By Robert Kimmel-
Each of the four candidates competing for the three open seats on the Sleepy Hollow Board of Trustees in next Tuesday’s elections have provided residents with broad views on where they stand on a variety of issues facing the village.
The candidates’ positions on an array of subjects were expressed during an online forum conducted this past Wednesday evening, March 10th. Aimed at advancing the electoral process, the forum was co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Rivertowns and Mothers Out Front Westchester Rivertowns.
Three of the four candidates, Denise Scaglione, Jared Rodriguez, and Tom Andruss, are competing in the March 16th balloting as members of the Unite Sleepy Hollow party, which has led Mayor Ken Wray’s administration since 2015. Daniel Convissor is independently pursuing a trustee seat under the banner of what he calls the Change for the Better party.
Along with the trustee contenders, Wray is pursuing his seventh term, running unopposed, as is Katherine Baldwin, who will be on the ballot to continue in her post as Village Justice. Neither were Forum participants. The session was moderated by Katherine Dering, a member of the League of Women Voters of Northeast Westchester.
Issues discussed at the Forum ranged from the revitalization of Beekman Avenue’s downtown business district, anticipated additional traffic from the Edge -On-Hudson development, to taxes and police reform. In opening statements, the four candidates gave brief descriptions of their qualifications and the village subjects of most interest to them.
Scaglione said she is pursuing a third term as a village trustee and has lived in the village for 22 years with her husband and two sons, one of whom attends Sleepy Hollow High School and with the eldest now in college. As a trustee, she has worked on design plans for the 28-acre Village Commons, Devries Park, and the restoration of the Pocantico River shoreline. Scaglione also mentioned her voluntary involvement with athletic activities at Sleepy Hollow High School.
She has also been involved in working on the village’s Comprehensive Plan, and has been active in the Elementary Parent/Teacher Association (EPTA) of the Tarrytowns and as a Vice-President of the Philipse Manor Beach Club. If re-elected Tuesday, she said she would be the longest serving trustee.
Convissor explained he has been a resident of Sleepy Hollow since 2013, living here with his wife and two children. Shortly after his arrival, he said he became a member of Sleepy Hollow’s Environmental Advisory Committee and also observed how the village worked. He has watched or testified at more than 90 Board of Trustee meetings. He noted that he led several park clean-ups, and provided information on how to make Route 9 and nine intersections downtown safer. His work, he said, had him involved with village staff and elected officials.
Rodriguez stated that he is living downtown in Sleepy Hollow with his wife and young son Calvin, residing in a two-family house while restoring it and making it “super energy efficient.”
He said, “In my career I’ve made a big impact on reducing energy consumption in very large, multifamily and commercial buildings and helping communities and small businesses in the Hudson Valley plan for a better future.” He has also worked on transportation needs in the metropolitan area and is “advising the City and State of New York, on addressing the challenge of rapid climate change.” Rodriguez described growing up in Haverstraw and having earned a degree at Tufts University in engineering and architecture. At N.Y.U. he received a Masters of Science in real estate development.
Andruss, also on the Unite Sleepy Hollow ticket, has lived in the Philipse Manor area for 14 years with his wife and two teenage daughters. He described having served in several volunteer roles, mostly as a member of the Sleepy Hollow Planning Board for the last three years. Andruss said, “I am excited to have this opportunity to serve the community as a member of the Board of Trustees,” adding, “I believe Sleepy Hollow is on the right track.”
“The leadership of the United Sleepy Hollow party, with Mayor Wray and the current Board of Trustees, is the big reason Sleepy Hollow is making progress, “Andruss said. “Those of us on the Unite ticket have a record of cooperation, thoughtfulness and collaboration and can achieve great results.”
A question from a resident asked about the effectiveness of the village’s communication with its population and what the candidates might change.
“The village does a lot to reach out to the community,” Scaglione replied, citing email blasts that are sent out and a quarterly newsletter. However, she said the email reaches only about 3,000 addresses, and the word has to get out to have more people sign-up for the emails.
Convissor also noted the need for more people to receive the emails, and suggested the use of Spanish in promoting their existence. He proposed having post cards sent out. Advance information about trustee sessions and topics are needed, he added.
“I think the village is doing a lot right, particularly with the email blasts,” Rodriguez, said. He maintained that technology and social media could be utilized to improve getting the word out. “One of my priorities would be to reach the Latino community; a lot of my neighbors are not involved.”
“More communication could be going out, and it should be bilingual,” Andruss said. However, he emphasized, “Communication is a two-way street, and people should be attending meetings.” Andruss also said that there are email addresses and phone numbers by which villagers could communicate with officials and staff members.
What part should local government play in pursuing New York policies for dealing with climate change was another question asked of the candidates.
Convissor, an advocate of biking, described the biggest impact as being transportation and called for greater bike use along with more efficient recycling of waste.
Encouraging the use of alternate energy sources was Andruss’ initial suggestion, and he stated the village has to advise developers, builders, and homeowners what the new rules are and encourage them to use them. “Make sure developers work within the rules using more modern and efficient ways,” he said.
Rodriguez indicated that he has been “heavily involved with the community professionally regarding energy sources and requirements.” He also cited the need to push developers to meet energy requirements and to make reductions in energy use.
Scaglione recapped that Sleepy Hollow has been directed toward being a climate smart community and that it also participates with Sustainable Westchester in having residents utilize clean energy sources.
Noting that Sleepy Hollow has a diverse community, a query brought up concerns that there was a lack of unity and asked what could be done to bring the community closer together.
Andruss suggested that, through his experience as a youth soccer coach, (in one case for his daughter’s team) such sports activities and programs bring children from different backgrounds together. He said the development of a recreational area “will serve to better connect all of our various populations.”
Rodriguez said he and his wife made a conscious decision to live in a highly diverse community, both culturally and socio-economically. He called for village investment in Beekman Avenue in order to have a diversity of businesses. He said, “Let’s get the entire community to come to Beekman to do their shopping so they are physically around their neighbors.”
In response to another question brought up separately about “favoritism” in the village, Rodriguez said “that is exactly why Unite Sleepy Hollow has me on their ticket. I can represent residents who live downtown, who currently don’t have representation. I can bring a different perspective to the board.”
Having had personal involvement with many different sports groups, Scaglione said she and her husband had worked with families from all over Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown. She also described a recent village hiring as a pursuit to diversify its staff.
A community center downtown was Convissor’s suggestion. It would “stimulate activity that would bring together people from all over the village to the stores,” he stated. He also called for vehicle free means to have people get around on their own, “… people walking, dynamics on the street,” as he described it.
How to improve the numbers and sustainability of small businesses in downtown Sleepy Hollow was another question asked of the candidates.
Rodriguez mentioned the village’s new Comprehensive Plan, part of which is aimed at that problem. “Line by line reform of the Zoning Code… needs to be made to make our downtown corridor a more vibrant walking corridor.”
“Zoning rules which, as an example, prohibit restaurants and bars from locating within 200 feet of another, would get thrown out,” he said. Parking requirements for establishments are also targeted for reforming, he noted.
Scaglione also referenced zoning changes needed to improve the business district, and she also described the restaurant distancing regulations as “kind of silly.” She said recommendations within the Comprehensive Plan need to be approved to make the needed changes.
That sentiment was echoed by Andruss, who said, “Zoning is the key.” There were a number of items requiring changes that would lead to increasing businesses in the downtown areas, Andruss stated.
Convissor’s first response was “Ditto!” The need is also to make downtown “more walkable and bikeable,” he suggested and called for affordable housing and business rents as well as not having parking take up space for stores and housing.
A discussion also embraced the question of police reform in the village. There was some criticism that Sleepy Hollow police reform was slower and not as transparent as in other municipalities.
Rodriguez smilingly suggested that the other municipality might be Tarrytown. He had heard, he said, “Tarrytown hired a facilitator to help get their process done. Unfortunately, it is extremely expensive, but it would have been better if we did.” He called it “a forever process. Community outreach is needed, so that we have unity,” he added, reminding listeners that reform is a state requirement.
Scaglione affirmed that policies regarding policing “have to be revaluated. A necessity.” She described meetings aimed at that are making progress. “The Police Department is making great strides to clean itself up,” she stated.
Convissor called police actions, “a crucial part of our lives. How police respond to all, sorts of happenings. Thus, transparency with our police department is necessary.”
“I have heard nothing but glowing reviews of the Sleepy Hollow Police Department,” Andruss declared. “However, I am certainly in favor of the review process. And it doesn’t have to stop at the end of this cycle.”
The hour-and-a-half Candidates Forum included other questions revolving around such matters as safety on the streets, affordability of housing, and anticipated traffic caused by the Edge-on-Hudson development and other construction.
A link to a recording of the full Candidates Forum is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cUGok98IRI. Sleepy Hollow voters will be able to cast ballots from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 16th at nine polling district locations. Those locations are indicated on a link found on the village’s website: sleepyhollowny.gov.