keeping the village affordable and protecting tenants. Unfortunately, in practice, ETPA has too many unintended consequences that will be detrimental for the majority of Ossining residents—homeowners, small businesses and tenants alike. It also undermines the progress we’ve been making on upgrading substandard housing—which is one of our greatest housing challenges. Unfortunately, three trustees on the Board saw things differently.

The best thing I can say about the ETPA vote is that at least now we can direct Village time and resources to important initiatives like reopening the Comprehensive Plan to envision the community we hope to be for the next decade and beyond. ETPA has demanded a lot of bandwidth this year, and I’m eager to focus our efforts on initiatives that are forward-thinking, and driven by and for Ossining.

ETPA is only one policy. If we have learned anything with our recent focus on housing, we know there are a lot of strategies for improving our local economy, keeping taxes low, and providing safe affordable housing. With the right leadership, Ossining has a brilliant future.

Our village is in a better position than we have been for many years. Under my Blurry Mainleadership, we are experiencing thriving new businesses and progressive policies, while holding the line on taxes. The next step for Ossining is smart mixed-income development that feeds our local economy and balances the needs of our crowded schools.

Like any important decision, I thoroughly researched the pros and cons of ETPA, and the impact it would have on our whole community. It is unfortunate that ETPA supporters often resorted to simplified rhetoric suggesting that if you support ETPA you care about tenants, and if you don’t support this policy, you don’t care about tenants. Understanding the comprehensive implications of tax assessment and heavily bureaucracy-laden state programs demands more than politically charged sound bites. I fought hard for the position I believed in. The votes were cast. We’ll see if there are legal challenges or implementation hiccups, but that’s unlikely. Now it’s time to look ahead.

The debate about ETPA has energized our community. I encourage voters to direct that energy to the voting booth on September 13 for the Democratic Primary Election. Primary elections in an off-year have notoriously low turnout. Off-year General Elections fair only marginally better. Perhaps this year can be different. Elections have consequences. I ask Ossining residents to get out and vote, and I hope you vote for me.

Responsible Governing in Planning the Village’s Future

It’s time to open up the Comprehensive Plan. That’s a collaborative process involving the whole community—residents, volunteer members of boards and committees, and our partners in the Schools and Town government. It means learning from experts in our community and our region. Now is the time for Ossining to work together to determine the blueprint for the next decade and beyond. Advocating for a short-sighted strategy that pits one group against another, is divisive.

During election season it may be tempting to make political statements to pander to a particular group of voters. But regardless of campaign rhetoric, as elected officials, we must exhibit the maturity needed to act responsibly on behalf of the people we serve.

“Moratorium” is a dramatic term that elicits strong reactions. To prospective developers, it can send a clear message that they should look to invest elsewhere. To residents concerned about school funding, it may be perceived as a welcome solution to overcrowded classrooms.

A municipality’s ability to temporarily suspend a property owner’s right to build or obtain development approvals is understandably limited. In reality, it is one strategy that may be beneficial as part of a well-conceived approach to planning and zoning updates.

Zoning MapIronically, in recent years, the Town of Ossining did implement a moratorium. Yet since that ended, Town developments have moved forward that have drawn significant concern from local residents particularly regarding the additional burden on our school district. Most folks aren’t aware of whether a given development is happening in the Village, or across an invisible border in the Unincorporated Town of Ossining.

My opponent’s claim that we “seem to be moving forward at a reckless pace to approve new projects” is either intended to perpetuate misinformation, or demonstrates a lack of knowledge about the Village planning approval process. There are a number of proposals in various stages of the planning process, and most of them have been in the pipeline for years. In fact, if you ask most commercial or residential investors about their experience, they are likely to site frustration over delays and bureaucracy. A number of these delays are unavoidable and essential parts of the process to protect the community.

The statement that surprised me most from my opponent was this thinly veiled reference to a potential zoning text amendment that could open the door to a proposal for a development known as Snowden Woods, “we risk spoiling not only one of the largest undeveloped natural landscapes on the Eastern shore of the Hudson River, but we also risk adding further stress to our already over-burdened school system.” There is only one large plot of land in the Village that fits this description.

If my opponent were merely a resident, this would be a perfectly fine, if somewhat inaccurate, opinion to express. However, as a member of the Village Board, he will be called upon to determine whether or not to approve a zoning text amendment that will directly impact this plot of land. My opponent taking a public position on a SEQRA matter that the Village Board will be required to vote on is, at best, political gamesmanship, and, at worst, undermining the integrity of the legal process.

Unlike large developments that we have seen proposed in nearby communities where officials have decided to skip over the environmental review process, in Ossining we go by the book to ensure we are making well informed decisions. On a parallel path, I have advocated for the Village Environmental Advisory Council to undertake an Open Space Inventory which will provide the Trustees and me with a clearer picture of the role that this area of land plays in our Village-wide landscape.

Being mayor is a job that requires dedication to learning about Village government, a commitment to honesty and accuracy, and the maturity to exhibit a level of restraint in casually expressing opinions of ongoing legal matters.

48 Hours of Reasons to Love Ossining

Last week began with some shocking incidents. But it was the people of our community that were the most remarkable. I wrote down some of my thoughts…

What a harrowing start to our week! But it wasn’t an oil spill or a wall collapse that tells the story of this community. Now that the immediate concerns have been contained, stabilized, and secured, I want to take a moment to highlight some of the positive things about the past 48 hours.

At the top of the list of things to be grateful for‑‑there were no injuries resulting from either of these incidents.

One thing that cannot be said often enough is what an amazing team of professionals and volunteers we have serving this Village. Thank you to the Ossining Police Department, Fire Department, Public Works, Engineering and Building Department. Your dedication to our community may go unnoticed on an ordinary day. Monday was no ordinary day. You are an extraordinary team that works incredibly well together to keep us safe. You kept the us all pointed in the right direction while the oil was contained, and later while the wall was assessed and stabilized. Thank you.

During the oil containment the regulatory agency, the DEC, was on-site. According to initial reports, it appears that the swift action to contain the spill prevented contamination of our storm water system. Thank you to all the Village departments who stepped in to make that happen. The Village team had support. Anyone on social media was moved by the photo of a man named Herman who saw what was happening and jumped in with rags to stem the oil. A person’s character shines through during a critical situation. Thank you Herman for your actions to help protect our community and our environment. Thank you also to Jim Drohan for sharing the inspiring image of the Herman at work absorbing oil on Main Street.

wall collapseThe unusually exciting day in Ossining drew the attention of officials beyond the Village. Thank you to Governor Cuomo and County Executive Latimer for both reaching out to ensure the wall collapse was able to be secured. It’s reassuring to know that before we even ask, these higher levels of government were ready to support a local municipality. In this case, the wall was on private property. Village officials, staff, first-responders, and engineers have been on-site to understand the conditions of the properties, and to facilitate communication between the owners of 60 Main Street and 80 Main Street. The property owners’ insurance companies and attorneys are coordinating next steps for stabilizing the wall. This afternoon’s reopening of Main Street was possible once the Village was satisfied by the stabilization plan presented by the property owner.

More good news is that no families were permanently displaced by either incident. On Monday night, in an abundance of caution, three families near the location of the wall collapse were evacuated from their homes. The Red Cross was on-site and assisted with some of the arrangements. All families will be back in their homes tonight. The new construction at 80 Main Street, the property above the wall, had received a partial certificate of occupancy, and the first tenant had moved in her boxes. Since she hadn’t yet unpacked, she’s able to adopt a wait-and-see approach to settling in.

I was not in town when all this transpired, so I’d like to offer special thanks to everyone who kept me informed of what was happening as events unfolded and stepped up in my absence. Thank you Deputy Mayor Codman for being on-site Monday night. Thank you to Chief Sylvester who not only kept me informed by phone, but also for his up-to-the-minute social media communication that helped folks get around with minimal frustration.

And final kudos to the Ossining community. You tuned in to Nixle, Facebook or Twitter to get information on alternate routes, and adjusted to temporary redirection with minimal delay. If you’d like to do one more thing to help with the aftermath of the Monday we’ll never forget, support a local business. With all the disruption, downtown businesses saw fewer customers. So, this week is a great time to go out for lunch or dinner, pick up a children’s toy or a ceramic vase, get your hair done or buy an egg sandwich, sip a coffee lemonade (my personal summer fave)—you can even buy a new kitchen sink.

Everyday serving this Village is an adventure. From great challenges comes ever greater appreciation for this community we love.

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