Demetra Restuccia, Leo Wiegman, and Ian Murtaugh (l-r) January 2009.
Photo courtesy of Rick Sammon
On Monday evening, January 29, over forty villagers convened at the Croton Free Library’s Ottinger Room in the local Democratic Committee’s Nomination Caucus to select candidates for the upcoming Village elections. The mayoral seat and two Trustee seats held currently by board’s Republican majority will be on the ballot on March 18,2008.
The caucus, chaired by Paul Rolnick, nominated former Village Trustee Leo Wiegman as Democratic candidate for Mayor. The caucus also nominated political newcomers, Demetra Restuccia and Ian Murtauch, for the two Village Trustee slots.
Ian Murtaugh of Young Avenue placed Wiegman’s name in nomination for mayor, “Leo has the intellect experience, and calm demeanor to bring progress to the village.”
Demetra Restuccia seconded the nomination of Wiegman, saying, “When we were new in town, Leo’s openness and suggestions couldn’t help with raising me a one year old, but as a trustee, he did help me find compost and lots of other things.”
“The village is on a collision course with the new economy, regardless of the rose-colored projections we will hear from our mayor in the next few weeks. The current board majority is not interested in true innovation, and not capable of true cooperation and collaboration,” stated Wiegman, “The value of tax rolls in Croton peaked in 2004 and has not recovered since. We have not done nearly enough to address that underlying reality. We cannot nickel-and-dime our way out of this. My goal for our village is simple. I know it is your goal as well. Croton will emerge from this downturn into the new economy, not only unscathed, but as a leader in creative thinking and problem solving in Westchester County. We need a willingness to experiment and innovate and we need a capacity to cooperate and collaborate with dot-gov, dot-org, and dot-com partners.”
Leo Wiegman nominated Mr. Murtaugh nomination saying, “I have been Ian’s neighbor for almost 15 years. Long before I knew anything about Ian’s politics, I knew from our walks down the commuter station, that Ian belonged the group I call the Party of Common Sense.” Adam Rothberg of Old Post Road seconded Ian Murtaugh for Trustee.
“While I’m new to the local political process, I’m not new to the village,” explained Murtaugh, “I’ve become politically energized as I saw the hard work of the talented people who volunteered on the Harmon Economic Development Committee. We can promote a scenario where merchants can count on patronage by empty nesters and young commuters living in the immediate neighborhood.”
Lisa Cohen of Old Post Road North nominated Demetra Restuccia, “I know in Croton, words without works are useless. If Demetra says she will do something, you can bet it will get done!.”
David Lally of Cedar Lane seconded the nomination with “She is thoughtful as well as decisive and can make tough decisions. Anyone that knows her will attest to these facts, and just for the record-I have heard it stated that “everyone knows Demetra.”
“Within the village I know doctors, lawyers, stay at home moms, stay at home dads, graphic artists, social workers, teachers, hedge fund managers, firefighters, lighting designers, foodies, mountain bikers, wine-makers, stained glass artists, Broadway musicians, actors, judges, plumbers, contractors, designers, entrepreneurs, artists, people of all stripes,” noted Restuccia, “And yet when I see struggling businesses and empty storefronts and for sale signs, I can’t help but think we are not reaching our potential.”
The year’s Village Elections occur on a Wednesday this year, March 18, 2009.
Further information will be posted in coming days at the Croton Dems’ website: www.crotondems.org.
Leo A. W. Wiegman
Leo, 50, and his wife, Julie Evans, have one child at CHHS and have lived in Croton since 1994. Leo is owner and founder of an environmental communications firm, author of forthcoming book on solutions for climate change, and a former Village Trustee (2001-2007). Leo has volunteered on various local boards from AYSO to nature preserves. Email: email@example.com
Demetra, 42, and her husband, Sal, have a child at CET and a child at Childrenspace and have lived in Croton since 2001. Demetra is a Croton Harmon Education Foundation Board Member, Brownie Girl Scout Leader, and member of the Village’s Advisory Board on the Visual Environment. Demetra is also owner and founder of Gardens by Demetra, an organic landscape design company. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ian W. Murtaugh
Ian, 51, have been a resident of Croton since 1958. He and his partner Peggy raised and educated four children here in the village. Ian is in the advertising specialty business, selling logo merchandise and promotional products to corporate clients in New York. Email: email@example.com
January 27, 2009
Thank you, my dear friends and fellow Democrats, for your trust in me. I am honored and humbled to stand before you as your candidate for mayor of our lovely village. When we succeed-and we will-I will count on working closely with you to lead our Village.
As a country, we face uncertain times ahead. Our future as a small village is no different. The new, emerging economy will be different from the one that we have known and that created the challenges we face. But, I believe these challenges are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to forge a better, more sustainable community.
As we heard from Sandy Galef and Tom Suozzi a few nights ago, we cannot expect the State to toss us a lifeline-and we cannot remain passive until the national scene settles down. Yet, that is essentially the plan of the board’s Republican majority.
We are residents of the most heavily taxed region in the nation. The rising costs of Village services will continue to fall disproportionately on the homeowner.
We will drive away the young couples shopping for first homes and drive out the seniors who have long been the backbone of the village-unless we begin to shift that tax burden away from households. There are many potential opportunities to do something about this issue. But make no mistake about it. The current board majority is not interested in true innovation, and not capable of true cooperation and collaboration.
Did you know that-since 2004-the value of the property tax rolls in the town of Cortlandt-including Croton and Buchanan-has grown modestly, but definitely, by about 1%. That seems like good news. Now here is the kicker. In that same period, the value of Croton’s tax rolls has shrunk by almost 3%.
If Croton had simply remained flat under the current mayor, the town’s rolls would have increased half again as much as they did without Croton’s dragging the town values down. In other words, even as the town around is heading in the right direction on alleviating the tax burden for the homeowner, Croton has gone in the opposite and wrong direction. Since the current mayor first took office, the village budgets have ballooned by 30%. The tax rates have climbed 25%-and would have been even higher, were it not for some internal budget shell games.
We are getting nickled-and-dimed to death on all kinds of other fees to make up for the property value decline. The value of tax rolls in Croton peaked in 2004 and has not recovered since. We have not done nearly enough to address that underlying reality.
That paralysis is why the village is on a collision course with the new economy-regardless of the rose-colored projections we will hear from our mayor during this campaign.
I do believe the village has done a pretty job of managing the small slice of costs over which it had some control. But the village has done a completely inadequate job of managing the revenue side of the ledger.
Two out of every three dollars used to run the village come from property taxes. And the vast majority of that comes from homeowners. You solve big problems by looking for solutions that are just as big or bigger.
For the past four years, the mayor has obsessed over that last dollar and not the first two dollars of income. The village raised water rates 33%, invented a new sewer rent under false pretenses, jacked up parking rates 20%-none of which was earmarked for parking lot improvements-and bumped up recreation fees 20%.
But service fee increases only get you so far. Sooner or later, our customers will decide to park elsewhere.
We cannot nickel-and-dime our way of this. We can and must create great opportunities for Croton by helping our community revitalize itself—especially the business districts. The best way to do that is to push back some of the barriers that keep property value from rising—especially if we can do that in ways the benefit all.
The triple win I am talking about is (1) relieving the home owner’s tax burden, (2) revitalizing the business districts, and (3) rehabilitating the Village’s reputation and fiscal footing.
My goal for our village is simple. Croton will emerge in the new economy, not only unscathed, but as a leader in creative thinking and problem solving in Westchester. It is a reputation we used to have and have squandered of late.
The communities best situated to take advantage of the new economy are those that act early, that innovate as many ways as they can, that make full use of their intellectual capital, and that build bridges to other stakeholders.
For example, I will wager that we have several hundred small business owners in Croton - many more than you might think. My wife, Julie, and I run two of those small businesses from our home. Yet, the village has not even scratched the surface in exploring ways to help support and incubate small business here in Croton.
Imagine if we had buildings with good small business spaces are so well designed and constructed that they don’t even need an oil furnace and are so efficient your utility bill is less than half what you pay now.
Community leaders elsewhere, who have created such revitalizations, tell me we need just two things to get started: We need a willingness to experiment and innovate. And we need a capacity to cooperate and collaborate-with dot-gov, dot-org, and dot-com partners.
I do not claim to have all the answers. But I do intend to restore dignity to the office of the Mayor. I do intend to restore the capacity to generate practical ideas. I do intend to restore respect for the opinions of all our citizens and volunteers. I will return civil discourse to the Board meetings and transparency to our local governance.
I was at a meeting in Washington last month at which Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island summed up our theme tonight pretty well, “Governance matters. Relying on the facts to make policy decisions is where we are headed.” He was of course speaking about the Obama administration. That is not yet true in Croton today, but can be after March 18th.
We are at a crossroads with a fundamental choice: Croton can continue to drift on the Hudson tides, crippling our homeowners with additional taxes, waiting for the rescue boat. Or we can all begin to paddle together to innovate and cooperate.
We can remove barriers to progress, promote economic development, increase tax revenue, and restore our underlying values. I believe the choice is clear. We can return to being the well-respected “little village that could.” To paraphrase a fellow writer, Bill McKibben, “Change your leaders, not just your light bulbs.”
This is a great time to be a Democrat. It seems like just yesterday that we celebrated the election of Rick Olver and Ann Gallelli as trustees. We just re-elected Congressman John Hall. Barack Obama is now our President.
By April-in just a few months-the economic stimulus package will begin to hit the nation’s economy in a thousand different ways. We can expect a price on all carbon emissions to follow shortly. All this is part of the new economy. We had better get ready!
We cannot simply assume that the dice will roll our way on March 18. We face three incumbents and incumbents win 95% of the time. Last fall’s election taught us that, if we work hard, listen to the people, and speak from our hearts, we will prevail.
Where the current mayor sees problems, I see opportunities. I believe you do too. We have great potential before us. I ask that you join me, Demetra, and Ian in guaranteeing that we will all be ready to innovate and cooperate to form a new, more perfect Croton.
January 27, 2009
Dear Friends and fellow Croton residents,
Thank you for expressing your confidence by nominating me to run for the Village Board of Trustees. It will be a humbling and a daunting task.
While I’m new to the local political process, I’m not new to the village. I remember a time when virtually every need could be met right here within our village. Class pictures tomorrow? Not a problem, head to Elliott’s for a white shirt, new slacks and a decent pair of shoes. A friend sick from school? Pop Berger’s had models, games and comic books. Need a birthday gift for mom? The Import Corner or Gallimaufry probably had something which would fit the bill. As a youngster one of my first big purchases with lawn mowing money was a watch from the Croton Watch Company’s open house. Times sure have changed.
More recently, I’ve become politically energized as I saw the hard work of the talented people who volunteered on the Harmon Economic Development Committee. Their efforts to address the problems and provide some solution to the Harmon area are laudable. I became alarmed and further energized when the majority on the current board discounted the problems and called for another new study at a cost to the community rather than taking the next logical and non binding step which is SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review A). This is stifling and delaying any positive changes in Harmon, and perhaps even promoting negative change.
By maintaining the status quo, the majority on the board is undermining the wise cost controls already in place. Watching carefully the outflow of money is fine but it must be complemented by inflow or new tax revenue. We can gain that new revenue by creating an environment where wise development can occur. We can control that growth with appropriate zoning restrictions. We must shift the tax burden from the backs of current residents to new businesses and new residential units. We can do this wisely. We can promote a scenario where merchants can count on patronage by empty nesters and young commuters living in the immediate neighborhood.
Good zoning coupled with a proactive marketing strategy and networking with other Hudson River towns will allow us revitalize this prominent part of our village. For us to attract those with the capital and the will to undertake new projects in Croton we need to polish up our product. Dust away the restrictions which are holding back potential development, streamline the approval process and generally make this a hospitable place to invest.
With the proper checks and balances in place all of Croton would directly benefit from the visual improvements, the fresh amenities and new and diverse businesses and residents it would naturally attract. More revenue streaming into the village, more shops, more restaurants and an upbeat neighborhood seem to be a smart goal.
I humbly accept your nomination, and promise to keep the mantra of more revenue, continued cost containment and an eye on the future in mind. I believe that if we stick with smart changes, keep an open mind and accepting that new development will bring the village much needed income we will be well poised for the future. Any changes will take time, but the longer we wait the further the decline and the deeper the hole. Let’s act now and we can begin by ensuring that Leo, Demetra and I are elected on Wednesday March the 18th.
January 27, 2009
Thank you all very much. I am very proud to accept your nomination and am very excited to be part of the next wave of change in Croton.
Lisa Cohen and David Lally, thank you for your kind and inspiring remarks in nominating me.
Many of you may know that this past summer, my husband Sal and I explored moving from Croton-the taxes are killing us and we’d love to live in a village with a vibrant town center. Croton’s decline is very discouraging to us. So we looked for a community with a great school system, interesting people and a downtown with a lively mix of restaurants and retail shops. We found what we were looking for in Red Hook and in Rhinebeck: great schools that rivaled ours, great town centers with lots going on, clean air, the river (they only had one), interesting people. Both towns have strong local governments that are committed to outreach and to planning. They were clearly focused on the big picture as well as the day-to-day running of a town. So why are we still here?
Well, we ran the numbers. All the math worked out, except the emotional math. Turns out we have put down roots here. We love our friends, our neighbors, our schools. We love the proximity to NYC, we love our two rivers. I love my clients. So despite very compelling reasons to leave, we decided to stay in Croton. To raise our children here. But in making that decision we also pledged to each other that we would work harder to change Croton so it could become a village we would be proud of.
There is a lot to do. We need a mayor who doesn’t govern by yelling. We need trustees who don’t pander to people who use fear and lies to serve their agenda. More crosswalks need to be added so more of our kids can walk safely to school. The parking structure proposed years ago for the train parking lot needs to be moved toward reality so we can make room for some of the 300 people on the waiting list and raise more revenue. I think we need to freeze hiring in anticipation of the state’s financial situation so we don’t find ourselves in a real fiscal mess. We need to give incentives to landlords to fill their empty stores and maybe we need to impose a vacancy tax when they don’t. We need to work with the Planning Board and the Zoning Board to streamline processes in order to make Croton a more business friendly place. We need to create a permanent Economic Development Committee to do for the whole village what the Harmon Economic Development Committee has done for Harmon. We need to make government open and accessible. We need to take the mean the ugly and the uninformed out of local politics.
But here is the real issue. Taxes are killing us and if we don’t get this village up and running and raising revenue we will be in big trouble. We need a commercial base. We need retail. We need offices. We need business.
When you go to the polls this March 18 to vote for a Mayor and two more trustees, please keep one simple question in mind. Simple because it is straightforward. Do you want a downtown? Or not?
I do. I believe that Croton can and should reflect, in its structures, the wide, interesting array of people who live within its borders. Within the village I know doctors, lawyers, stay at home moms, stay at home dads, graphic artists, social workers, teachers, hedge fund managers, firefighters, lighting designers, foodies, mountain bikers, wine-makers, stained glass artists, Broadway musicians, actors, judges, plumbers, contractors, designers, entrepreneurs, artists, people of all stripes. And yet when I look at the town itself and I see struggling businesses and empty storefronts and for sale signs I can’t help but think we are not reaching our potential.
The current administration has done an ok job of the day to day. Our leaves are removed, our snow is removed, our potholes are filled. But there is little or no sense of that big picture. That ability to inspire, to work from a place of confidence instead of fear. I have heard only negative responses from the current majority to the Harmon Economic Development Committee’s recommendations on how we might transform Harmon. I have heard the Mayor say he doesn’t want a mini city. (no one does) I have heard Tom Brennan say he doesn’t want a housing development. (It isn’t.) I have heard Susan Konig wish that the recommendations weren’t available “ad nauseum” on the village website for the public to hear and read and understand.
But here’s the good news. I have heard the committee report that change is possible if we update zoning in Harmon. I have heard Trustees Olver and Galleli say they want to move forward in exploring the recommendations. I have heard countless friends and neighbors and strangers say that Harmon needs to change and that the recommendations are a great start. By removing zoning roadblocks from the property owners in Harmon, they will be able to afford to improve their properties if they choose to. They can build multiuse, human scaled buildings that will earn them money, bring a higher quality of life to all of us, and raise revenue in order to spare us, the homeowner, some of this tax burden. Think of the jobs residents, teenagers could have if we had a downtown. Think of the options empty nesters could have if they could downsize and stay in Croton. Think of the grandmothers and grandfathers who want to be near their children and grandchildren but don’t want the burdens of a large house anymore. Think of the jobs for our contractors and plumbers and electricians created by this revitalization.
Harmon could be amazing.
Might it impact the schools? Yes, it will help us pay for them. We need to start raising revenue from a business base not just our homes.
I know change won’t happen overnight. I know we are in a heck of time in the country economically. But now is not the time to “hunker down” and wait it out but rather to use this time wisely in order to be ready when our country and our village is ready to move forward. I am confident that with aggressive leadership, a strong commitment to existing businesses and an equally strong outreach to possible new ones, Croton will change for the better.
Change is the only thing we can count on. I want a change for the better, not the worse. A vote for Leo and for Ian and for me is a vote for the better. I ask for your vote and your support.