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What We Risk Losing

letter(Letter from Madelaine Eppenstein)
Here's something to think about before the Village election for Mayor and Trustees tomorrow, March 21: A free press is one of the foundational cornerstones of our, and indeed of any, democratic society, and it is considered a fundamental human right to be able to promote the dissemination of information and receive it. That freedom extends to the editorial pages of our local press outlets, both print and online, giving us as members of our community access to a variety of opinions, and the opportunity to form our own opinions. Anyone who disagrees might also take note of what the late Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."

While we still have a chance before the Village Board and Mayoral election this Tuesday, March 21, let's put aside the distortions of political rhetoric which have been imposed on the heretofore tranquil civil discourse we have enjoyed under the non-partisan democratic system in Scarsdale, and take a look at the relevant facts that may not be widely known but should be important to the electorate in our community. It's not too late for independent, objective fact checking!

Every year, not just some years, due to a system of staggered terms Village Board positions come up for a vote by the entire electorate of our community in Scarsdale's long tradition of non-partisan, democratically representative elections. This year the non-partisan candidates of the Scarsdale Citizens' Non-Partisan party (SCNP) who are seeking your vote on March 21 are Dan Hochvert for Mayor, and Matt Callaghan, Carl Finger and Seth Ross for Trustees. You'll find them at the top of the ballot on ROW A.

These are the candidates who were selected by you and your neighbors earlier this year, in a rigorous vetting procedure to determine the most qualified among them. Dan, Matt, Carl and Seth are the only candidates who have years of hands on, real time Village Board experience in Scarsdale governance, and the demonstrated competence to address the needs of the community through their work on the Board and Board-appointed councils.

Although there is a contested election this year, these long-time Scarsdale residents who seek your vote on the Row A-SCNP slate are the only candidates running who were nominated by your thirty elected representatives – six of them from each of the five school district neighborhoods – on the non-partisan Citizens Nominating Committee (CNC). The CNC consists of a large group of nominators who became members after being elected by neighborhood voters. This is Scarsdale's democratically run tradition of leadership, in which the most qualified Scarsdale residents are vetted, nominated, and ultimately voted by the electorate into Village office without partisan politicking.

There are compelling reasons why you should vote for the Row A-SCNP slate on March 21. This year an opposition group of four self-appointed candidates put themselves in the running for these Board positions, explicitly promising to disrupt Scarsdale's established non-partisan framework. They call themselves the "Voters' Choice Party." This slate's campaign has turned against the non-partisan ideal by targeting the integrity of duly elected Village Board members and the CNC itself as part of their opposition agenda. Although under New York State law they were permitted to run by petition (or could have appeared on the March 21 ballot by write-in), no matter how well-meaning they may be, not one member of this opposition slate has ever held elected office in Scarsdale, nor has any served on the CNC as a nominator.

In this context, it is important to consider the core values and qualities we expect from our community leaders in this election. If you attended the League of Women Voters candidate forum on March 7 at the Scarsdale Library, or have viewed it online here. , you can see for yourself that there is a distinct, objective difference in experience and approach between the Row A-SCNP candidates and the newly formed VCP. Here's a reasonable definition of experience and competence: Dan Hochvert is a recent two-term Village Board Trustee and Planning Board Chair. Matt Callaghan and Carl Finger are Trustees on the current Village Board, and Seth Ross was a recent chairman of both the Planning and Zoning Boards. Both individually and collectively, the SCNP candidates have far more in-depth and practical experience in Village governance than any or all of the self-appointed candidates on the VCP slate. Dan, Matt, Carl and Seth have verifiable track records of maintaining our well-run Village, which in fact is run day to day by the Village Manager. They each have a history of listening to the concerns of the community, and working collaboratively as team members in civic activities or on boards of numerous other organizations. They believe in fact-based problem solving and tackling the challenges of Village governance lawfully, fairly and responsibly, without resorting to personal attacks, false narratives, or unfounded litigation to get their way in Village affairs. You still have time to obtain more information about the SCNP slate here: www.scarsdalecitizens.org.

Dan, Matt, Carl and Seth have actually engaged faithfully in municipal governance, making nuanced, tough decisions on our municipal budgets, balancing costs with the needs and expectations of residents, communicating with the public and responding to our concerns, and understanding the unique regulations impacting municipalities like Scarsdale that differ markedly from the those governing the private sector. Dan, Matt, Carl and Seth have the requisite qualifications our community can rely on for dedicated and responsible leadership in Scarsdale.
In contrast, you can observe for yourself that most members of the so-called "choice" slate have a demonstrably thin record of sustained, significant civic engagement compared with Dan's, Matt's and Carl's many years of service on the Village Board and their combined record with Seth of decades of profoundly significant civic and volunteer service in Scarsdale. You can judge for yourself whether the VCP candidates support a platform that offers some clearly erroneous and even fiscally unsound ideas about how the Village actually does or should work. They claim to be team players but have unjustifiably attacked the reputation of individual, sitting Board members without any grounds for doing so as part of their campaign. A fact to consider too is that, if elected, these opposition candidates, with their lack of governance experience and qualifications, would comprise a majority of the seven-member Village Board.

We risk disenfranchising the voters of Scarsdale if partisan politics were to supplant Scarsdale's system of elective government. When you come out to vote, you will not only be protecting this system in which voters of Scarsdale participate and devote their time and energy, but you will also be supporting the non-partisan tradition of governance under which Scarsdale has flourished and become one of the most well-run, respected and admired communities in the nation. Scarsdale long ago established a democratically representative system for electing highly qualified residents to run our government without partisan, divisive politics. Voting for Dan, Matt, Carl and Seth on the Row A-SCNP slate helps to ensure support for these principles and traditions into the future. In turn, they are the leadership team that is uniquely qualified by their familiarity with the issues, their experience with municipal governance and budgets, and their willingness to discuss and weigh the Village's options going forward with input from residents, staff and their fellow trustees. Importantly, they believe in fairness for all residents, including those who believe their properties may have been inaccurately assessed in recent property tax valuations.

Our democratic, non-partisan system of governance is worth preserving and protecting. On its website, here's what the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale has to say about Scarsdale's non-partisan system, without endorsing any particular candidate or slate:

"The League of Women Voters of Scarsdale has studied and supports a nonpartisan election system that selects candidates without regard to major political party affiliation for the selection of the village board and mayoral candidates in Scarsdale. As we do every year, the League monitors both the village (CNC) and the school (SBNC) election systems." http://www.lwvs.org/voterinfo.html

Consider that the alternative to this system might inevitably lead to the same endless campaign cycles that erode confidence and instill gridlock in our state and national politics. That unacceptable alternative is where candidates usually focus on one narrow, hot-button issue, even though there are many others of importance to the electorate. It's the alternative where candidates baldly claim – without evidence or verification – that the system is broken and they're the only ones who can fix it, or claim credit for the prudent decisions made by those in actual charge of the complex management of the Village.

The non-partisan system is the framework by which Scarsdale avoids the polarizing upheaval of contested elections and instead produces candidates of experience, competence, integrity and commitment to the welfare of the whole community, not just special issues or interests. Dan, Matt, Carl and Seth, have volunteered to run on the Row A-SCNP principle that they will serve the interests of all of us to the best of their abilities, without the distractions of divisive tactics and rhetoric, lawn signs or robocalls. You've been able to judge for yourself at their open houses and forums during the campaign season that Dan, Matt, Carl and Seth know what they're talking about because they've got years of practical experience serving Village government. They are focused on prudent fiscal management and fact-based solutions to issues important to the community. They believe in changing what doesn't work, and enhancing what does work, through consensus building and just plain bringing the community together.

If this makes compelling sense to you as a Scarsdale citizen, please come out to vote, and get out the vote of your friends and neighbors on March 21 at the Scarsdale Library to help keep Scarsdale's non-partisan system alive, with candidates Dan Hochvert for Mayor, and Matt Callaghan, Carl Finger and Seth Ross for the three open Village Trustee seats on Scarsdale's Village Board. Vote Row A all the way!

Madelaine Eppenstein

Fox Meadow

Submitted in my capacity as an individual, nearly 24-year resident of Scarsdale, and not on behalf of any organization. For full disclosure, I am a proud member of the Citizens Nominating Committee, the Campaign Committee of the Scarsdale Citizens' Non-Partisan Party, the Board of the Scarsdale Forum and Chair of its Municipal Services Committee, and the Board of the Friends of the Scarsdale Parks, Inc.

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