The forum that the League of Women Voters chose for the New Rochelle City Council candidates on October 11 created a long, tedious meeting. Carolyn Stevens, President of the Scarsdale League, had been chosen as moderator to read the questions which had to be submitted before the forum began. Candidates in each district were given questions. The audience was told the questions were randomly selected, but "inappropriate questions were screened."
Differences between the candidates and their political parties emerged as the questions were posed. District 6's Republican candidate, Steve Mayo, was the first to introduce himself and he gave his credentials, being an attorney, entrepreneur and a creative problem solver. His opponent, Democrat Shari Rackman, also an attorney, said she grew up in New Rochelle and believes in "giving back" to the community and working collaboratively.
In District 4, Ivar Hyden, on the Democratic ticket said he had lived in New Rochelle 16 years and felt underrepresented, adding he was "proud to be a Democrat." His opponent, Republican Kevin Barrett, stated he had many years of public service and as a "symbolic act" of open and transparent government" wants to open the front door of New Rochelle City Hall.
Ilyse Spectus, Republican candidate, District 5, talked about the "lack of progress in revitalizing the city," and felt it was necessary to stop 30 year tax abatements so the schools can re receive more tax money and remain strong. Councilman Barry Fertel, Democrat District 5, enumerated his record of deep commitment to New Rochelle and how he moved his law practice to New Rochelle. He reminded the group of the large vacant lots and empty storefronts that were once in downtown New Rochelle.
Roberto Lopez, former Democratic Councilman and candidate for District 1, emphasized his long term commitments and felt he could bring the City together and "move the City forward." Councilman Lou Trangucci, District 1, said previously he ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility and felt he had lived up to this promise. For example, his initiative to request Avalon land payments resulted in $9 million that was received in the City coffers.
James Earvin, Republican candidate for District 3, who was a Staff Sergeant in Vietnam and is presently a private detective, felt he was "forced to run" because of a horrible redistricting plan and the "give aways' and lack of commercial development in New Rochelle. Democratic Councilman Jared Rice, District. 3, spoke of his family and professional achievements. He felt his academic background and law degree form a basis for his deep understanding of how government works.
Councilman Albert Tarantino, Republican, District 2, running unopposed said he was against reassessment and irresponsible development. In his view PILOTS (payments in lieu of taxes) should end and tax generating businesses should be sought along with waterfront revitalization.
The audience questions were numerous and answers mostly along political party lines. The first question asked was about long term planning guidelines and sustainability. Lopez asked why his opponent had not voted for the GreenR sustainability plan, which he felt was one of the best things that happened. Trangucci answered he had voted "no" because the plan dictated that the City join ICLEI, an organization that dictates how green initiatives should be completed. He asked, for example, if homeowners would like at their own expense having their water and sewer lines checked before they could sell their homes.
The issue of how long Kevin Barrett, Republican candidate for District. 4, has lived in New Rochelle despite Barrett's recounting of his long history of public service elsewhere continued to surface. In his closing statement, Hyden was "blown away" by these claims because he said Barrett only recently moved to New Rochelle.
Reassessment was the topic of several questions. Rackman said there was a need for equalization on taxes, but it was a very expensive process. He opponent, Mayo, felt the question was a distraction and thought the emphasis should be on a improving the quality of life and working on a master plan.
When the question about the new parking rules which made it necessary to feed the street parking meters at night from 6 p.m. to midnight and include an 100% increase in fees in the lots, Barrett said he did not support this change and that many businesses are upset by them. Hyden countered by saying that this parking problem was created when Avalon decided two years ago to charge for parking spaces and 1200 cars moved out onto the streets of New Rochelle and there was no choice but to charge more, or to issue overnight parking permits. As a result he added, his customers can now come downtown.
After the forum, Laraine Karl said the question about how many times Kevin Barrett had voted in New Rochelle was totally unnecessary and indicated his opponent had nothing else to discuss in District 4.
Arnold Klugman, Chairman of the New Rochelle Democratic City Committee said each side is dealing with narratives. Seven and a half to eight million dollars has been generated in taxes from Home Depot and the Weyman Avenue developments. The City of New Rochelle bonded for $29 million in 1989 to condemn property in downtown and no development occurred. The Republican narrative is looking backward assuming everything would have been built without incentives which is totally unrealistic. You need incentives to be competitive with neighboring communities.
Lorraine Pierce said she remembers that in the past there were several real estate brokers who had commercial businesses interested in coming to New Rochelle but when they asked, they were not given an appointment to present their plans.
Mark McLean, Chairperson of the Concerned Citizens for Redistricting, felt Jared Rice's claim about reassessment indicates he has no idea of the history of why the minority district was formed to protect Afro-Americans from the discrimination that was experienced with at-large districts in New Rochelle. The Councilman from District 3 should not be there to protect New Rochelle from a lawsuit but to create a district. Jared Rice's plan was the most inferior. The lack of a lawsuit does not speak to fairness because a Federal lawsuit is very expensive and the Committee could not raise resources to pay $10,000 for the lawsuit. The residents should not have to raise that money. The Councilman's job is to prevent discrimination against Afro-Americans.
Jim O'Toole summarized: "It was the same old stuff you hear every four years, a bunch of broken promises."
In the Westchester Guardian, October 27, 2011 issue