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You are here: Home The Goods Lively Discussion at Candidates Forum at Village Hall
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Lively Discussion at Candidates Forum at Village Hall

janeandjustinCandidates for Village Trustee participated in a spirited but civil public forum at Village Hall on Tuesday night March 6. Hosted by the League of Women Voters and moderated by Stephen Cohen, the candidates shared information on their backgrounds, their experience and their reasons for wishing to serve Scarsdale.

Scarsdale has a non-partisan system whereby candidates are selected by a representative committee of nominators. This is intended to preclude partisan politics and heated elections. However, in the past several years, contested elections have become the norm, as contenders are stepping up to challenge the slate of candidates put forward by the Scarsdale Citizens' Non-Partisan Party.

In 2017, Robert Berg and three candidates formed the "Voters Choice Party" and ran a complete slate for Mayor and Village Trustees. They were defeated 2-1 in a very contentious election. This year only Berg is back, vying to win one of the three open spots for Village Trustee.

Running on the Scarsdale Citizens' Non-Partisan Party slate are Jane Veron, who is running for her second two-year term, along with Justin Arest and Lena Crandall who are running for their first terms.

During the forum, Berg challenged both the CNC candidates and Scarsdale's system of ruling by consensus,LenaandBob claiming, "The system is broken in town... the CNC (Citizens' Nominating Committee) is a relic of another age – I don't believe in it." Referring to the candidates chosen via the CNC nominating process, Berg said, "It should not be handed to them on a silver platter." Crandall later answered Berg's claim, explaining that the SCNP slate was "Carefully selected by the non-partisan committee to complement people already on the board." Arest said, "The CNC process was contested. Five people came forward .... they called our references. I could not be more proud to be a Scarsdalian and to be part of the process."

Replying to questions posed by the League and the public, each candidate gave their perspective on the issues and presented their qualifications for addressing the business of Scarsdale.

Building on her two years as Village Trustee, Veron discussed her role in establishing better communications between the Village and residents, her work on downtown development, the public/private partnership for the library and her recent role, as head of the Municipal Services Committee in negotiating a new proposal for sanitation pick-up to include food scraps. She called herself a "change agent" who believes in the power of collaboration to get things done.

Crandall stressed her ability to listen, learn and work respectfully with others. She said, "This is not about what we want as individuals ... it's what's best of the community." As an example, she discussed her term as President of the Friends of the Scarsdale Parks, an opinionated group who she called her "hot cups of coffee." In order to get things done she said, "We followed a process, we allowed everyone to speak. We only took action after we did research. It takes respect, it takes trust."

cooperandcohenArest shared his perspective as a newer resident in town and said he was welcomed to serve and has worked on the Board of the Library, on the Zoning Board of Appeals, on the Village budget and the Freightway Steering Committee. He said, "We need to come together with fresh ideas to make this community better."

Berg was more provocative in his approach. He criticized the Village for the revaluation, the roads (which he said resembled Damascus) the proposed tree law and a consultant's report on the assessor's office. The report evaluated the assessor's office and among other measures recommended customer service training and videos to help residents understand the assessment and grievance processes. About the report Berg said, "I would take all the copies of the report and put them in the fireplace of someone who doesn't have heat to provide warmth to their home."

Berg took issue with the concept of building consensus, saying, "I don't believe in the process of consensus. We get the wrong answer because we try to reach consensus. We have to explore all the arguments, look at the angles, take a vote and the majority should rule. That's a great weakness here; everyone has to be kumbaya. That's why the Village Attorney let us violate the constitution and the Village Board let him trample our constitutional rights."

There was general agreement in the need to balance the level of services with the restraints of the budget and not to raise taxes. Speaking about preservation, there was consensus on the need to balance the needs of the community with the homeowners' rights to improve their properties. Crandall said, "It's complicated – we have to work together to find a balance between what we love about Scarsdale and all of our property rights. Arest said as a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals he saw the need for changes to the setback laws to reduce the sizes of new homes. Berg said there were "Loopholes in the FAR (floor-area-ratio) code" for dormers and garages that needed to be dealt with immediately. He later said, "Scarsdale is a bit too pro developer. We bend over backwards to give them loopholes. We let them get away with that. We seem to be afraid when threatened with litigation."

Proposed modifications to the tree code, which prohibits the removal of protected trees, assesses fees for the removal of healthy trees and requires the planting of replacement trees came under attack. Berg said, "The Board is about to ram through a tree ordinance that is going to exacerbate the current emergency where trees are crashing down. Come out (to the hearing) on March 13-- you are going to pay large fees." Veron responded, "We never ram anything through. We scheduled a hearing to listen to the public. I spent today talking to residents about their tress and the power lines. The law is primarily to prohibit developers from clear cutting properties."

Asked how they would improve storm response in the future, Veron said, "The most important piece is communication. The Village staff has been working around the clock since it happened. The #1 goal is communication."

Arest agreed that the Department of Public Works does a great job, but said, "Our problem is Con Edison. This is unacceptable. They called in their shared services too late. We need to push our local representatives and hold hearings."

Crandall said she was a part of the Scarsdale Community Support Council and that the group could do more to help residents and provide warming centers.

Berg said, "Storms are predictable. I have lived through many of these. We have to cut the trees near the power lines. It's going to happen again and again. We don't have adequate shelter. Open the high school gym for people."

All the candidates appeared well prepared to speak on a range of issues including public safety, assessments, development, budgeting, management and more. Given the fact that the forum was held when many were without power, it drew a reasonably sized audience. But in general this election has not mobilized as many residents as the one last year.

The election will be held on Tuesday March 20 at Scarsdale Library. Voting hours are 6 am to 9 am and noon to 9 pm. A post election reception will be held at the Scarsdale Woman's Club at 37 Drake Road from 8:30 to 10 pm. The public is invited and the event is hosted by the Scarsdale Citizen's Non-Partisan Party.

Watch the forum on SPTV here.

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