Wednesday, Jun 19th

Omer Wiczyk to Lead the Scarsdale Forum: Paulin and Mayer Address Key Issues

OmerandSarahSarah Bell and Omer WiczykHow can the Village keep a 120 year old organization vital and relevant? That was on the minds of the leadership of the Scarsdale Forum when they held their annual meeting on Thursday night May 23, 2024 to pass the leadership gavel from current President Sarah Bell to this year’s President Omer Wiczyk.

The Forum, originally called the TVCC, has seen its mission morph over the years. The TVCC formerly acted as unelected overseers of Scarsdale’s Non-Partisan Process, placing 11 selected members of the Procedure Committee that governed the election of Village Trustees. The Citizens Nominating Committee was chaired by two members of the TVCC rather than elected by the nominators who were elected in a general vote. All that changed and now the leadership of the Citizens Nominating Committee is voted on by the members, and the Procedure Committee is led by those who have completed three years of service on the CNC.

Now the Forum’s mission is to “provide a platform for meaningful community dialogue about municipal, school and related civic affairs. Forum activities and committee work afford members a variety of opportunities to be informed, to express personal views and to become involved in addressing the issues, choices and solutions that directly impact our community.” The group produces in-depth reports on issues such as education, downtown development and sustainability that are submitted to the Board of Education and Village Board for review.

At the May 23 meeting, departing President Sarah Bell described her efforts to “move the Forum into a new generation.” She said, “It wasn’t an easy year. It was hard. It seemed like we didn’t want to move into the future.” However, working to facilitate “inclusive engagement,” they recruited eight new board members and formed the Scarsdale Forum Youth Advisory Panel to engage youth in civic affairs. She recognized six high school students in the audience calling them, “interesting, interested and engaged.”

She also mentioned publication of their “mini focus” newsletter, saying it was the most opened publication in five years.

She welcomed incoming President Omer Wiczyk to the podium and said she was excited for the future.

ForumGroupForum members and students with Amy Paulin and Shelley Mayer.

Wiczyk thanked Bell for her energy and laughed saying, “We are going to have an Instagram account!”

Taking the stage he said, “I have dedicated my life to public service – I believe that by volunteering you can make your community a better place. We are all on the same page. We may disagree about how – but we all want to move forward. One of my themes will be civility.
He invited Forum members to participate, saying “I want to hear ideas on what we should change – and should not change. Inclusivity is vital when change is afoot.”

He welcomed the evenings speakers, State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and State Senator Shelley Mayer who offered comments on what’s going on in NYS government and on their priorities this year.

Amy Paulin referred to the struggle to reach compromise in Albany saying, “We battle and we move forward.” She said that the COVID crisis had decreased contact between members and results in antagonism. Now she said, “civility has returned because we see one another.”PaulinForumPaulin addressed the group on a wide range of state and local issues.

She noted that our districts two representatives are responsible for 87% of the state budget, with Paulin chairing the Assembly’s health committee and Mayer, chairing the Senate’s education committee. She discussed the drawn out fight over redistricting, restoring funding for cuts in the health care budget and challenges to the CDPAP program which allows residents to receive benefits for caring for relatives at home.

Paulin brought up two bills she is sponsoring that she is working hard to get passed this session. One she calls the Harvey Weinstein bill as it was prompted when Weinstein’s rape conviction was overturned in New York. This bill would allow the court to admit evidence that a defendant has committed any prior sexual assaults in a criminal proceeding in which a defendant is accused of sexual assault.

Second, Paulin is championing a bill called “Aid in Dying,” to allow terminally ill patients to request pharmaceuticals for the purpose of speeding up their deaths and providing legal protections to the physicians who prescribe them.

Turning to local issues, Paulin is working with Mayer to pass legislation to allow the Village of Scarsdale to refund tax fees and penalties that were incurred due to a post office failure. She is also working on legislation to assist Scarsdale Village Ambulance Corps and on another bill to help non-profits collect funds.

She is working on getting funding to alleviate flooding on the Hutchinson River Parkway and to prevent Lake Isle in New Rochelle from overflowing and damaging property.

On a personal note, she choked back tears as she announced plans to move to New Rochelle after 44 years in Scarsdale. She said, “it is an understatement to say that I am devastated. I will never feel as connected to another community as I am now.” She said, “I will always say that this is my home.”

LatimerCounty Executive George LatimerState Senator Shelley Mayer explained that she represents a “big, complicated district.” In the Senate she said there are 42 Democrats where “everyone has their own opinion but they pull it all together.” She said, “with strong leaders we move in the right direction.”

Turning to the issues she is working on she discussed the following:

-We are re-visiting the state funding formula. School districts like Scarsdale receive very little funding. The formula is out of date. Districts in Long Island receive more. We need a fairer way for the state to pay out based on need.

She gave credit to Scarsdale for passing the school budget saying, “It is a sign of support for education when a district passes a budget above the state tax cap.”

She is in favor of a bill to have one ex-officio student on each school board.

Security : She said that some school districts have hired off duty police for school security and she is working with the Governor to get money for security for those schools.

About the state university system she vowed, “We will invest in SUNY and CUNY schools and increase the TAP awards.”

About dissent on college campuses, she said, “We have to do more at colleges to make sure students don’t feel afraid. We need to come up with effective solutions and better policies.

She discussed new legislation to increase the list of crimes that can be termed hate crimes.

She expressed concern about brazen retail theft and a feeling of lawlessness. They have proposed to make it a crime to assault a retail worker and to make it legal to aggregate the amount of items stolen to add up to $1,000 to go from petty to grand larceny. Last there is a proposal to offer a tax break for small businesses that have increases in costs due to security.

She expressed support for the passage of the ERA amendment and also proposed the creation of a senior cabinet officer for flood management, or a “flood czar,” to go to on the state level to address flooding.

County Executive George Latimer surprised the group by stopping in as well. He’s been working hard as an advocate for Westchester County while also campaigning to represent Congressional District 16 in Congress. The primary is on June 25, 2024.

The meeting offered a bird’s eye view on what’s going on in Scarsdale, the county and the state from some hardworking representatives.

Also elected to lead the Scarsdale Forum are the following:

1st VP/President-Elect: Jill Spielberg
2nd VP: Alexandra Vargo
Treasurer: Elaine Weir
Secretary: Jeanne-Marie Castiello

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