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ML Perlman: Breaking the Mold for Village Volunteers

ML2ML Perlman, a relative newcomer to Scarsdale, will be the next President of the Scarsdale Forum. A rocker who is generations younger than many of her peers in civic life, she moved to town just two years ago and quickly became an ardent volunteer. This year she played a key role in the Scarsdale election for Village Mayor and Trustees, leading the campaign for the Scarsdale Citizens Non-Partisan Party.

We begged her for an interview and here is what she shared:

When did you move to Scarsdale and why did you decide to move here? Did you know someone here?

My husband went to Scarsdale High School (Class of '96)! We bought the second house we saw here two years ago. I never thought Scarsdale would be such an awesome choice for me personally - I knew it was the best option for our kids - however I never thought I would find such connection to the community so quickly. I still work in the city everyday, but I probably have an almost equal number of emails and calls for what's going on in the Dale! I love it!

What do you enjoy about living in the 'Dale?

Everything. Literally. Every morning I wake up hearing the birds chirping outside and I am so grateful to live here. I am not kidding. It may sound corny, but as a big city girl who was raised on the constant grey-noise-growl of the New York City machine, I am in love with the sound of the birds and the rustle of the leaves. I love to mow my own lawn, mulch my own leaves, record music in my basement studio, recycle my food scraps, and install my own light fixtures. In particular I feel so grateful to have gotten involved in the civic club called Scarsdale Forum that has provided me with such a richly diverse, brilliant, and interesting group of friends and colleagues. Even better is that I feel like I can meet anyone in this Village and have something to talk about - and maybe even a project to work on together. I prefer to get to know people working in a team environment with a goal of some kind. Scarsdale's astonishingly vast volunteer community is something I did not understand until after I moved here - and now it is what I value most about our community and my life here.

What do you do in your professional life?

I have been developing multi-family residential real estate in downtown New York City for about 10 years. The company I work for, Alfa Development, targets LEED-Gold Certification (a environmental sustainability accountability program) for all of its developments. It has been a fascinating and inspiring process to understand how a building can be designed to use less natural resources to function. Not all of my job is technical; as the Vice President of Development and Marketing I get to work with architects and engineers - but I also work with the creative arts in interior design, creative agencies, publicity, music production, and art gallery installations. My company founded a gallery in 2007 (www.gallery151.com) and I have served as the gallery's Executive Director since that time. Working closely with artists and in the creative field is deeply rewarding for me - particularly since I am an artist as well. That sense of artistic collaboration keeps my days fresh and inspiring.

The gallery sounds interesting – what kind of gallery is it?

The gallery was founded in 2007 after we found a collaborative graffiti mural behind a wall of sheetrock in one of our buildings. The find was written about in the NY Times. My company's founder Michael Namer is an artist and long time New York resident and immediately undertook the restoration and preservation of the mural. We hosted a gallery exhibition curated by Hal Meltzer and hosted by Fab 5 Freddy. That first exhibit was the beginning of ten years of exhibitions that celebrate emerging artist of New York with a focus on issues relating to environmental sustainability. For example Bentley Meeker created original works exploring the spectrum of light emitted by LED and incandescent blubs, Oscar Dotter produced an exhibit to address the endangerment of polar bears due to global warming, and my favorite exhibit was a retrospective on the still life as a visual history of our human relationship with food – from Caravaggio to Paul Brainard and Marco Kallach. Some proceeds from the exhibit were donated to Slow Food NYC, a non-profit that seeks to repair "food desert" conditions in low income urban areas with rooftop gardens and agricultural instruction. Next week we are hosting the Acria Unframed annual fundraiser at the gallery – Acria is a non-profit whose leadership comes from within the creative community to fulfill their mission to treat everyone with HIV. The following week on May 17th we are opening our next exhibit by a group of artists called Nitemind who use technology and physical space to create immersive and interactive installations.

I heard you were appointed to the Scarsdale Arts Council. Does this mean Scarsdale will be having more gallery exhibits?

I am honored to have been appointed by Mayor Hochvert as Director at Large to the Scarsdale Arts Council When Trustee Jane Veron approached me about it in her capacity as Personnel Chair of the Board I immediately understood the need for activities within our Village Center that would give our residents a reason to visit more frequently. Art installations are a natural fit - and this is very much my experience over the 10 years developing real estate whole overseeing a gallery. Our Council is excited to share some of our upcoming plans!

We know you enjoy singing – tell us more about that part of your life.

I had early success when a friend of mine and I decided to start a band called "Spalding Rockwell." We had the right mix of musical talent and industry savvy to successfully pursue a music career as a singer/songwriter/engineer/performer for about seven years. I am completely self-taught as a musician and engineer. I wrote a song for a DJ named Armand Van Helden called "Hear My Name" which was very successful when it was released as a single for the album "New York: A Mix Odyssey." In 2004 I was introduced by the Mayor of Miami as the first act of the Ultra Music Festival on BBC Radio One - which was a big deal. That year I was also the face of the Ben Sherman women's ad campaign that featured my band. Around the same time I got married and decided that the life of a touring musician was too grueling and too far from home. My uncle was a real estate developer and encouraged me to get involved in the business - and when I got a taste for the business of building buildings I was absolutely hooked. However I never stopped writing music - I have scored two films for HBO, recently wrote another song for Armand Van Helden called "Spidey Sensei" on his "Extra Dimensional" album that was released in November of 2016, and regularly score promotional videos for the HGU New York hotel my company owns in NYC. Perhaps my favorite almost-achievement is that I wrote a song for Britney Spears called DOULUVME. Britney didn't use the song but that doesn't even matter to me, I still say "I wrote a song for Britney." It was a thrill to even be considered.

How did you get involved with the Scarsdale Forum?

When we first bought our house, we didn't live in it full time. The kids were finishing their school year in Manhattan so while we spent time in Scarsdale, we didn't really have many opportunities to meet people here in town through PTA events. When our neighbors invited us to Forum's 2015 "Winterfest" party, we were grateful to have received a social invitation. At that event we met the then-Mayor Bob Steves, then-incumbent Mayor Jon Mark, and our County Legislator Ben Boykin. My husband and I were impressed with the accessibility, stature, and good nature of the esteemed guests. At my first membership meeting Lena Crandall was so kind to introduce herself and introduce me to others such as Michelle Sterling, Madelaine Eppenstein, and Dan Hochvert. Finding such interesting active and engaged folks was so exciting for me as a new resident.

What do you value most about the Forum?

The amazing people. When I look at the mentorship, guidance, and friendship I have gained from the Forum I am just overwhelmed with gratitude. In particular I must note that I have made friends of all ages with diverse perspectives - which has been a natural but unexpected gift. Merrell Clark is an example of someone I met when I was researching a 1985 survey of the Scarsdale Futures. They survey is still considered the gold standard in our community and I was lucky enough to have been able to speak with Merrell about his involvement. During our conversations, Merrell recommended three books: Of Colonists and Commuters: A History of Scarsdale, A Sort of Utopia, and Scarsdale, From Colonial Manor to Modern Community. Merrell was wise in his suggestion and I endorse his recommendation that any resident read all three. It is through our shared history - of which the oldest in our community are custodians - that I came to realize that we are all part of a substantial and honorable legacy of thought and design; this Village did not just happen, it was made by residents who came before us.

How did you become Vice President of the Forum?

In retrospect I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. And I am glad because had I known I might have said "no" and I am so glad I said "yes." It was before the "Ryan Reval" and before the contested election. Things were quieter a year ago I suppose. In truth most likely a number of more qualified candidates said "no" before I said "yes." Though I like to think that I have put forth a champion effort to rise to the challenge, any success I enjoy is in no small part creditable to the enormous guidance and mentorship I receive - and solicit. In fact, I would say that my strength is my effort to constantly solicit guidance from others. I ask around "who knows about this" or "who is best at that" and I call people up and say "I need your help - can you have coffee with me?" More often than not, I end up making a friend as well as getting good advice along with a nice cup of coffee... and sometimes even a lemon square.

I hope that my story inspires others who don't know where to start - or who feel like they don't have enough experience to get involved. Nonsense! Call me and we can have coffee. We'll get you involved in no time. There is always more work to be done - if you have an hour a week, we'll take it!

Tell us how you were involved in the election:electionnight

I was the Chair of the Campaign Committee for the Scarsdale Citizens Non-Partisan Party (SCNP a.k.a "Row A"). I cannot say enough that the success of the campaign was the talent and will of so many competent and dynamic volunteers behind the scenes. My name was on all the campaign correspondence - but it was a pure team effort. I think all of us on the campaign committee - including the candidates - share a very special bond after that experience. We all worked very closely and achieved a great result together. It was a unique thrill for sure.

Were you surprised at how intense it became?

Absolutely. I was utterly shocked at some of the events that transpired. From my vantage point I witnessed the lowest - and of course the highest moments. Through it all I am so grateful that we had such an incredibly positive and supportive group on the campaign committee - and incredible leadership from the candidates, in particular, Mayor Hochvert. Except for a few instances, it felt like we were always flying a bit above the weather. We never allowed our team to get dragged into the mud because our focus was on something bigger. When you are talking about an idea of a Non-Partisan System - it is bigger than the candidates and it is bigger than one election. It is about integrity and substance beyond the politicking of campaign promises to win one election. Do you know how hard it is to not allow yourself to make a single campaign promise during a hotly contested election? It was a huge challenge, but it made us find something more important. We found a sense of shared purpose and shared values. We never compromised. I am proud of us for that. Really proud.

What were some of your lessons learned or takeaways from the experience of running the campaign?

1) The Non-Partisan system needs a 2-minute whiteboard instructional film by the Khan Academy. The system's value is absolute - but it's kind of confusing at first. This confusion makes the system susceptible to idle or misinformed criticism. This needs to be remedied. I'll work on it.

2) The CNC verifies candidates' credentials. Everyone pads their resumes - when it comes to elected officials, residents should care that candidates have been researched. It matters. CNC provides a great service of research for the community. I am so grateful to those folks for their service.

3) We need to get more people involved running for office and volunteering. While elections are one day out of the year, there are about 20 Village Boards & Councils that accept applications all year long. Don't "just vote" – effect positive change in our community all year long!

4) Most Scarsdalians hate lawn signs.sign

5) We have two ears and one mouth because listening is twice as important.

6) People don't fight as much if they get to know each other first. New rule: Strangers should have dinner together before they start their first argument. (Including comment board arguments.)

7) Politics is not civics. Politics is where we disagree on election day. Civics is the other 364 days a year that we need to work together to get things done.

8) I like civics. I don't like politics.

9) Elections in Scarsdale happen every year. (3 trustees each year, mayor and justice alternating every third year) This is a marathon not a sprint.

10) If I ever ran for office, I would run on a Non-Partisan ticket. I was so proud to support a political party that endorses a candidate's character - and prohibits political promises. What a delightfully refreshing political platform.

11) I learned how to work with people more diligently and improve problem solving and communicate with all levels of government.

When will you become the President of the Scarsdale Forum? What are your plans or goals for the organization?

I will become President at the membership meeting on May 18. I am so grateful to Lena Crandall, the Forum's current President for the year we have spent together working as a team. Lena is such an asset to our organization and I know how much I will be relying on her in the year to come.

I am thrilled to share that at the May 18th meeting, Forum members will be voting on a very special candidate for Vice President: former Mayor Jon Mark. If elected by members, Jon will serve alongside me in what he and I hope is the guiding goal our year of service together: mentorship.

Jon and I would like to call the next generation of civic leaders within our community and offer them the opportunity of involvement with the guidance and mentorship of our civic veterans. There is no "replacement" of the old with the new - on the contrary. We need the guidance, perspective, and knowledge of the oldest in our community to inform and deepen the understanding of newest as they enter their time of involvement - and ideally leadership - in the community. We want the Forum to be a bridge for residents to get more involved with the issues that affect them everyday. We all need to work together. After all, it takes a village.

Anything else you wish to add?

I hope that this interview encourages other residents to get involved. I want people to read this and understand that there is no obstruction to their involvement – but I understand that having guidance and encouragement in the beginning makes everyone feel more comfortable. I will always be grateful to Mayor Hochvert who went out of his way when I was a new resident to make me feel involved – and welcome. My goal is to help other residents feel like they have a community supporting them; just as Mayor Hochvert helped me. I think we are all at our best when we are helping each other. Let's do more of that.

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