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.

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.

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