A New Chapter Ahead

It is with a heart full of gratitude for the people of Ossining that I announce I will not seek a fourth term for mayor in 2020. After thoughtful consideration, I have decided that I will start a new chapter. During my time as mayor the village has become greener, stronger, better connected, more welcoming to all, and economically thriving.

In this final year of my third term as mayor, I will continue to be progressive on the environment, housing and social justice policies; conservative on taxes; and transformative on how we communicate with the people we serve.

Doing the right thing for the environment can also be the smart financial choice. Installing LED streetlights throughout the village produces six-figure savings every year for taxpayers. Further, our decision to become one of the first municipalities to opt-in to 100% green energy through community choice aggregation, expanded Ossining’s impact on transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy. My role as a member of the steering committee that created Sustainable Westchester, and as a board member of the Northern Westchester Energy Action Coalition before that, has kept Ossining at the forefront of energy saving programs.

I have led an innovative and comprehensive approach to economic development that honors our commitment to preserving cultural and socioeconomic diversity. The program we created to establish affordable housing units within existing buildings is the first of its kind in New York. Long before the county released the results of their recent study, village policy has been influenced by our own housing needs assessment.

My commitment to make everyone feel welcome in our community, led to Ossining’s first raising of the LGBTQ rainbow flag for pride at Village Hall, as well as becoming the first community in New York to pass a gender-neutral bathroom signage policy. As an advocate for our undocumented residents, I championed the campaign to allow all drivers to be eligible to be licensed in New York State.

Holding the line on taxes is one of the most significant ways that we can keep Ossining relatively affordable. During the budget negotiations my first year as mayor, I introduced the idea of a 0% tax rate increase. The suggestion was unheard of at the time. We weren’t yet in a fiscal position to keep it totally flat, though we came close. That mindset put us on the right path. This week we will vote to have a 0% tax rate increase for the fourth year in a row.

I have transformed village communications. Initiatives like Open Office Hours, the Monday Mayor’s Message, Weekly Walks, and our redesigned website and social media presence have been effective ways to reach the people of Ossining. I began holding Tuesday Open Office Hours my first month in office, and it has proven to be a valuable opportunity to connect with residents one-on-one. The Monday email I send has been a consistent means for letting folks know the latest happenings in village government from the convenience of their inbox.

Thank you to everyone who joined me on a Weekly Walk as I experienced every block of the village on foot. The journey was about much more than exercise, or even the personal connections with residents who took the time to tell me what their neighborhood means to them. The experience continues to serve me in decisions about how zoning and planning changes will impact residents for generations to come.

Headshot forced smileWhen I took office, my sons were in pre-k. Today they are in middle school, and college is right around the corner. I will be exploring opportunities for a job that contributes financially in a significant way for my family. Though it will be difficult to find another position as rewarding and meaningful as mayor, it is time for me to start thinking about what is next.

Serving in local elected office is personally and professionally fulfilling, and perhaps I will again some day. For now I am excited to work with a new village board, dedicated staff, and our highly engaged community for a productive 2020.

 

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.

As Mayor, I will…

Headshot V MayFellow Ossining Residents,

As Ossining Village Trustee, I have witnessed many issues that are not being addressed head-on by our current mayor. At this pivotal point in Ossining’s history, it is vital that we have a change in leadership, and elect a mayor with the courage to address tough challenges and the openness to respect differing opinions. On Tuesday, September 9, I am asking my fellow Democrats in the Village of Ossining to cast their vote for me in the mayoral primary. I am proud to be endorsed by the Ossining Democratic Committee, the Westchester Independence Party and many community leaders including Assemblywoman Sandy Galef and County Legislator Catherine Borgia. As mayor, I will work to strengthen our community, grow our local economy, and continue to collaborate at every level so Ossining can reach its full potential. As mayor, I will focus on:

  1. Generating Greater Tax Revenue & Creating a Vibrant Downtown: Too many business owners have told me of the obstacles and frustration in their efforts to open and grow a business in Ossining.  We need to adopt a “Welcome. How can we help you?” approach at every opportunity.  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 great downtown restaurants?  I’ve heard enough excuses.  As mayor, I will prioritize generating greater tax revenue and improving our quality of life by growing a vibrant downtown.
  2. Improving Decision-Making with Smart Development: During this next term of office, critical decisions will be made about the development of Market Square properties at the heart of our downtown.  Before we ask a developer for his plan, Ossining’s talented and engaged community members need to craft a vision for the future of this key location.  As mayor, I will lead the effort to make this collaborative process happen, because we must make smart development decisions that honor our history and strengthen Ossining for future generations.
  3. Addressing Concerns Head-On of an Overburdened School System: 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. As mayor, I will recognize that collaboration between the municipality and the school district is an obligation I have to all our residents, whether their priority is from a tax perspective or a concern for quality of education. I’m in this for the long-haul—as a parent to two young children in our school system, I have a personal stake and firsthand knowledge of the impact of development decisions.
  4. Solving the Problems of Overcrowded Housing: For much of the last eight years the current mayor has not been willing 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.  The new laws that I have joined with two other trustees to promote, will provide our building department with additional tools to better enforce our zoning laws—but they are only a first step in the right direction. 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.

In my time on the village board, I have not seen the current mayor make sufficient progress on the issues above, and in some cases even create obstacles. This is what led me to decide to run for mayor. Ossining has seen a lot of ribbon cuttings and symbolic legislation.  It’s time for village government to go beyond this and work harder for the people we serve.

As mayor, I will improve communication with residents via better use of email and social media.  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.

The current mayor began his tenure after having been appointed to the position of trustee and serving less than one term. I have benefitted greatly from my experience these past two years as a Trustee and I understand how the “system” works and what it takes to run a municipality. I have also benefitted from watching how things can go awry, and how a change in governing style, to one of a collaborative administration, could have beneficial outcomes for all involved.

Democrats, I’m asking for your vote on Tuesday, September 9.  Voter turnout in primary elections tends to be very low, so your individual vote will have a big impact on the outcome.  Bring a friend to the polls and together we will help Ossining reach its full potential.

Sincerely,

Victoria Gearity

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.

Music—An Ossining Community Value

There is no greater place for a music lover to live than Ossining.

The richness of music in Ossining is a huge part of what makes this community ideal for raising our family.  Last Sunday we walked down the hill to our public library to attend a free Guy Davis concert.  Paxton and Levon listened, sang and clapped along with their fellow concert-goers.  Afterward, we bought a CD and the boys joked around with Guy as he signed it and dramatically engaged in high-fives with his youngest audience members.

Mike Risko taught me a chord so I’d look like I know what I’m doing for this pic!

There are so many ways to love music—playing, singing, listening, dancing, learning the history…  Growing up I learned a little piano, performed in every school musical and chorus concert, and sang in my college’s gospel choir.  I’m playing the piano more today than I have in decades, as I help Pax and Levon practice.  And Thursday evening I’m going to learn a little guitar at the Rockin’ Moms Night Out.  It’s a fundraiser for the Friends of Victoria Gearity campaign for Ossining Village Trustee, hosted by Risko Music.

Of course, any party is an opportunity to celebrate local Ossining businesses!  We’ll sample treats from Bellina Chocolates and Sterling Sweets, munch savory snacks, and taste selections from Ossining Wine & Liquor (85 Croton Avenue, 914-941-2733) as well as local craft brewers.  Please join us!   The Rockin’ part of the night is thanks to The Mike Risko Music School who is hosting the event and will break out some guitars and provide a mini-lesson to any musically inclined or curious party-goers.

Where else can kids meet and joke with professional musicians on any given Sunday afternoon?

The Mike Risko Music School received a big shout-out at the Guy Davis concert because of the school’s support of the free series.  Alan and Ellen Marzelli are the founders of the Ossining “Words & Music” concert series.  That series is an integral part of what makes Ossining the greatest place I can imagine for raising my family.

This summer Paxton and Levon performed before a live audience for the first time.  They each played a song they learned in their piano classes at Risko.  My boys were the opening act for the Rock Band Campers who composed and performed original pieces in a live outdoor concert at the music school.  How cool is that?!

I lived in OH for six years, so will never take Ossining’s gorgeous sunsets for granted!

So many of us gathered to enjoy warm Friday evenings at the Ossining Waterfront.  There is no more spectacular venue for live music than sitting on a blanket with friends, picnicking, listening, dancing and watching the sunset over the Hudson River at Louis Engel Park.  We have the Ossining Waterfront Vision Committee is to thank for that free public concert series.

When my boys are at Claremont, I look forward to them learning to play violin, viola or cello.  Mike & Miriam Risko demonstrated their profound connection with our community by offering a free Intro to Strings workshop for the new string players before the school year began.

Another terrific live music event is the Ossining MATTERS Benefit Concert.  That’s one ticket I’m happy to pay for.  Last year when audience members were invited to come together in front of the stage, I danced with friends, students, parents, administrators, school board and community members.  It is no wonder that this annual spring fundraiser is such a success in Ossining.

Maybe someday Pax and Levon will form a band—Blue Pizza is the name they’ve already selected.  (If there’s any garage that deserves its own band, it the gorgeous one my husband Eric built!)  Maybe someday my boys will march in the OHS band, or even play Carnegie Hall.  Or maybe they’ll just sing in the shower.  What I do know, is that the rich role music will play throughout their lives is in no small part thanks to the creativity, generosity and dedication of so many wonderful people in Ossining.

Individual contributions are limited to $1,000 and are not tax-deductible.  Please make checks out to Friends of Victoria and mail them to Friends of Victoria Gearity, 57 Prospect Avenue, Ossining, NY  10562.

Event attendees can make donations at the door.  Thanks!!

Supporting Local Businesses with Fun Raising

The Craft Beer Tasting & Pool Party was a big success thanks in large part to the generosity and hard work of our hostess County Legislator Catherine Borgia and several local businesses.  Supporting local businesses is a core value for my family.  It reinforces our goals for preserving our environment, growing our local economy, rewarding ingenuity & customer service, and just old-fashioned looking out for your neighbor.  Some of the local business that directly supported this event were:

The Mike Risko Music School    Sterling Sweets   Charms by Amy  and  The Pastures Grass-Fed Free Range Beef  (at the Ossining Farmers Market)

Bill Hanauer brings such passion to his work as Mayor of Ossining.
Catherine Borgia was such a generous hostess. She’s a fantastic cook and throws a great party. One more terrific reason to become active with the Ossining Democratic Committee!
Life-size lawn signs will be ready in October. Will you post one at your Ossining home? Send me a message below if you can!

David Carlucci made at least four trips across the Tappan Zee on that Saturday. He’s working hard to get to know the Ossining voters he seeks to represent now that his NYS Senate district includes Rockland and Ossining.

I’m not sure what Sandy Galef and I found so hilarious, but I love this picture. She takes her role as public servant seriously, but is joyfully light-hearted about the rest of life.

The Ossining Side of the Hudson

“The 38th District…A River Runs Through It”  That was the phrase suggested by our host Miguel Hernandez at a weekend gathering with NYS Senator David Carlucci.  David Carlucci himself recognized that the senate district line established earlier this year carving Ossining off of Westchester and connecting us with Rockland was ridiculous.  Nonetheless, he has embraced his constituents on our side of the Hudson.

My husband Eric and I enjoyed a lovely evening in the beauty and relative cool of Miguel & Tamsen Hernandez’ yard on Saturday.  This was not our first opportunity to engage with David Carlucci.  I’m aware of several previous occasions when the senator has been in Ossining getting to know us, and our concerns.  Perhaps you shook hands with him at the Ossining Fair, Portuguese Day, or the St. Augustine’s Fair.  He may even have knocked on your door in June when he was gathering signatures for petitions.

The first time I met Senator Carlucci was at a Westchester fundraiser this spring.   When I mentioned my work as a liaison for Energize Ossining, he immediately recognized how the On-Bill Payment legislation he had recently helped pass in Albany, was both confusing to homeowners as well as extremely beneficial to anyone interested in making their home more energy efficient with no out-of-pocket expenses.

The next time you see Senator Carlucci, I encourage you to engage him in a conversation on an issue that matters to you.  He’s likely to be knowledgeable about any NYS legislation related to your concern.  David Carlucci embodies much of what we hope for from an elected official—intelligence, a sincere interest in the concerns and ideas of others, and a dedication to serving the people of his district.

I expect we will be seeing even more of Senator Carlucci and his staff when they open their Ossining office at 80 Spring Street on August 15th.  I appreciate former Mayor Hernandez’ sentiment that the Hudson River flowing through the 38th District may be viewed as a force that unites us.  Surely we do share many of the same concerns as voters on the west side of the Hudson.  And now that we also share a senator, an awareness of Rockland’s interests adds a new element to the glorious sunsets that celebrate the close of each day on the Ossining side of NYS Senate District 38.

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