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right wrongAs you may know by now, the Village Board Meeting on Tuesday March 10 followed the controversial COVID-19 presentation by Dr. Harish Moorjani that was derided by residents as insensitive at best and racist at worst.

Needless to say, quite a few people came out two hours later to discredit Moorjani’s statements about Chinese culture, customs, and government. And all were met with compassion and reassurance that Scarsdale embraces the Chinese community.

However, the upset wasn’t limited to the doctor’s comments; it extended to Scarsdale’s contested election, and the Scarsdale Citizens’ Nonpartisan Party (SCNP) and the Voters Choice Party (VCP). The public comment sessions highlighted rising tensions among members of the opposing parties; specific quotes are included in a separate report.

First, the news…
After apologizing for Moorjani’s presentation and being applauded by those in attendance, Mayor Marc Samwick moved on to other matters, namely, the village’s preparedness for COVID-19. “I want to be very clear that, from the information we currently have, the overwhelming majority of our population is not at risk, and the spread of fear and misinformation will only be detrimental to our neighbors,” he said. Samwick advised the public to rely on health care providers, official sources such as village government, and the county and state departments of health, and the CDC for accurate information.

New York State currently has reported over 200 cases of COVID-19, with over 120 in Westchester County.

No positive cases among Scarsdale residents have been reported yet. Acknowledging that the situation may change, Samwick said. “I encourage all residents to pull together as we always do in trying times. I already have had residents reach out to me to see how they can help their neighbors with food and other deliveries, and offering other forms of assistance,” he reported. “One of the best things about Scarsdale is the caring and giving community that we share.”

Going forward, to ensure timely distribution of COVID-19 community updates and improve communications, the Village of Scarsdale has “gone social” by launching a Twitter account -- @ScarsdaleGov. Twitter users should follow the account for breaking official municipal news and information about #Scarsdale. Residents who don’t have/don’t wish to have Twitter accounts still will able to access and read Scarsdale Twitter posts through a web browser as with any other website. |

Further, to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and help safeguard continuity of public health, safety, and welfare services provided by the village, all discretionary use of Scarsdale Village Hall meeting spaces is being curtailed immediately, until further notice. Staff members are in the process of notifying individuals and groups that have scheduled use of any village hall about the change and no future reservations are being made at this time.
However, village boards and councils with local and/or New York State statutory responsibilities will continue to meet at village hall as scheduled.
Meetings of the Scarsdale Board of Architectural Review, Board of Trustees, Committee for Historic Preservation, Planning Board, and Zoning Board of Appeals are not canceled, though public seating will be extremely limited.

Samwick also advised residents to call the state COVID-19 24-hour hotline at 888-364-3065 with specific health-related questions. Those who have been exposed to the virus or who are under self-quarantine are advised to call 866-588-0195 for advice.

To keep up to date on Scarsdale Village’s response to the virus, visit the administration’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage on scarsdale.com.

Village election is a go
The Scarsdale Village election, scheduled for Wednesday, March 18 at the Scarsdale Congregational Church, will proceed as planned. Village Clerk Donna Conkling encouraged anyone with reservations about going to the poll on Wednesday to download an application for an absentee ballot here. You can complete the application, bring it to Village Hall where you will be given your ballot and vote at the same time. You must apply by Monday March 16 at 5 pm.

Village staff are working with church personnel and county election officials to maintain a clean, safe environment for voters; and residents are urged to participate in this important contested election. Samwick assured the public that the voting areas will be disinfected continually throughout the day, and voters are welcome to bring their own pens and/or gloves to the polls.

Manager’s comments
Village Manager Steve Pappalardo reiterated his staff’s efforts to maintain services in a safe environment and ensure readiness of emergency personnel. “I want to reassure the community that the village administration is hard at work trying to maintain our local government operations and services,” he said. “Of course, our emergency services operations have been working very diligently… Just be assured that… emergency management, police, fire, our volunteer ambulance corps, and our water department -- are functioning, we’re doing fine, have plans in place if something happens. This is a situation that evolves on a daily basis and we are working in that fashion. Things are changing rapidly and we are pivoting as needed. I want to be sure the community feels comfortable and you should be comfortable…”

Public comments: So much to say… 

Tuesday’s regular board of trustees meeting included many comments from the public, some of whom denounced Dr. Harish Moorjani’s presentation and others who discussed the issues surrounding the upcoming election. Among them were:

Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez (Fox Meadow Road), who began the session by thanking the League of Women Voters for hosting the recent candidate forum and allowing residents to see all six candidates vying for village trustee positions. She then said, “The myth that kept getting repeated (at the forum) was that there is very good vetting… vetting of candidates and vetting of things that happen in Scarsdale… Where was the vetting for the doctor who just attacked Chinese people, and professors from Harvard and Hopkins? I understand that accidents happen… but why wasn’t his speech looked at? Why wasn’t there some kind of criteria?”

Kirkendall-Rodriguez continued, “Sadly, there’s another myth in Scarsdale… the myth of inclusion. If you look at village committees and councils… we don’t see people of color... We have over 20% Asians, Hispanics, and African Americans in this town… If you look at the library board… the League of Women Voters board, and… the forum, we are not there… I know from my experience… at the forum, that… the current Scarsdale Citizens Nonpartisan Party campaign chair, and Trustees Arest and Crandall made sure that no person of color… would ever lead the group.”

“…There’s also the myth that the Citizens Nominating Committee does vet candidates. It doesn’t do that. It doesn’t ask them a single question. In 2013, a woman who participated in the committee wrote extensively about the rancor, the innuendo that goes on at those meetings, the long-time cronies, how people besmirch everyone else… It’s time to do some vetting.”

Mayor Marc Samwick responded, “Right now is really a time for inclusion and cohesion, and this divisiveness and innuendo, and myths is really not appropriate at this time.”

Caroline Cai (Carstensen Road), followed and said, “I’d like to thank the mayor and village leaders for setting up the presentation to provide more information on COVID-19, and for behaving like leaders and, in very decisive and certain terms… talking about how we are an inclusive community and that the doctor’s tone does not represent what the community is.” She went on, “I do think that it’s not just the tone; the content (of the doctor’s remarks) has material misinformation that can actually damage the public health response and can be dangerous if left unchecked… I would like to suggest that the village government consider a remedial plan… an email that goes out to the wider community...that provides more accurate information about what we should do individually.”

Samwick then stated, “Misinformation is dangerous right now. The reason we invited the doctor here was for the absolute opposite reason… We were seeking a fact-based, science-based message that was consistent with the CDC, and county and state departments of health… that didn’t happen.” He went on, “We will be working on a remedial plan… I will be reaching out to the doctor and seeking an apology from him.”

Jeff Wong was next and said, “I heard the streaming and was outraged… misinformation is as harmful as the virus itself because people need to make decisions based on information… I compared Dr. (Anthony) Fauci’s presentation with the doctor who steamed today and it’s the total opposite… it was based on facts, only facts, and how to help people. The other one promoted hatred… so many people heard it… it doesn’t promote inclusion.”

Bob Berg (Tisdale Road) stated, “I appreciate that you put the (work) session together. I, too, was appalled by the comments of the doctor… What makes things worse is that neither you (the mayor) nor the board members interrupted him or told him to stop.”

Samwick responded right away, saying, “I’m owning that… The reason I didn’t cut him off is not an acceptable reason. I was preparing my remarks for this meeting because I’ve been busy with other things, in terms of managing COVID-19… and I didn’t have time to finish my prepared remarks. So, I was not fully aware of what was happening as it was happening. And, for that, I’m sorry.”

Berg continued, “I really came to speak about the village election on March 18… I fully agree that we should take all precautions… the election is expected to attract large numbers of people to a confined space and he (the village manager) talked about the possibility of postponing the election… this talk is really irresponsible. While I share his concerns, New York State law does not allow for the postponement of an election… the village really needs to make sure that conditions at the polling place allow for a healthy, safe election… This is an important election and I hope people will actually come out and vote.”

Samwick agreed with Berg, assuring that the village would not change either the election date or location. Village officials sought guidance from state officials on how best to handle the election to ensure public safety while allowing for people to participate during the current limited state of emergency. “We will continue to abide by New York State law until… directed by the governor to do something differently.”

Jeremy Ganz (Harvest Drive) followed and said, “Turning to the upcoming election... I love that Scarsdale has not, historically, succumbed to the infighting and partisan politics that plague so many neighboring towns. People have differences of opinion and I suppose it’s understandable that, once in a while, there will be opposing slates. But this election is not about differences of opinion. The Voters Choice Party campaign is built almost entirely on falsehoods. Regarding vetting… of the nonpartisan slate, 30 people… with equal representation from all the elementary school districts… choose the slate of candidates to nominate… who nominated the opposing slate? It’s a serious question…” He went on, “I interacted with the previous speaker online regarding Freightway… there were questions about MTA involvement… I pointed to a specific document that the steering committee had made public, along with countless meetings… and Mr. Berg said ‘There’s no MTA reference in the document…’ I then pointed to a specific page, at which point he said, ‘It’s hard to find…’ If a campaign is built around this and these candidates aren’t vetted, the very least we can expect is that those candidates read the documents that have been publicly available for years. And, they didn’t do that.”

Ganz also stated that, “There was a call for how we’d like to get back to respect… I hate to say this but calling members of the nonpartisan committee ‘lying ladies’ and ‘members of the establishment elite…’ is what this campaign is built on. If this were differences of opinion, that’s fine. But slandering volunteers… is not just a step too far, it’s a mile too far… We deserve better than this from our nominees, whether they are the incumbents or the opposition slate.”

Vivian Lin then approached the microphone and explained that, “As Chinese residents, we are part of the Scarsdale community and… are doing a lot of things to help each other and help our neighbors. We bought hand sanitizers for classrooms and formed volunteer groups to help everybody in fighting the virus. I think we need a friendly environment in this difficult time.”

Another Chinese resident from Rock Creek Lane discussed the use of face masks as a means to protect others. “Why are there so many Asians wearing masks? We’re not obsessed with masks… If you are carrying a virus and wearing a mask during your daily activities, you are helping the community by removing the possibility of passing your virus around… It’s not something horrible.”

She was followed by a resident who expressed his concerns about how his children may be treated by classmates who may have heard or seen Moorjani’s presentation. “When my kids go back to school on the 19th, if their friends say, ‘You guys eat bats’ and ‘You have the virus…’ how should my kids respond to that? …We heard about hate crimes targeting Asian people because of the virus… I’m not saying that’s going to happen in Scarsdale, but if something of that nature happens here, who’s going to be responsible?” He added, “I know the village is going to work hard on some sort of remediation measures, but I just want to throw out some concrete suggestions… because this was aired on TV… any disclaimer or apology must reach the same audience as the TV would reach… the second thing is… given the nature of the video, it should be deleted and never aired again… and third… maybe we can invite another (health) official to… give another presentation for the Scarsdale community.”

Wuhong Zhang (Kent Road) then said, “Nobody can predict where the next virus or disease will emerge. Ebola started in the Congo… MERS started in India… H1N1 and… the 1918 flu started in the U.S.A. We shouldn’t blame anyone for any virus or disaster… Instead of blaming each other or small group, we actually should help each other to combat this virus and get through this difficult time.”

Dara Gruenberg (Hampton Road) returned attention to the upcoming election by stating, “I’ve been on the Citizens’ Nonpartisan Nominating Committee for three years and am currently the chair of the Scarsdale Citizens Nonpartisan Party. The CNC’s vetting is extensive, we call many, many references… for all candidates and then have extensive deliberations to select the best nominees. Providing privacy to those who run isn’t the same thing as being opaque.”

She went on, “Anyone who is a Scarsdale resident and U.S. citizen can apply. We reach out to so many residents to run for trustee… In the past three years, I’ve asked over 60 people to run for trustee. The most common answer I get is, ‘I don’t want to be personally attacked.’

“…As to the accusation about the Scarsdale Forum… that Lena Crandall, Justin Arest, and I, who served on that nominating committee years ago, didn’t select her because we are racist, is baseless and false... We chose the best candidate for the job… Anyone who knows me knows that I am inclusive. If you meet me, I’m going to ask you to volunteer for something. To suggest otherwise is not only insulting, but slander. We are currently facing many unknowns and we need to gather together and not harm each other.”

Trustee Justin Arest spoke next. “There’s only so many times I can be quiet when I am defamed by the same person… In this case… it’s clearly an implication of racism… And, what I think is even more disappointing is that in the past, and even now, your unvetted candidates won’t renounce those comments and won’t stand up and say they are against the lies and vitriol in this wonderful community that we live in is extremely telling of their character.”

He continued, “The only additional thing I want to say is… I do want to thank everyone who came to this meeting… clearly COVID-19 doesn’t care about race, or nationality or religion. There’s an equal chance for someone to catch it from me as from anyone else in this room. That’s why we’re doing social distancing… The purpose of the (5:00 pm) meeting was to show a united front against misinformation and try and reduce panic, and show the community that… we’re working tirelessly… to make sure that you’re safe, to make sure that your services will continue, and make sure we continue to be an inclusive, wonderful place, and continue to be.”

Trustee Jane Veron remarked, “If there’s any silver lining to, what I thought, was an incredibly painful experience, it’s that we’ve come together and that we want you to see our sincere welcoming and encouragement in (the Chinese community’s) getting involved in government in any way you see fit.”

Trustee Jonathan Lewis said, “Tonight, we heard a doctor make comments that was offensive to everyone who values respectful dialogue, balance, and truth.... We abhor prejudice, we abhor misinformation, and we stand with our Chinese community. You are valued, you are our neighbors, and we are grateful you are here.”

Addressing earlier comments by Kirkendall-Rodriguez, Trustee Lena Crandall said, “I was a member of that nominating committee and am so sorry you weren’t selected… When I was president of the forum, I immediately put you in a position of authority as co-chair of the education committee because I saw your intelligence... I was aware of your involvement... I am of Russian decent; that was the worst thing to be during the Cold War… Today… I hear angry words. But all of you are smart and, I believe, you are here in Scarsdale for the same reason I’m here. I believe that we are smart enough to know that it does not matter what we look like. What matters is how we are as people… Let’s work together.”

Mayor Samwick closed the session by addressing the audience after a difficult evening. “What I’m encouraged by is that you felt comfortable enough to come here and that you are here. And, we want to see you here again, and again, and again, and I don’t want to see you here for this reason ever again. I want you to be here because you want to be here, not because you feel like you have to be.”

Picking up where we left off
Bob Berg opened the second public comment session with his thoughts on the upcoming election. “We have a very important election on March 18; I’m running for village trustee. This is a contested election; it’s the third contested election in the village in four years… That’s unusual for some folk in Scarsdale who support the continuation of the uninterrupted, 109-year rule of the Citizens Nonpartisan Party… In my research, there’s no political party in modern times that’s been in office this long. I think that’s unhealthy… and I think it’s been shown as I’ve been campaigning and in the decisions I’ve been critical of.” He continued, “Mr. Ganz spoke this evening; I don’t know Mr. Ganz… yet he certainly said a lot of vile things about me… I run my campaign based on facts. I speak publicly; I don’t hide in the shadows; you can read what I stand for… You can contest my facts, but you know, certainly, what I’m saying… When we’re talking about coming together, his comments weren’t appropriate in my view.”

Liang Xin (166 Clarence Road) stated, “I want to thank the mayor and trustees for their hard work and efforts to help residents fight the virus. I want to thank the mayor for your sincere apology; I was impressed that the mayor quickly said (Moorjani’s presentation) was a mistake and I appreciate it… What’s really important that we work together.”

Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez returned to the podium to say, “It’s unfortunate that Ms. Gruenberg is not here… I never accused her of racism… what I was speaking about, specifically… is that, in the 109 years of the Scarsdale Citizens Nonpartisan Party… the party has not nominated a person of color… That is a fact… The other fact is, that, if you… look at all the committees, look at the councils, look at the other organizations… all of the different boards… there’s very, very few people of color on those boards… there’s no reason that there’s not more representation”

She continued, “Let me quote you exactly what a previous member of the CNC said about her experience at the CNC: ‘I was taken aback by my experience on the Citizens Nominating Committee… Included on the committee were former mayors, wives of former mayors and former trustees. During some of the sessions there were heated arguments; however, it was not clear to the “outsiders” like me what was at stake. It was only later that I pieced together the behind the scenes agenda and realized that many in the room had come with the purpose of nominating candidates who would serve their own goals.’ Who said this? Joanne Wallenstein of scarsdale10583 in 2013.

Ms. Crandall, you mentioned that you are a daughter of Russian immigrants. I have two degrees in Russian and Soviet Studies, so I very much empathize with all the things related to being someone of Russian background. And I am a daughter of Mexican immigrants. I do not have to tell you that right now is not a popular time to be of Mexican background in the U.S. There are lots of immigrants in Scarsdale… I erroneously thought that having immigrants here also meant that there should be cognizant diversity. That’s not exactly what I’m seeing.

“I have no problem that the Scarsdale Citizens Nonpartisan Party exists… You can pick your candidates any way you want… What I find troublesome is that some people get very upset that the Voters Choice Party was created three years ago… It was created because of the Ryan debacle. If the Ryan reval had not hurt my family and hundreds of other families, I never would have become involved in local politics.”

NewRochelleMapJust when you thought the situation could not get more fraught, today Governor Cuomo announced that New Rochelle has the largest cluster of Coronavirus cases in the US. In the last day alone, cases in Westchester County rose from 98 to 108, an alarming statistic when compared to cases in New York City, which now stand at only 36.

Cuomo called New Rochelle “a cluster,” where the numbers are going up unabated. He announced the establishment of a containment area within a one-mile radius centered at North Avenue and Wykagyl Terrace in New Rochelle and has called in the national guard to distribute food and clean and sanitize. The national guard will be based at a health department command post in New Rochelle.

As a result, all schools, houses of worship and gathering facilities within this containment area will be closed for two weeks, beginning on Thursday March 12.

In addition, the Governor announced a new arrangement with Northwell Health to open a temporary satellite testing area in New Rochelle to test people for the virus. Cuomo called the decision "a matter of life and death."

The move was recommended by Dr. Howard Zucker, Commissioner of the NYS Health Department.nationalguard

Also today, the Scarsdale Schools sent out an email with follow-up from the Department of Health regarding a teacher who had tested positive in Butler House of the Scarsdale Middle School. Schools Superintendent Dr. Thomas Hagerman reports that the DoH has reached out to 36 faculty members, students and parents who have been asked to quarantine for 14 days, starting from March 4. These 36 people are in the process of being tested.

Dr. Hagerman cautioned everyone to limit personal interactions and practice social distancing. He said that all school board and public meetings are presently cancelled to comply with guidance from the Department of Health.

groupJustin Arest, Lena Crandall and Randy WhitestoneIn just two weeks, residents of Scarsdale will elect three Village Trustees and their Village Justice. On Wednesday March 18th, the Village election will be held at the Scarsdale Congregational Church at 1 Heathcote Road from 6 am to 9 pm. Though Scarsdale has generally held uncontested elections, this year the trustee candidates, nominated by the 30 person elected Citizens Nominating Committee, will be challenged by three from the Voter’s Choice Party, so your vote will really matter.

In advance of the election, we had the chance to sit down with the three Scarsdale Citizens’ Non-Partisan Party (SCNPP) candidates for Village Trustee and discuss issues of importance to voters. We have recapped some of the discussion below. You are also invited to hear all the candidates at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale on Thursday, March 5th at 7:30 pm at Scarsdale Village Hall.

On Saturday, February 29th, we met with current trustees Justin Arest and Lena Crandall, who are seeking second two-year terms, along with Randall (Randy) Whitestone who is running for his first two-year term as Village Trustee.

First on our agenda was SALT, the federal limitation on deductions for state and local taxes that have impacted real estate values and residents’ pocketbooks. We wondered if there was anything the Village can do to bring back our real estate tax deductions, which are now capped at $10,000. Commenting on the tax law change, Trustee Justin Arest said, “These were done to penalize our state. They are beyond unfair. We must recognize what we can and cannot do while ensuring that quality services are being provided efficiently and our infrastructure needs are met.” He noted that the Village did set up a charitable fund as a possible way to restore deductions and joined a lawsuit at no cost to the Village, against the federal government spearheaded by our State Assemblyperson, Amy Paulin, to overturn the law. “While there is no assurance the suit will be successful, it was a creative attempt to address an issue that has no practical solution at the local level, and it cost the Village nothing to pursue it. The suit is presently pending in court.”

Candidate Randy Whitestone said, “The SALT issue adds an extra layer of pressure to the budget season. If elected, I will be voting on the budget in April and have attended all the budget briefing sessions to get up to speed and also participated in the past in the study of the budget as a former chair of the Scarsdale Forum’s Fiscal Affairs Committee.”

Speaking about the current challenge to the Non-Partisan System by the candidates in the Voter’s Choice Party, Trustee Crandall said, “If we get a board member who is disruptive, we’re going to lose our cooperative working style. We know how to work collegially. That doesn’t mean we always agree, we don’t, but we have respectful debate and are able to move issues forward to benefit our residents.” Jumping in, Trustee Arest added, “Residents are always welcome to attend our board work sessions where they can see and participate in discussions about issues facing the Village. We want to hear from residents on every issue.”LenaLena Crandall

Real estate tax equity has been another hot button for voters. Discussing the possibility of another revaluation Arest said, “There will be a reval at some point and it should always be an option – but the question is when? Communities want equity and stability. To date, we have not seen any statistical data to show that our tax roll is unfair. However, if residents feel they are unfairly taxed they should understand and pursue the annual grievance process. It need not be acrimonious. We have a new assessor, and these issues will be up for discussion.”

Another recent change that could impact Scarsdale’s bottom line is a 1% increase in the Westchester County sales tax. Commenting on the potential non-property tax revenue increase Crandall said, “We are never fans of an increased tax burden on our residents but, appreciate that at least some of the proceeds will be coming to Scarsdale. It’s too early to know what the exact impact will be. Proceeds from sales tax can be difficult to estimate and so we are conservative in our budgeting for unknowns such as this.”

On the expense side, we asked what major challenges the Board will face in the next term. Scarsdale’s aging infrastructure ranked among the top concerns. Randy said, “We face daunting long-term issues with a water system, portions of which date back 100 years. We rebuilt two water stations in the past 10 years and new meters are required. If we don’t use your reserves wisely, we can get in trouble.” Arest quoted some impressive numbers about spending on the water system, saying “We spent $10 million over last four years and another $34 million is needed over the next 10 years. This is not optional. We have to address our infrastructure needs so the question is how to do that thoughtfully and without adding too much of a burden to residents.”

Crandall added, “We will be implementing a monthly water billing system so that people can identify leaks or issues much sooner, and the board decided not to increase water rates for FY2020-21. We are hiring a rate consultant to help us plan for the infrastructure needs over the future. The good news is that people are using less water now that they are being billed on a three-tiered basis.”

justinJustin ArestTurning to the upcoming opening of the new Scarsdale Library in the fall of 2020, Crandall said, “The Scarsdale Library is going to be very popular.” She is looking forward to the glassed-in reading area and happy to have some nice options for meeting rooms. Whitestone said, “I think the library is a keystone in the arch of the Village and we’ll see an explosion of usage.” Arest added, “Usage of the Library has grown. Scarsdale’s book circulation is number one per capita in the county and fourth for total circulation. There will be various meeting and teaching areas that I hope will be utilized by everyone from our children to our seniors. A new café will hopefully add a social aspect. There will be something for everyone in the new library. This is a great example of what can be accomplished with a public private partnership. It is going to be viewed as a remarkable achievement.” He was proud to report that the project will be completed without additional charge to taxpayers as careful planning has occurred and contingency funds are in place.

What about Freightway? Now that the discussion to develop the Freightway site is on hold, what are the next steps? Crandall said, “We are waiting for staff to deliver an analysis of the public comments that have been received. We need to break the topics down into smaller bites for public discussion, including school population impacts, traffic impacts and pedestrian safety.” Arest continued, “It is always to our benefit to have as much information as possible. Specific to the garage, our engineering consultant is currently updating its analysis of necessary medium term repairs. We hope to have that information soon and will need to consider how to raise those funds should we move in that direction. In the short term, we have money allocated to the garage to ensure its safety,” Adding to the discussion of the Freightway site, Whitestone said, “We view ourselves as stewards of the community, and we want to leave the community in a better place than we found it.” Remembering when the garage was originally constructed, Whitestone, a Scarsdale native, said, “There was opposition to it when it was built!”

Crandall is particularly proud of the Board’s sustainability initiatives noting that changes were made by this Board to the tree law to protect Scarsdale’s tree canopy and to prevent clear cutting. Another step forward in sustainability is that the Village of Scarsdale is now a NYS Department of Conservation Climate Smart Community. Scarsdale is already leading the way with the collection of food scraps for composting and LED streetlights, and this new designation will allow the Village to apply for grant funding for future sustainability initiatives.

Arest marveled about the resource Scarsdale has in our engaged citizenry. He said, “I am amazed at the generosity of our residents – not just financially but with their time and talents. They give with no expectation of anything in return. Knowing them has made me want to volunteer more and more. On the Village government side, we have 18 resident boards and councils, with 160 individuals serving. And, that doesn’t include all of the civic organizations where many others participate as well.”

Since Randy Whitestone is running for his first term, we asked him why he wanted to serve and what he could add to the mix. He revealed that he started his career as a financial journalist for Bloomberg News. As a reporter he had a “natural curiosity about topics and learned to gather information, synthesize and communicate in a clear fashion. He earned an MBA in Finance and ultimately pursued a career in professional communications, where he has learned to make information accessible, transparent and straightforward. He hopes to use these skills to enhance Village communications with residents.

Randy’s neighbors value his level head, low ego and ability to keep issues in perspective. He notes that during his decades in Scarsdale, he has seen many come and go and one of his goals is to improve inclusivity for all facets of the community.

Observing the three candidates discussing the issues, their mutual respect and regard for each other was evident. As Crandall said, “We know how to work cooperatively and collegially to do what’s best for Scarsdale.”

Remember to attend the candidates’ forum at 7:30 pm on Thursday March 5 at Village Hall – and to vote on Wednesday March 18 from 6 am – 9 pm at the Scarsdale Congregational Church at 1 Heathcote Road in Scarsdale.

coronavHere are the latest coronavirus counts from Westchester County. Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner reports that on the afternoon of March 9 he participated in a conference call with Westchester County Executive George Latimer and local officials.

As of the afternoon of March 9, there were 98 cases of coronavirus in Westchester County. One person out of the 98 was hospitalized. Eight people in New York State have been hospitalized. The other residents who have tested positive don’t have severe cases. According to Feiner, these stats “highlight the fact that for most people the virus is low risk.”

Latimer said with 143 cases in New York State, NYS does have the highest concentration in the country, behind Washington State.

These new statistics may demonstrate that though the number of cases in Westchester is growing, so far, serious illness is at bay. However, as we lack any details about the victims, their ages etc. it is difficult to draw any real conclusions.

Health officials are advising that everyone should take this threat very seriously, so continue to be mindful and careful.

coronavirus graphic web featureSoon after the formal appointment of Scarsdale’s new assessor, Victoria Sirota, the board of trustees held its regular bi-weekly meeting and presented updates on Freightway as well as the state of the village. And, as next month’s village election draws closer, the meeting offered an opportunity for supporters of the Scarsdale Citizens Nonpartisan Party and the Voters Choice Party to voice their opinions.

Mayor Marc Samwick opened the session by stating that the total amount spent on the potential redevelopment of the Freightway parking garage is about $282,000. This includes approximately $85,000 for the visioning study; $82,000 for legal costs, such as review and preparation of the RFEI and RFP, and ongoing advisory services; and $115,000 for the planning consultant that drafted the RFP, analyzed RFP and RFEI responses and other issues, and provided ongoing advice and guidance.

Samwick stated, “The significance of this project to the village warrants the meaningful time spent by the board, village staff, resident members of the steering committee and consultants, and money devoted to it to date. With that said, the board recognizes its fiduciary responsibilities with respect to taxpayer dollars as well as to the future of our village center and, specifically, this critical piece of village-owned property. The board will continue to have that concern in mind as it address issues related to this question in the future.”

State of Scarsdale
The Mayor then discussed his recent state of the village presentation and noted that Scarsdale again has earned a AAA credit rating from Moody’s. He reviewed how the village administration has effectively reinvested in the community and highlighted a number of significant successes over the past year, including:

1) Renovation and expansion of the library, which is expected to be completed later this year;

2) Paving of 6.5 miles or over 8% of village roads;

3) Conversion of over 1,500 streetlights to energy-efficient LED light fixtures;

4) Renovation, modernization, and utilization of the Popham Road Fire Station;

5) Adoption of the New York State Climate Smart Communities pledge, positioning Scarsdale for additional environmental initiatives and state grant opportunities;

6) Recycling over 1 million pounds of food scraps; and

7) Continuing investment in Scarsdale’s infrastructure for potable water, storm water, and sanitary sewer system.

Likely in response to the recent water bills that seemed quite high to many residents, Mayor Samwick said, “Looking forward, required investments in the village’s water system are expected to cost $34 million in addition to the over $10 million invested over just the past four years. The village will continue to seek grant funding where available to cover water system investments, but there will be meaningful costs that must be paid by water system customers, namely our residents.”

He went on, “The board clearly recognizes the burden placed on residents by recent water rate increases and has paused further rate increases in the FY20-21 budget, pending the results of the Master Plan of the Water Distribution System that will commence within the coming months. During this time, the village plans to engage a water rate consultant to assist us with creating a long-term water rate structure that balances the capital needs with well-thought out, responsible rate increases to our customers.”

Looking ahead to the next 12 months, the mayor said that Scarsdale plans to work on the sanitary sewer distribution system, the public pool complex, the Heathcote Road Bridge, a variety of traffic safety and calming measures, the Hutchinson River Flood Mitigation Project, and cyber security, among other priorities.

Mayor Samwick also discussed an issue of heightened importance – retail challenges and empty storefronts in Downtown Scarsdale. “The village board is acutely aware of the issues with retail vacancies in our village center… and is committed to working collaboratively with property owners, tenants, and residents to create a vibrant hub for our community to enjoy,” he said. “The Scarsdale Business Alliance has quickly become an invaluable partner in improving our village center and we continue to seek more opportunities to enhance (it).”

He also reminded residents about Scarsdale’s efforts to improve communications with the community and encouraged residents to sign up for Scarsdale Official and other alerts via “Notify Me,” email village officials with their concerns and questions, and attend public meetings and less formal events to engage with the administration and fellow residents.

Scarsdale Citizens Nonpartisan Party
The mayor finished his comments by promoting Scarsdale’s nonpartisan political system, with an eye toward the coming village election on March 18. “One of the many great things about Scarsdale is our nonpartisan political system. Over 100 years ago, Scarsdale put in place an early form of its political system to combat the bitter partisan feuding of the day. The nonpartisan system has evolved continuously and has stood the test of time as our village has become a model that many communities seek to emulate.”

He continued, “Our system encourages a wide diversity of thought and lively debate that is based on mutual respect and active listening. We seek extensive community input and we strive to build consensus. We benefit from having our elected leaders represent the community as a whole without embedded interests and we strive to maintain a high degree of integrity. Our nonpartisan system encourages a wider range of participants that might not otherwise volunteer their time to serve the community… Our form of government is not perfect, but it has proved over the decades to be well suited for dealing with matters of shared community concerns and the delivery of municipal services desired by residents.”

Coffee Talk
The next “Coffee with the Mayor” is scheduled for Tuesday, March 3, from 6:00 to 7:30pm at Starbucks in the village center. Trustee Lena Crandall will join Mayor Samwick in discussing village issues with residents. All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Prepared for Coronavirus
Following the mayor’s commentary, Village Manager Steve Pappalardo assured residents that Scarsdale is prepared for the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Since the village doesn’t have its own health department, it relies on the Westchester County Health Department to advise on how to handle any health related issues that affect residents. The county health department has kept Scarsdale informed about the virus and recommended actions as needed, and has offered guidance on how to treat patients who present symptoms. The Scarsdale police department and school district are working to coordinate efforts and share information.

“Currently there are no known cases of the Coronavirus in New York State, and both the county and New York State health departments report that the risk to residents and students is very low.” Pappalardo stated. “The New York/New Jersey area airports have taken precautions with travelers returning from certain countries with known Coronavirus cases... Protocols are in place for travelers deemed at risk, from self-home isolation to video monitoring of individuals placed on home isolation for the 14-day incubation period. There have been no Coronavirus cases in Westchester, but should a traveler be recognized as high risk for the virus, he or she will be subject to an involuntary home quarantine and Westchester County’s Emergency Response Agency will be notified.”

Pappalardo reported that Scarsdale’s emergency response teams are prepared to deal with any potential virus cases, and are equipped with protective gear and directives on how to handle dispatch and response calls. The Scarsdale Chief of Police also has coordinated with other local police chiefs to ensure the village’s response protocol is consistent with those throughout Westchester County.

“Coronavirus is a real threat and should be taken very seriously,” Pappalardo said. “However, as stated by the county health commissioner, through maintaining proper awareness, staying informed, and taking proactive measures, like washing your hands frequently and vigorously for 20 seconds each time, you can significantly help to prevent yourself from infection.”

Public Comments
Bob Berg (Tisdale Road) began by asking how many public comments were submitted with regard to the Freightway Redevelopment Project and when they would be made public. Mayor Samwick responded that he did not know the specific number of comments received and that “As I mentioned two weeks ago… staff is taking a look at all of (the responses) and not just aggregating them or putting them in one place. What they’re doing is trying to sort through and analyze what the specific issues are… It is more of a complex analysis that is going to take longer to (complete).”

Berg then asserted that the village has spent almost $318,000 on Freightway, more than the amount reported by the village. He claimed that Scarsdale has not included additional funds paid for a condition survey to determine the cost of repairs to the existing garage. Village Manager Pappalardo explained that the survey was not considered as a redevelopment expense, as it would have been done regardless as part of the village’s capital budget planning.

In continuing to question the amount spent on Freightway thus far, Berg stated, “We’ve spent, probably, close to $325,000 in consulting and lawyer fees… and where are we? You said earlier... ‘The board has no specific plan or timeline with respect to Freightway.’ To me this is extraordinarily frustrating and concerning.” He went on, “We could and need to spend $2.5 million to repair the existing Freightway… and yet the board has spent nearly $325,000 of our tax dollars and it has no specific plan and no timeline.”

Mayor Samwick reiterated Pappalardo’s response, stating, “The number you’re giving is spent plus encumbered (funds)… it’s a misleading number. The number that has been spent (on Freightway) is less than $300,000… as of today.” He continued, “I’m going to go back to a comment I just made… ‘The significance of this project to the village warrants the meaningful time spent by the board, village staff, resident members of the steering committee and consultants, and money, devoted to it to date.’ This is a critical village asset and doing it short-shrift doesn’t benefit anybody.”

Berg responded, “I’ve been protesting the way the process has been structured from Day 1. And, I’ve said you should do an economic analysis of the viability of a variety of projects and the impact on the taxes, and schools from Day 1, before picking a final developer… We’ve spent so much money trying to get a finalist before knowing if it’s a viable project.” The mayor replied, “Just a point of clarification, the initial visioning study did include a preliminary economic analysis, so that was done at the earliest stages of this process.”

Berg argued the value of that analysis, calling it “erroneous” and the mayor responded that, “Everything is going to be erroneous until you have the refinement… that gives you an idea of what actually is going to be built.”

Mayra Kirkendall-Rodríguez (Fox Meadow Road) followed, stating that she currently is serving as campaign chair for the Voters Choice Party, supporting trustee candidates Bob Berg, Sean Cohen, and Robert Selvaggio. She invited the public to meet the VCP candidates this Sunday, March 1 (RSVP at VotersChoiceParty@Gmail.com) and attend an upcoming town hall, Freightway Redevelopment and Scarsdale Sustainability, on Thursday, March 12 at 7:30pm in Scarsdale Village Hall.

She also reminded voters about the upcoming Scarsdale candidate forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters and scheduled for Thursday, March 5 at 7:30pm, also in village hall.

Kirkendall-Rodríguez stated, “Bob, Sean, and Robert have lived in Scarsdale for several decades and are dedicated to maintaining our small-town character, clean and safe streets and parks, and affordability for all our residents, both young and empty-nesters. They are eager to contribute their municipal finance, risk identification, and legal expertise to village hall.” She continued, “The VCP candidates and I believe that we need to face municipal challenges in a political process that is quality of life and data-driven and more welcoming and inclusive of all residents. Unfortunately, village hall lacks a long-term financial plan, which is critical to withstand unexpected economic crises. Nor has the village created a downtown revitalization or Freightway redevelopment plan that should be presented to all residents for our input. To protect Scarsdale, we need change at village hall.”

Kirkendall-Rodríguez then summarized the VCP platform, which includes ensuring that the village doesn’t commit to Freightway Redevelopment or other municipal projects without due diligence to achieve positive long-term fiscal impact; 2) creating a transparent, open political process that welcomes all residents; 3) being prudent about Scarsdale’s fiscal sustainability and maintaining tax level no higher than they are today; 4) preserving the village’s current level of single and multi-family homes to avoid overcrowding; 5) establishing a more vibrant downtown; 6) utilizing Scarsdale residents’ talents to solve municipal issues; 7) maintaining a high standard of village services; and 8) continuing Scarsdale’s leadership in environmental and sustainability initiatives.

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