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opinion

I’m a 19+ year resident of Scarsdale, the General Counsel of a well-known education publisher, and happily married with three kids who have (mostly) completed their journeys through the Scarsdale public schools. I’m a big sports fan, a news junkie and a political moderate. I’m opinionated but in a way that is hopefully not too obnoxious for those who have the pleasure of my company. I enjoy reading and listening to other peoples’ opinions, even those with which I disagree, and believe that an informed citizenry, and respectful debate by people on the issues of the day, are the pillar of a healthy democracy.

This leads to a lament. Nowadays in the age of Trump, US society has become polarized to the point that cordial conversation among those with differing opinions has become difficult. The days of extended family engaging in respectful disagreements about the state of affairs in Washington, DC exist no longer. No doubt Trump is a precipitating polarizing figure, but another cause is the news media. As the late, great New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously said in response to statements by a political opponent, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” And that’s the problem. The facts as reported in the US news media these days often depend on which media source we choose. To cite a recent example, according to the New York Times, on Sunday, November 25 the US Border Patrol used tear gas to turn away dozens of Mexicans asylum seekers who appeared at the US-Mexico border fence. The Times characterized the incident as an unjustified and disproportionate response by the Border Patrol agents against dozens of innocent Mexican citizens who had legitimate claims of asylum in the US. It was a straightforward, cruel overreaction by the Trump-sympathizing agents, right? Perhaps.

But the Wall Street Journal had a different take. The Journal reported that the asylum seekers resorted to violence and broke down barriers, hurling rocks at the US Border Patrol agents who used tear gas to disburse a hostile mob and protect themselves from harm. I have no idea what the actual facts were, but the point is, how can reasonable people, one for whom the NY Times is her source of news, and the other who reads the WSJ, have an intelligent discussion about the incident? There are many other examples, such as what occurs whenever a severe storm or other extreme weather occurs somewhere in the world. Is the event attributable to anthropogenic climate change, or not? According to the New York Times, the answer usually seems to be yes. The Journal tends to disagree. Similar issues exist with television media, with Fox News providing a hard right wing view of virtually every issue and going out of its way to demonize the motivations of Democrats and those with liberal leanings. And it’s a two way street; CNN and MSNBC do the same in the context of Republicans and conservatives. And then there’s social media, which exacerbates the problem by providing a forum for unchecked, ill-informed and extremist views that can and do influence peoples’ points of view, especially those seeking information from their poltical echo chamber.

The media situation is feeding the polarization that is infecting our discourse and undermining our democracy. What’s needed is a middle ground, trusted, objective source of news and analysis. Where is that middle ground? I cannot find it. Perhaps the situation will straighten out after Trump leaves office and we elect a President who makes it his or her priority to unite the country and soften the edges of our discourse. But in the meantime we’re stuck in an unhealthy situation for our democracy. I close by referencing the encomiums being expressed in response to this past weekend’s passing of George Herbert Walker Bush. When he was President, Mr. Bush was not, as I recall, a consensus builder. He was sometimes controversial, but in a way that now seems quaint. Through the present lens of history, he is recognized as a fundamentally decent, honest, American hero who was motivated entirely by a sense of public service and was committed to serving the best interest of the country. The question is, if our next President has similar characteristics – and we can only hope - will the news media reform and take a more moderate approach to news coverage and analysis so that we all form our opinions off the same set of facts? Or is there no turning back from where we are now? Sadly, I suspect it’s the latter.

David Stafford is General Counsel of McGraw-Hill Education, a graduate of Columbia University and Cornell Law School. He grew up on Long Island. The views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the company
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LighttheDaleFlyerThe annual Light the ‘Dale holiday and tree lighting will be held in Boniface Circle in Scarsdale Village, on Friday, November 30, from 5:00 - 7:00 pm. This year’s event promises to be even bigger and better than last year’s. There will be singers, food and lights plus Santa arriving in style on the fire truck and hot chocolate courtesy of Lange’s.

The event will once again entertain and delight the entire family. Come listen to and sing along with the Hoff Barthelson Holiday Carolers and SHS a capella group For Good Measure, as they perform holiday favorites. Santa will visit until 7:00 pm, so children will have plenty of time to share their gift list with him. Children will also have the opportunity to create a holiday craft. This year Sew Happy will offer children the chance to make a snowman themed finger puppet.

Parents can submit their kids’ names for the opportunity to light the tree and menorah. Just send an email to lightthedale@gmail.com and include your child’s name, school and age. At 5:30 pm, Mayor Dan Hochvert will pick one lucky winner to flip the switch! Give your kids a chance to create a magical moment! With the Village’s purchase of even more new lights, the tree promises to look magnificent. And, again, Westchester Reform Temple will share its glorious menorah.

Plan on having dinner too. Mediterranean Mexican, short rib chili, chicken soup, hamburgers and hot dogsHolidayTree will all be available for purchase thanks to Scarsdale’s own Popojito.

Light the ‘Dale is sponsored by Scarsdale Village, the Scarsdale Business Alliance, The Acceleration Project, and many fabulous Scarsdale residents. The Light the ‘Dale Committee includes TAP members Jane Veron, Amy Nadasdi, Dalya Khan and Vanessa Siderow; community volunteers Abby Sroka, Gabrielle Wise, Beth Altschuler, Simone Kestelman, and ML Perlman; as well as Village Parks and Recreation, Municipal Services and the Village Manager’s Office. Special thanks to the Scarsdale Fire Department for the ride for Santa.

GreenhouseJournalist Linda Greenhouse’s visit to Scarsdale could not have been more timely. An expert on the U.S. Supreme Court, she addressed the Scarsdale League of Women Voters just weeks after the contentious battle over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and was able to put that highly unusual nomination process into historical context.

Her appearance drew a large audience for the League’s annual Food for Thought Luncheon, just a week before the midterm elections which has spurred community engagement. In the audience was Scarsdale Mayor Dan Hochvert, Village Trustees Carl Finger, Justin Arest, Lena Crandall, Carl Finger and Jane Veron, Library Director Beth Bermel, State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, Justice Arlene Katz, School Board members, former School Board members, and representatives from a wide swath of Scarsdale.

Discussing the environment that lead to the stormy nomination process, Greenhouse said, “There is deep anger on both sides of the street. Justice Kennedy was the swing justice…. The court was up for grabs and a right leaning judge would cement the conservative majority. Explaining why the Kavanaugh fight occurred now, Greenhouse conjectured, “When a regime can’t get what it wants out of the political process, it turns to the courts.”

She explained that the court has become politicized. While there used to be a whole swing group in the middle to which the lawyers could appeal, but now, according to Greenhouse, “the idealogy of the justices matches the idealogy of the president who nominated them,” and therefore, the “troubling nature of today’s court gave this nomination more weight than usual.” She continued, “Everyone agrees the process is broken.”

Discussing possible remedies, which Greenhouse predicted could only occur if Democrats control Congress, she reviewed a few ideas.

Among them were:

The Senate Judiciary Committee could decide in advance how to handle a late breaking accusation of misbehavior and establish some rules of the road to prevent the chaos that ensued during the Kavanaugh hearings.

There should be no presumption of nomination before the candidate goes before the committee and the Senate, i.e. the burden should be on the president and the nominee to make the case as to why they should be placed on the court.

Another remedy could be term limits for justices in lieu of life tenure. Greenhouse reported that the “average length of service has been 25 years and the average age of retirement has been 83 years of age.” She said this encourages presidents to appoint young nominees who will live for a long time.

If the old days, she said that judicial nominations were given to governors, cabinet members and those who had already been in public service for many years and was a capstone not a lifelong career. The random nature of lifetime appointments has caused some presidents to have the power to appoint several justices and others to appoint none. She suggested that term limits of 18 years would stagger the appointments and give more presidents the chance to select justices.

She noted that lifetime appointments for justices does not occur anywhere else in the world.

As there is nothing in the constitution that specifies the number of justices, an administration could expand the number and “pack the court,” as done by FDR.

She also suggested that the court could be stripped of their discretion over hot button issues like abortion or affirmative action, leaving these for Congress to decide.

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Asking for questions from the audience, Greenhouse was asked if she thought that Chief Justice Roberts would move more to the center to balance a very conservative court. She said, “That is the money question!” He is the median justice – the middle has moved far to the right.” About Roberts she said, “On the one hand he is a student of history – it is the Roberts court. On the other hand he has got his agenda. For one, he wants to be out of the business of counting by race. He is against affirmative action and against the voting rights act. He has things he wants to accomplish but needs to protect the perceived integrity of the court. He is very alone and he has no natural allies. There is not a lot of kumbaya there.”

MealonWheelsFor 40 years Scarsdale Meals on Wheels has been delivering meals to residents in the Scarsdale area. They serve meals to anyone regardless of age or income. Their clients may be homebound due to injury or illness. Others are recently released from the hospital or rehab. Still others simply cannot provide adequate meals for themselves or would prefer not to cook their own meals. Whatever the reason, Scarsdale Meals on Wheels has been there to help these Scarsdale area residents remain independent in their homes.

Each year, they deliver more than 6,500 meals. These nutritious meals meet the dietary standards of the Westchester County Department of Health. While most of their clients pay a low fee for each meal, subsidies are sometimes available for those in need.

The key to their success is our volunteers. Most come from the local community - young moms to retirees and everyone in between. These volunteers contribute about 2 hours a week to assist their neighbors. The daily visit from Meals on Wheels is not only pleasant and sociable for the client and the volunteer, but is also an excellent “early warning system” if a client should need help. Meals on Wheels volunteers can be alert to any change in a client’s condition and can notify the appropriate contact person if needed.

In addition to meals, they remember clients on their birthdays with plants and deliver cheer at the end of the year with a holiday plant. Occasionally, local businesses provide baskets or treats for the clients around Thanksgiving or New Year’s. This is a nice gesture for those not sharing the holidays with family or friends. All of this is greatly appreciated.

Scarsdale Meals on Wheels requires the financial support of the community and the commitment of the volunteers who offer their time to make deliveries. They are grateful for this continuing support and always welcome new faces and additional helping hands. The program is truly a community effort - neighbors helping neighbors. Meals on Wheels is honored to be part of the Scarsdale community and hopes to continue serving the area for many years to come.

For information, to make a contribution, to join as a volunteer or to make a referral, please call 914-723-4342 or visit their website here

november 13 2018Turning a concept into something tangible, and useful, isn’t always easily or quickly achieved. This year’s Procedure Committee, the administrator of Scarsdale’s non-partisan village election system, has accomplished just that: turning discussion items years in the making into proposed amendments for approval by Scarsdale voters. The amendments will appear on the ballot of the Citizens Nominating Committee annual election at Village Hall on Tuesday, November 13, when voters also elect their neighborhood representatives to serve on the CNC. The polls are open from 7-10 AM and 2-9 PM.

The fundamental purpose of the main amendments proposed by the PC is to give to the elected members of the CNC primary authority for the selection of CNC and PC leadership. For example, Amendment #1 authorizes the 30 CNC voting members, who represent each of the five Village neighborhoods (according to elementary school), to choose CNC leadership for the following year from among the outgoing class of voting members. The amendment eliminates the responsibility of the Town and Village Civic Club and Scarsdale Neighborhood Association Presidents to fill the non-voting leadership positions on the CNC.

According to the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale: “The selection of chairs by the CNC from among those who have just completed their service on the CNC, comparable to the process set forth in the School Board Nominating Committee Resolution for selecting the leadership of the SBNC, promotes greater continuity and smoother transfer of procedural and historical knowledge, ensures that the CNC leadership possesses recent CNC experience, preserves the appearance of impartiality, integrity, and neutrality in the process, and makes certain that the incoming leadership will bear the indicia of approval of their CNC peers.”

Amendment #7 confirms that the Non-Partisan Resolution, the system’s governing document, is administered by the PC, not by the venerable Town and Village Civic Club, which is, after all, a completely separate organization. Similarly, Amendment #5 pertaining to the PC mirrors the changes in CNC leadership. The role of the TVCC and SNAP in automatically providing appointees to the PC is discontinued in favor of a more active role of the PC chair and vice chair and ratification of leadership by PC members. Providing the opportunity to recruit PC appointees from a broader pool of neighborhood and volunteer community organizations is another big step towards PC self-governance and has the potential to involve more of the community in the non-partisan process and civic life in the Village in general.

Aside from amendments, 13 of the 16 residents who appear on the non-partisan ballot are seeking your vote to join the 17 current members of the CNC. Together they will conduct a due diligence process to nominate candidates for the offices of mayor and three village trustees who will appear on the Non-Partisan slate in the annual March (2019) spring election. All candidates standing for election in this non-partisan process, and hoping to serve on the CNC and in village offices, are to be congratulated for their civic commitment and public-minded spirit.

The CNC Election Brochure is now available on the PC’s website. The brochure contains biographies of all CNC candidates running for seats on the CNC, a summary of all proposed amendments, and information on the Non-Partisan system. The election brochure will also be mailed to all households in Scarsdale, so look for it in your mailbox next week after the midterm election on November 6 and before CNC election day on November 13. Please vote in both elections – your vote counts!

The CNC Mail-In Ballot is also available on the PC’s website, which will permit voters to cast their ballot by mail for their neighborhood CNC candidates and for the proposed amendments. Mail in ballots must be received at the Scarsdale village center Post Office by or before 5 PM on November 13. The entire ballot will be available for review at Village Hall on November 13 if you vote in person, when the lobby polling place is open from 7-10 AM and 2-9 PM. Again, please exercise your vote on both November 6th in the midterm election and on November 13th in the CNC election.

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