Things are Happening for Ossining

img_2040Every year at noon on New Year’s Day, the Ossining community comes together for an inauguration. The time and date is actually dictated by the Village Charter. The fact that we make what could be the recitation of a few words into a community event, is one the things that makes Ossining special.

In my remarks, I announced a new mayoral weekly commitment, and set out a vision for the exciting changes we are poised to make happen for Ossining. Two of the hottest topics of public engagement last year, housing and the roundabout, are part of the economic development planning that will be the focus for 2017. The Village is at an exciting moment, poised to make changes for our downtown that will impact our community for generations to come.

Happy New Year!

This year I asked my parents to join me on stage for the Oath of Office. My parents are the greatest role models in my life, not just because they are wonderful loving parents, but because of their dedication to public service. Regardless of whether they were raising young children, or commuting to NYC for work each day, they have always devoted their time and talents to community organizations. And not just things directly related to our family like school or church. They did that of course. But they also volunteer with organizations that speak to their values—like programs for children, seniors, local history, healthcare, education, and women’s rights. My mother was asked to run for local office a number of times, but always declined. My father retired at a young age, and for the past 18 years has made a full-time job of volunteering for community organizations. If it were not for their inspiring examples, I know I would never have run for mayor.img_2038

 

I am fortunate to share the stage with a number of elected officials who are also role models and mentors for me today. One study I recently learned of demonstrated that the healthiest, happiest, and safest lives are lived by Americans in Villages where their lives are intertwined. That’s good news for Ossining residents, and particularly for all the engaged community members in this room today.

 

As many Americans feel ever more impotent at influencing the path of our nation, we recognize there is a place where we can make a difference. We are turning toward each other, and seeking to devote our talents to making the most of the opportunities we have right here, right now in Ossining. It is an exciting moment to participate actively in shaping the change we wish to see for our Village.

  • This Village can turn a sanitary sewer project into a glorious greenway.
  • We have seen empty storefronts become thriving local gathering spaces.
  • The decrease in our energy demand by upgrading to LED streetlights offers enough savings to keep our tax rate increase this year at 0%.
  • We have passed laws to expand opportunities for entrepreneurs to open their businesses of tomorrow right here in Ossining.
  • We have invited hundreds of people to live in luxury on our waterfront, and thousands to enjoy sunsets from the new Henry Gourdine Park on the Hudson.

Ossining is poised to see major change happen in our downtown. We have a thoughtful and collaborative Board of Trustees, with a willingness to make big decisions about the Village’s future. Critical leaders of our staff are capable implementing big projects for Ossining. And we have the solid fiscal standing to invest in infrastructure that will benefit our community for generations to come.

 

Weekly Walks

As we enter this exciting year with a focus on bringing into view big changes for development in our downtown, I am going to add a new commitment to my weekly mayoral schedule. And I’m announcing it to you right now.

 

When I took office as Mayor two years ago, I established Open Office Hours every Tuesday from 10AM to 12 noon. That routine has been a very successful way to meet with residents who have concerns, questions, suggestions, or once in a while a friendly chat. I will continue to be at Village Hall every Tuesday for Open Office Hours. Emailing me any time is also an effective way to get my attention.

 

For my second term, as we shift into a focus on planning, zoning, housing, and development of land that is currently owned by the Village, I will be taking a weekly walk. I’ll keep up the routine until I’ve walked every block of the Village. I’ll post my starting place and time on FB and the Village website so that you can join me if you’d like.

 

A Thriving Downtown

In 2016 we engaged in a public discussion about safe, affordable housing that inspired hundreds of tenants, property owners, housing advocates, attorneys, taxpayers, and elected officials to deepen our understanding of the realities and needs of our community. In 2017, the Village will undertake a Housing Needs Assessment that will provide us with not just an accurate inventory of our existing housing stock and conditions, but one of the tools that will help us make well-informed modifications to our Comprehensive Plan, which drives all local zoning regulations. The discussion about safe and affordable housing will continue, and will be part of a larger discussion about economic development.

 

Ossining today is, in part, a result of decisions made by past Village administrations. Elected officials in the 1970s bought into the prevailing wisdom of their day, and decided that Urban Renewal was a wise idea for our downtown. The results of Urban Renewal, which demolished two of the five corners at the heart of our downtown, have been mixed, at best. The people living in those buildings lost their homes, and our downtown lost beautiful architecture as well as a whole side of the street which completes the balance needed for a truly thriving downtown.

 

But as with any major change, there comes opportunity. I am grateful to be Mayor in a moment when we are poised to capitalize on the space that was left by Urban Renewal. Rather than perceiving it as a scar on our downtown business district, I recognize it as an incredible gift for the Village. Where there were once buildings filling each block, we have an opportunity to create a welcoming public gathering space in the heart of the Village. Today these spaces provide parking and host our weekly farmer’s market and a number of festivals and events throughout the year. But the potential for these open spaces to inspire people to spend time in our downtown is no where close to being fully realized. At this stage, let’s not limit our vision to any particular size and scope of what structures may be built in these spaces, or how parking will be expanded.

 

Our goal as we actively shape the future we wish to experience for Ossining, must be to create a public gathering place where a mother wants to sit and read a book to her child; a place where high school students gather in the afternoon to share a smoothies with their friends; a place where seniors from Maple House rest on their way home from a little shopping up the block; a place where families enjoy ice cream on a hot summer night; a place where co-workers sip coffee during a break from their second story Main St business that thrives in tomorrow’s economy, and it’s a business that we could not even conceive of when we drafted our most recent Comprehensive Plan. And yes, sometimes it will be a place that hosts cultural festivals and holiday tree lightings. But to be a success, this public gathering place must be an essential component of a whole downtown that is buzzing with activity on any given Tuesday—with no festival required to make people want to show up.

 

In recent years, we’ve laid the groundwork for what’s next. A few years ago, the Village commissioned a study by consultants to inform the Board and the community of what a developer would seek to build on the Market Square properties to maximize their profitability. It was almost two years ago, that several community members joined me in workshops and online venues to gather feedback from the community of what we’d like to see happen for these properties. And right now the Sing Sing Prison Museum is closer than ever to becoming a reality. It is exciting to explore how that major institution could impact our local landscape and economy.

 

I would be remiss if I did not mention the topic of public discussion that elicited an intensity of passion among community members this year, second perhaps only to housing—the roundabout. Construction of the new intersection is planned for the summer of 2017. Ossining will become the only Hudson River community to have a modern roundabout at the heart of its downtown. Because of the dramatically improved safety that roundabouts provide, they are the go-to recommendation by the NYS DOT, and many other states, for any new and upgraded intersection construction. Because even small single-lane roundabouts like the one we will have, require a larger footprint than an electrified signal, roundabouts are often not an option in densely built downtowns. It is only because of the negative space left by Urban Renewal that the roundabout was an option for us to consider in our decision making for this necessary infrastructure upgrade.

 

So, our job today as a community, is to actively participate in shaping the change we wish to see for our downtown. Some entrepreneurs are already investing their talents, their treasure, and their dreams into our local economy. First Village Coffee is one of the recent new businesses to open and find a very enthusiastic and loyal customer base on Main St. Just before they opened, I was speaking with an engaged community member, someone has spent a fair amount of time thinking about our local economy. He said to me, “I’m really worried that the coffee shop is not going to have enough customers to survive.” This well-intentioned resident grossly underestimated our community’s appetite for a welcoming, high quality, gathering space in our downtown. Let us all embrace more of that faith in the spirit of our community that leads local entrepreneurs to open businesses in Ossining.

 

I began today by acknowledging some of the role models who inspire me to be serve my community. I’d like to close with a few thank yous for the some of the people who make it possible for me to serve as Mayor. Thank you to the chairwoman of the Democratic Committee Thomasina Laidley-Brown who supports our journey in public office, and leads the process of gathering hundreds of signatures each year to get our names on the ballot. Thank you to the community members who lead great organizations that provide the services that keep us safe and allow our socioeconomically diverse community to not just survive, but to thrive. Thank you to my fellow elected officials for all that you give to your constituents, including me, and all that you contribute to well-being of the Village of Ossining. Thank you to members of the Village staff, those here today and those who come to work every day to serve the people of Ossining so admirably. Thank you to the parents and coaches who drive my kids home from practice when I’m at a meeting. And most importantly, thank you to my family. My sons have an uncanny ability to roll with whatever the schedule is on any given day, they cheer me on as mayor, they are always happy to eat pizza for dinner again, and they don’t grumble as they again go to bed without being tucked in by mom. And to my husband, thank you for carrying the financial burden of our family, even as you work tirelessly to open your new business. Thank you for being my most patient and sage advisor.

 

Every two years, elected officials in the Village come to the voters and ask to serve another term. I imagine if you asked each of us on this stage, we’d each have a unique story of what made us seek office. But I also imagine there would be a universal theme of our desire to serve this community that we love. It’s that same love of Ossining that brought each of you here to this gym at the Community Center, to share part of New Year’s Day with your neighbors.

 

We are living in interesting times. All of us have a role to play in the success of Ossining. Sometimes that may be to vigorously debate issues that matter deeply to us; sometimes that may be to show up and listen; sometimes it may be to eat jerk chicken, or drink coffee, or buy a pretty new dress, whatever small investment we choose to make in supporting a local business that day.

 

And sometimes it may be to lead us in a song. I’d like to invite up to the microphone three very special Ossining residents. Anna Canoni is the granddaughter of Woody Guthrie. She and her daughters Kaylee and Alexis are going to lead us in singing This Land is Your Land. I hope everyone will join in.

Junior Mayor for the Day

IMG_7302Christian served as Junior Mayor for the Day last week. His parents won him the opportunity in the Ossining MATTERS online auction. What a remarkable young man! He arrived with a prepared list of questions. I think we addressed them all and much more.  We traveled across Ossining visiting many of the people who make our local government function so well, and admiring highlights of our beautiful Village.

 

Christian’s day as Junior Mayor began by joining in as members of the Baker-Collyer Christmas Cheer Fund and Rotary unveiled a new plaque in the lobby of Village Hall honoring 100 years of the Fund. Later in the day we had lunch with the Rotary, and Christian was presented with a plaque of appreciation. He asked to be the guest speaker. What 10 year old kid has the confidence and ability to stand up and speak to a room full of adults he doesn’t know? This kid! Afterward, he and I talked about the important contributions of so many members of our community that make Ossining a wonderful place.

 

Knowing that Christian is a strong math student with an interest in structural engineering, we headed to the John-Paul Rodrigues Operations Center, the epi center for that work in municipal government. Superintendent for Water & Sewer, Andrew Tiess gave Christian an in-depth understanding of how the Ossining Water System works. He now has a keen appreciation for how his love of math may be applied to a career that serves his environment and his community. This part of the day was a highlight for Christian. Village Engineer & Interim Manager Paul Fraioli talked about some of the big projects that the Village has undertaken.

 

Later in the day when I took Christian to the Joseph G Caputo Community Center, as soon as we parked, he took note of the pool building—as if seeing it for the first time because of the moment captured below where Paul showed him the pool building while it was under construction. At the Community Center, Christian showed me the football from his championship team, and he met with Superintendent of Recreation & Parks Chris Soi before we walked the Sing Sing Kill Greenway.

 

IMG_7340Christian learned all about the engineering feat that this remarkable public greenway is. When I told him that for many years people had thrown garbage into the Kill, and that though the Parks and DPW crews have done tremendous work to clean it up, still some people litter there. He was pretty disappointed by this behavior, asking why would people want to ruin something that is for everyone to share…something that is part of Ossining?

 

One of the next big engineering projects in the Village will be the repair of the Broadway Bridge—we’ll remove that ugly black net so we can fully appreciate Ossining’s iconic Double Arch from this new vantage point. And this young man will have a great appreciation for that work.

 

Christian had asked about the Harbor Square development, and thought it looked like a pretty great place to live, so we headed to the waterfront. Christian has an appreciation for the large sculptures in the Village. Dancing Milkweeds on the Village Hall lawn is one of his favorites. At the waterfront we talked about the giant wishbone sculpture. I acknowledged that it has been a little controversial, and that some people don’t much care for it. Christian likes it a lot, and was interested to learn about the process for creating it right in that location. In fact, he liked everything about the beautiful new Henry Gourdine Park, and is hoping that it will be officially open in time for the June 30 fireworks! (The plan is to cut the ribbon the week before. Stay tuned for details!)

 

Our last stop was to the Birdsall-Fagan Police Court Facility where Chief Kevin Sylvester gave Christian a full tour. He learned that the second floor which now serves as the briefing room, Detective Division, gym, locker rooms, and Chief, Captain and Lieutenants’ offices (including Coach Montague’s!) was once a bowling alley. Downstairs we visited the intake area (the only time Christian plans to visit there!) and courtroom, and found Christian’s home on the sector map. He lives in Sector 5.

 

Ossining MATTERS has asked me to offer this auction item again next year if I am still in office. Does your son or daughter have an interest in local government? Infrastructure? Parks? Law enforcement? Engineering? Public service?

 

I am grateful for the opportunity Christian provided me to see from a fresh perspective the contributions of the people who help us accomplish so much for this community we all love. Village government at its best goes unnoticed—residents are happy to have well-maintained roads, trash/recycling picked up, safe water provided, and a safe beautiful place to live, work and play. We strive to achieve those goals, a little more efficiently and effectively everyday.

 

2016 Priorities

At our first meeting of 2016 I reflected on what has been accomplished in the past year, and our goals for the coming year.

This Board of Trustees is united in our big picture goals:

  • Communication & Customer Service
  • Building Dept & Code Enforcement
  • Efficiency & Sustainability

Efforts toward efficiency & sustainability are happening on a number of fronts. The Solarize Ossining-Briarcliff and Community Energy Choice Aggregation (CCA) initiatives provide opportunities for financial savings directly to residents & small businesses.

12347673_902362783165144_3603113895730678789_nVillage infrastructure has been made more efficient with the LED streetlight conversion that is already well underway. This year we are looking to expand savings in our facilities with energy efficiency upgrades that will quickly pay for themselves with cost savings.

Later this year with the opening of the Sing Sing Kill Greenway, the public will be invited to experience Ossining’s iconic Double Arches in a way that few people have ever before. What began as a required sanitation sewer line project will become a local treasure.

The $100,000 NYPrize grant that the village got this year to explore the potential for a microgrid, is a smart move to help us make our community safer and more resilient during major power disruptions.

Ossining local business is growing and village government is supporting that success. This year we welcomed several new restaurants including Cravin’, El Manabita, Chow’s Caribbean, Casa de Campo and most recently DD’s Diner. To encourage shoppers to keep their dollars local, we had a holiday from feeding the meters for the month of December.

To foster new artisanal craft businesses to open in the village, we are voting later this month to amend a zoning regulation. This action is an example of the village’s responsiveness to local property owners who work with us to explore how we can expand opportunities for entrepreneurs to choose Ossining for their business.

Thousands have already viewed the Historic Downtown Ossining video created by Village Historian Dana White. You can still check it out at the Village’s YouTube channel. Understanding and celebrating our history is an important step in the decision making process for major plans including Market Square development and the Sing Sing Project.

The Downtown Development Fund Council will be making recommendations to the Board later this year for how to invest in the revitalization of downtown. There are two openings on that council. Residents interested in applying for those appointments are encouraged to send resumes and letters of interest to azambrano@villageofossining.org.

Our commitment to improving communication and openness began at the first meeting I presided over as mayor when we kept the cameras rolling throughout the Public Comments portion of legislative sessions. Weekly Open Office Hours that I have established every Tuesday at Village Hall from 10am-12noon have been a wonderful opportunity to connect with residents.

We have established a Village Facebook page as an additional avenue for getting information out to the public, and we have formed a Social Media Communications team to make effective use of talent across departments. A key goal on the communication front for 2106 is to create a new website that is more accessible and interactive.

In 2015 we said goodbye and good luck to several colleagues in Village government, including most recently Chief Joseph Burton. We have welcomed new exciting leadership in Village Management, Recreation & Parks, and the Ossining Police Department.

Fiscal responsibility is at the core of every decision this Board makes. We are very pleased to have passed a budget for 2016 that is $315,000 below the tax cap. We are dedicated to finding greater efficiencies and spending taxpayer dollars wisely to provide excellent service to residents.

2016 looks to be an exciting year for the Village of Ossining.

Tuesday Elections!!

Want lawn signs at your home? Email me your address and I'll come by!
Want lawn signs at your home? Email me your address and I’ll come by!

What is more patriotic than voting? What better to celebrate the foundation of our democracy than to vote for our neighbors who represent us in our local government?

There are two particular candidates for local office that I’d like to draw your attention to…

Trustee Rika Levin is looking to keep her seat on the Village board. Click to read why we appointed her to the BOT last month. Here’s a 10-word summary:

intelligence, marketing skills, MBA, corporate & nonprofit experience, brings so much!

Please also join me in voting for Dana Levenberg to be our next Ossining Town Supervisor. Dana is already contributing to Ossining’s future economic success and energy resiliency. As the Chief of Staff for Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, Dana was a driving force in getting local entities to seek a $100k NY Prize grant for a feasibility study to explore how Ossining can be at the forefront of energy independence and storm resiliency. We won that grant and are already learning more about our local resources and their potential.

Dana also recently led the coordination of municipal, private and nonprofit groups in a coalition of Ossining parties who are seeking funding to fuel our local economic development–in this case as part of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative just introduced by the NYS Regional Economic Development Council. Dana’s work ethic and depth of knowledge of how to navigate opportunities from NYS are a huge asset to Ossining.

I know she will bring that same collaborative spirit and dedication for making big things happen to her work as Ossining Town Supervisor. I am excited to partner with Dana and her colleagues on the Town Board to expand opportunities to better serve the people of Ossining.

I will be voting for the whole Democratic line of candidates this year. But you can also find Rika, Dana and other outstanding local candidates, including County Legislator Catherine Borgia, on the Independence Party line and often also on the Working Families Party line.

Parents, Tuesday is not just Teacher Conference Day–it’s Teach Your Kids Democracy Day…bring them with you to the polls!

Whatever line you vote on, please be sure to vote on Election Day Tuesday! Bring your kids to the polls! Bring your neighbor! Host a lawn sign to let your neighbors know: Election Day is here, and your vote matters!

 

Leadership Changes

I ran for Mayor on a platform of change—and that has certainly been the case this year when it comes to key leadership positions in village government. In May we welcomed Village Manager Abraham Zambrano. One of the strengths Manager Zambrano brings is his experience in finance—and with budget season upon us, we are making the most of his keen eye for recognizing opportunities to spend tax dollars more efficiently. Selecting Lieutenant Kevin Sylvester to succeed Chief Joseph Burton as leader of the Ossining Police Department, heralds a new generation of leadership, with an appreciation for tradition. And most recently, we’ve have some unexpected changes on the Board of Trustees.

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 5.17.04 AM On September 16, Trustee Rika Levin was sworn into office. She was appointed to the vacancy left by former Trustee Omar Herrera. Trustee Levin’s experience managing budgets in the business and nonprofit worlds will be a particularly valuable skill as we enter budget season. Her appointment is through the end of 2015. Rika Levin’s name will appear on the ballot in November as she seeks to hold her seat for 2016.

Trustee Robert Daraio announced he would be resigning from the Board effective September 30. Complicating the process of filling this sudden vacancy, was a long-planned vacation that Trustee John Codman had just begun the previous day. Now that Trustee Codman has returned, the Board will meet in executive session to discuss how we want to address this newest opening.

These recent changes may make the November ballot seem a bit confusing for Ossining Village voters. So here’s a guide to help you prepare for the November 3 election with regards to the 2016 Board of Trustees:

  • There are 2 seats up for election for a 2-year term, expiring 12/31/17. There are two candidates for these seats: Manuel Quezada & Quantel Bazemore. They are running unopposed. These candidates will appear on the Democratic, Independence and Working Families Party lines. The Republican and Conservative Parties did not endorse any candidates for these seats.
  • There is 1 seat up for election for a 1-year term, expiring 12/31/16. This is the seat that Trustee Rika Levin holds now. She was appointed by the Board of Trustees to fill the position through the end of 2015. On November 3, voters will go to the polls to choose between Rika Levin who will appear on the Democratic and Independence Party lines; or Luke Carbonaro who will appear on the Republican and Conservative Party lines.

The Village Charter instructs the Board to “appoint a qualified person to fill such vacancy; if an elective office, until the next Charter Election, when the vacancy shall be filled at said election for the unexpired term of such office.” Village government has seen a lot of appointments in recent history, including these familiar names: John Codman, Sue Donnelly, Bill Hanauer, Miguel Hernandez…

The Village Charter leaves the process for how to select the appointment up to the discretion of the Board. Each appointment is unique; one significant factor to consider is the amount of time remaining in the unexpired term. The process that led to the appointment of Trustee Rika Levin began with a public solicitation for resumes, followed by Board of Trustee interviews of the nine applicants. We chose Rika Levin knowing that, at the very least, she would be with us through the end of this year. Her experience managing budgets in the corporate and nonprofit world will be of great value during the budget season. It is our hope that voters support her continuing in this position. Her experience in marketing and branding strategy will be an excellent resource for this Board’s goal of improving communication and public outreach.

With less than three months remaining in the unexpired term created by now former Trustee Robert Daraio’s seat, the decision-making will reflect that different circumstance. We could appoint Quantel Bazemore. He is running unopposed to be in that seat on January 1, so an appointment now would essentially give him a head-start on the term. We could leave the seat vacant through the end of the year. We could appoint one of the candidates we interviewed last month when we selected Trustee Levin. We could appoint a community member who has contributed to Ossining over the years and may offer a helpful perspective as we enter this year’s budget season.

This week the Board of Trustees will meet in executive session to discuss how we will proceed with this appointment. Each individual who serves as Trustee changes the dynamic of the group. Whatever decision we make about whether and how to fill the vacancy for the final months of this year, it will be interesting to experience it with this newly established Board. One unifying characteristic among all the trustees I have served with, is our desire to look out for the interests of the people we represent. It is an honor and a responsibility we do not take lightly.

100 Days

On day 1 of my term as mayor I spoke of big initiatives. There is much to do, and it is reassuring to see all the progress that has been made in just the first 100 days of my term as mayor. Before I list some of the accomplishments of this Board of Trustees, please indulge me as I briefly reflect on what I’ve learned so far. I’ve learned I am a hands-on mayor. I’ve also learned that I can work with anyone in village government because I respect their position and their commitment to serving our community. And while shifting the culture of village government to be more open is not a quick process, everything I do is with a smile because I am so thoroughly enjoying each moment of it.

On April 7 the Board of Trustees announced our decision to hire Abe Zambrano to be the new Village Manager.
On April 7 the Board of Trustees announced our decision to hire Abe Zambrano to be the new Village Manager.

No single decision will have as great an impact on our local government as the selection of Abe Zambrano to be our next Village Manager. The search process was comprehensive and efficient. Abe will be leading an outstanding team of department managers. We on the Village Board of Trustees look forward to Abe’s help in furthering our goals to improve communication, government efficiency and a vibrant economy. We anticipate great success in these efforts as Abe focuses on the day-to-day functioning of the village, and strengthens our relationships with residents, businesses and community organizations.

This Board is committed to improving communication and accessibility. At our first legislative session, this Board of Trustees agreed to keep the cameras rolling throughout the public comment period, reversing a practice of the previous eight years. Thank you to all of the residents who participate in these public meetings.

Open Office Hours with the Mayor are a success. Every Tuesday from 10am to 12noon, I am in the Board of Trustees office, located on the first floor of Village Hall. No appointment is necessary. Occasionally a line forms, but not usually. By meeting with residents in this face-to-face manner, I’ve had the opportunity to hear big picture suggestions as well as address immediate individual concerns.

Improving energy efficiency is another goal of this Board. Last year we identified LED streetlights as a priority. At the March 11 work session we had a lengthy presentation from the group that has installed LED streetlights in other Westchester communities. This initiative allows us to benefit from the work begun by nearby municipalities to reduce our electricity cost for street lights by more than half, and improve the quality of our lighting.

At the March 25 work session we heard from Sustainable Westchester about two significant energy related programs that cost the village only minimal staff resources and no financial commitment. Community Choice Aggregation will immediately provide energy savings for Ossining residents and small business owners, and we are moving forward with the legal process to make that a reality. We are also moving forward with the first stage of positioning Ossining to take advantage of NYPrize funding for a community micro-grid that could provide the Village of Ossining with a reliable energy source even during a widespread blackout.

Proactively making smart development decisions is critical to Ossining’s economic viability and quality of life. On January 28 we hosted a community meeting at the Ossining Public Library to learn about the experience of two other municipalities regarding Green Building Codes. You can read a post about this initiative or watch the video from the meeting where Yonkers and Hastings presented us with their approaches and experiences. If this is a topic that interests you, visit the village website to apply to be on the Green Building Codes committee.

The Ossining Bank for Savings at 200 Main Street is the gateway to our downtown. We have issued a new Request for Proposal, with a bit of a twist this time. We are now open to considering public-private partnerships that could make it a success. The business or organization that breathes life into this historic building will be a powerful force in the revitalization of our Main Street.

MindMixer Ossining is an example of the dedication of this Board to engage the public. We are excited that this new online platform enables us to hear from the community in a quantitative way. It is an easily accessible ongoing series of questions that will focus this year on what Ossining wants to see happen at the heart of our downtown–the Market Square Properties.

Will I see you tomorrow as the JCYS Baseball Season kicks off with their Opening Day Parade? Or perhaps next Saturday, April 18 at Green Ossining’s Earth Day Festival at our waterfront. The theme of this year’s festival is Solar, promoting the Solarize Ossining-Briarcliff program which is a public-private partnership to bring low-cost high-quality solar to our residential and commercial property owners. After this long winter, we could all us a little more sunshine!

Between parades and festivals, I look forward to working with my colleagues in village government on these and so many more initiatives to improve our community and the lives of Ossining residents.

Ways to Get Involved & Informed

Attend a legislative session on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. Meetings are 7:30pm at the Birdsall-Fagan Courthouse, 86-88 Spring Street. There are three opportunities for visitors to speak on camera: Organizational Announcements; Comments on Village Board Resolutions; and Visitor Recognition when you may speak on any subject relevant to the common good of the village.

Serve on a village committee. Currently there are positions available on the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Landlord Tenant Relations Council, the Mid-Hudson Ambulance Committee, and the Green Building Guidelines Committee. Visit the Village of Ossining website for details on how to apply.

Watch BOT meetings on Ch 78 or FIOS 43, or anytime online at the village website or the Village of Ossining YouTube channel.

A couple of media outlets where I’ve shared village news are the Cablevision program Meet the Leaders, and on the second Monday of each month I spend an hour as a guest of Westchester On the Level. I look forward to talking with online radio host Hezi Aris again on Monday, April 13 at 11am.

Beyond Tuesday morning office hours, residents can also reach out via email gearity@villageofossining.org or call 914-941-3554. You can email the entire Board at BOT@villageofossining.org.

 

Citizen Advisors Please Apply!

Seek elected office not to hold power over the people you represent, rather to empower the people you serve.

Blitz TeamThat is the message I heard loud and clear at a conference I attended weeks before I took office as Village Trustee. As I prepare now to take office as Mayor, one way that I am fulfilling that guiding principle is to encourage community members to attend the Land Use and Sustainable Development Conference hosted by Pace Land Use Law Center on December 5. This year’s focus is “Transitioning Communities.”

If your schedule may allow you to attend this day-long conference, do not let the cost ($150 general admission, $85 student/nonprofit/government) be a barrier to attending. You can apply to receive one of the three scholarships that are available for Ossining residents from Friends of Victoria Gearity. Money raised by that fund continues to serve the mission of my campaign for mayor by empowering people who want to make a difference for our community. Helping people become well-informed community advisors is a worthy investment.

I’ve attended several conferences and leadership trainings at the Pace Land Use Law Center, and am always impressed by the caliber of speakers and participants who attend. It is sure to be a valuable experience for any Ossining resident who is interested in helping us address our changing demographics and community needs; understand the impact of development; and identify how we may transition toward sustainability, disaster recovery, and economic revitalization.

If you or someone you know would like to apply for a scholarship to attend, please complete the form below by November 30. Recipients will be notified on Monday, December 1. Remember, anyone can register on their own. But the date is approaching, so do not delay.

Vote on Tuesday, Move Ossining Forward

Headshot, fade 2, boost 1, warm, lgtElection Day is Tuesday, November 4, and I am asking for your vote to become the next Mayor of Ossining.  The resounding Democratic primary victory was one big step, but now I need all Village of Ossining voters to make your voices heard so that together we can move our village forward.

I will lead our village government with a bold new vision for economic development and a dedication to face our challenges head-on.  I am a collaborative leader, which is not the most simplistic approach to leadership.  It may seem more expedient for a small group of people to make big decisions, only inviting comment to the degree necessary to check the “public input” box.  But I believe Ossining needs a leader who is dedicated to making smart decisions, informed by the due diligence of officials, as well as valuable contributions of community members.

Before I even announced my candidacy, I created an online survey asking residents for their ideas and opinions about Ossining.  The survey, circulated on social media, through my website and other online media sources, prompted responses from a broad spectrum of community members.  The top three priorities were not surprising:

  1. Downtown Economic Development
  2. Lowering/Slowing Taxes
  3. Illegal Housing

Generating Greater Tax Revenue & Growing a Vibrant Downtown:  While Ossining does have a core group of successful businesses as our foundation, we continue to lag far behind other river towns. And I, for one, have heard enough excuses about why we aren’t seeing the kind of vibrant downtown economies that our neighbors are. Eight years ago, who would have thought that Peekskill, a river community with perceived hurdles greater than ours, could become a mecca for art, live music, and downtown restaurants?  As mayor, I will prioritize generating greater tax revenue and improving our quality of life by growing a vibrant downtown.

As mayor, I would incorporate many of the successful strategies I have learned from visiting other communities who have revitalized their downtowns.  Peekskill hired a downtown development director from the business sector who led an aggressive campaign to partner local businesses with municipal investment and grant funding.  Tarrytown fostered growth on their Main Street as well as their waterfront, and they are now seeking innovative ways to implement Complete Streets best practices to connect these two hubs.  Yonkers established Green Building Guidelines and already they are finding that developers are designing a higher caliber of buildings, which are more desirable to retail and residential tenants.

It is critical that we make the most of our available commercial properties.  Retail businesses have a greater potential for income, and therefore pay a higher tax rate, than office space.  My vision for our downtown is to maximize first floor retail with second floor offices contributing to a daily workforce.  I recently had a conversation with Jessica Irons, a community member who told me, “I have wanted to open up a business downtown since we moved here… Taking my investors on a drive through Ossining a little over a year ago–empty store-fronts, dilapidated buildings–they couldn’t see what I could imagine.”  Last week Jessica reported that it is the excitement of my campaign for mayor that has inspired her and her investors to move forward with opening a theater school.  Her architect is making plans as she negotiates a contract for a space in downtown Ossining.  I look forward to cutting the ribbon at her grand opening!

Tough Budget Decisions, Facing them Head-on:  Listening to my opponent rail against the unfairness of the tax cap, I have to ask the question, “Who in this village thinks the answer to our challenges is raising property taxes?” During last year’s budget process I came to develop an appreciation for the intention of the “2% tax cap” initiative—flawed and misleading as the formula may be.  Having a fixed target of a maximum recommended tax increase commands our attention to each expense we consider.  Here is a post I wrote last year reflecting on our 2014 budget.

The greatest local tax burden we feel is our school taxes.  My efforts as Trustee have already begun to build stronger communication between our planning department and the school district.  We must take advantage of the opportunities for school district concerns to be addressed during the planning process, while exploring more ways to ensure that our school buildings have room for the children of Ossining without overburdening taxpayers.  My outreach to our village planner, planning board, school administration, and board of education opened up a dialogue for a better understanding of how development impacts our school system.  I am currently exploring how developers may be able to help fund future capital projects, like constructing classrooms for our increasing enrollment.  This suggestion could become a reality as the school district considers working with our NYS representatives to permit a special fund to be established allowing proactive collaboration between developers, planners, and the school district.

Solving the Problems of Overcrowded Housing:  For much of the last eight years many in village government have been unwilling to even acknowledge that our overcrowded housing problem is real.  Overcrowded housing creates unsafe conditions for first-responders and residents, and it unfairly taxes law-abiding property owners by creating too much stress on our municipal services and schools.  We need a Mayor with the political courage to find comprehensive solutions by inviting all stakeholders to the table—firefighters and housing advocates, police officers and planners, code enforcers and property owners.

I am proud of this campaign for mayor that I have led.  I am honored to have the support of such a broad and enthusiastic coalition, including elected leaders in our local, county and state government.  Because I realize that no single group of people has a monopoly on great ideas, as Mayor I intend to lead a series of community meetings to help us address our greatest challenges head-on.  Through my work with innovative leaders from across Westchester and the Hudson Valley, I understand how to lead a collaborative process that takes advantage of all the skills, talents and passion of our residents.  With this approach, we will marshal the best ideas from the Ossining community to move us forward.

As mayor, I will improve communication with residents via better use of email and social media.  Here is a post I wrote in the wake of the boil water advisory.  I solicited input from the community and led a work session discussion with village colleagues providing recommendations for improving communication during an emergency.  To promote greater access for in-person conversations, I will hold weekly office hours so that residents can meet with me with no appointment necessary.  And I will work to once again keep the cameras rolling throughout public comments at village board meetings.

My excitement about leading an inclusive village government comes from my ability to listen to differing opinions, and a confidence that Ossining will grow stronger the more that people have constructive opportunities to help our community.  Ossining is ready to move forward.  I hope I can count on your vote on Tuesday, November 4.

Standing Strong

I posted the below message on Facebook yesterday.  The outpouring of support has been remarkable.  Encouraging statements have come from family, friends, supporters, and folks who are simply fed-up with village politics.  This week is certainly not a high point for transparency in local government.  The residents of Ossining deserve better.  I am grateful to be connecting with so many community members, and look forward to building a more open, responsive and engaging relationship between village officials and the public.

Last night it was alleged that ethics charges have been filed against me.  This action serves only to reinforce my dedication to becoming a mayor who reaches out to the community, encouraging transparency and public engagement.

I have not yet seen the “ethics charges” referenced during last night’s publicly televised Board of Trustees meeting.  However, other village employees have.  Trustee Bob Daraio stated that “ethics charges” impacted his vote to support granting preferred developer status for 200 Main Street to Interoceanic Corporation.

No effort was made to obtain my response to this allegation, or even inform me of the charge before publicly revealing it as a pretext to discredit both my husband’s business, Sing Sing Kill Brewery, and myself.  The village struggled to locate the said email and could not even provide me with a copy of it.

Does it seem fair and transparent that a trustee referenced “ethics charges” when casting a vote, while I am the accused and I have not even seen them?  Did all the voting members of the board have access to that same information when they cast their votes?  The vote itself was tainted, and such an important decision on a key property should have been tabled pending resolution of the issue—particularly given that the source of the alleged complaint is Daniel V. Remer, a supporter of my opponent.

This bullying tactic is consistent with the current administration’s practice of stifling public comments.

So proud to have co-founded this group dedicated to engaging the community on issues that matter.  Last night our topic was gun violence.  Our committee is pictured here with our outstanding panelists.
So proud to have co-founded this group dedicated to engaging the community on issues that matter. Last night our topic was gun violence. Our committee is pictured here with our outstanding panelists.  www.OssiningDocumentaries.org

My public statements regarding 200 Main Street were made with complete disclosure that I am a Village Trustee and a Candidate for Mayor, and that I have recused myself from all deliberations and decision-making regarding the village-owned property because my husband is an interested party.  The article I wrote in the Patch provided information and encouraged public engagement about a flagship property whose future will dramatically impact the vibrancy of our downtown economy.  I was heartened by the thoughtful and respectful public response that resulted.

Being an elected official does not mean I give up my first amendment right to free speech as a resident of this great nation.  Is expressing an opinion, while being completely open about my position in the village and in relation to the subject of discussion, unethical?

I have done nothing wrong.  I am troubled by the timing of these allegations.

I am grateful for the outpouring of support I have already received from friends and community members who recognize this tactic for what it is—bullying designed to discredit a candidate who seeks transparency and public engagement.

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