Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mamaroneck Town Supervisor Valerie O'Keeffe and Mamaroneck Village Mayor Phil Trifiletti, both Republicans, will be opposed by Democratic challengers in the November 6 election.
Town Councilman Ernie Odierna will be running against O'Keeffe, and Kathy Savolt, who was a village trustee from 2000 to 2002, will be taking on Trifietti.

In the event of his defeat, Odierna will serve the remaining two years of his town board term.

Contested elections are a given in the village, but this will be the first battle for supervisor since O'Keeffe won the town's top job in 2000. And while the town campaign is likely to be a kid-gloves affair, the village face-off already shows signs of being another given there--a gloves-off, knock-down bout.

Also on tap is a contest for village trustee, in which Democrat Randi Robinowitz, in her electoral debut, will be fighting to unseat independent Tony Fava, who was appointed by Trifiletti to fill the village board seat vacated by former Republican trustee and deputy mayor Bill Paonessa, who resigned on March 24. Fava lost his bid for election to the board in November, 2006, coming in fifth, in a field of six, in a contest that resulted in three Democrats--incumbent Tom Murphy, Toni Pergola Ryan and John Hofstetter--capturing the board's majority.

The town Republicans will not be fielding opponents to Democratic council members Phyllis Wittner, who is seeking another four years in office, and David Fishman, who was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Paul Winick, also a Democrat, who is moving out of state. Fishman, whose victory is all but guaranteed, will serve out the two years remaining of Winick's four-year term.


Savolt recently retired as executive director of the Beczak Environmental Education Center in Yonkers, where she oversaw the construction of Beczak’s Hudson Riverfront Interpretive Center. She is a member of the board of the Sheldrake Environmental Center.

In announcing her candidacy, Savolt stated, “It’s time for a change in leadership in Mamaroneck. I am ready to work hard for all the people of the Village of Mamaroneck. They clearly indicated they wanted a change last November, and it’s time to finish the job.”

Robinowitz, a Rye Neck resident and realtor in the Larchmont office of Coldwell Banker, served as a board member and president of the Mamaroneck Community Nursery School and on the board of the Mamaroneck Phyllis Junior Soccer League. She has also been active in the Rye Neck PTSA and the Historic Harbor Street Fair Committee.

Explaining her decision to run for the village board, Robinowitz said, “I am excited about joining the team the voters put in place in 2006. Tom Murphy, Toni Pergola Ryan and John Hofstetter have begun to tackle the issues. They have cut legal fees by settling two of the biggest of the Trifiletti administration's lawsuits [one involving dismissed police officers and the other, day laborers], drafted an ethics law and started work on land development issues. But there’s a lot more we need to do, and I’m ready to jump in and help.”

Asked in a June 17 phone interview to comment on the upcoming campaign, Trifiletti said, "Savolt will have a difficult time defending her actions and decisions when she was a trustee." Asked to what "actions and decisions" he was referring, he said that would come out during the campaign.

Trifiletti further stated that he "would campaign harder this year than ever" and that he and Fava would run on their records. He cited among his accomplishments "combating water pollution; improving the environment; putting in changes to minimize development, both on the waterfront and throughout our village; five years of bringing forward volunteers to work on village projects; and five years of extremely low tax increases compared with other areas of Westchester."

Fava declined to comment.


Odierna, encountered at the Historic Harbor Street Fair and, later, in a phone interview, offered a tactical reason for opposing O'Keeffe, who is a Mamaroneck native, in addition to delineating certain things he would do differently.

Speaking of tactics, he noted that the town Democrats, in tacit acknowledgement of O'Keeffe's popularity, had, in years past, foregone challenging her. However, he continued, they worried that this year, even after filing petitions to get her name on the ballot, O'Keeffe could change her mind about another term, and the Republicans would have a brief window of time to substitute another candidate. If that were to happen, Odierna said, and the Democrats had again deferred to O'Keeffe's vote-getting prowess and not put forward their own candidate, they would have lost the chance to oppose a beatable Republican.

O'Keeffe, however, says she wants to stay in office to see that the building of a parking deck for the residents of the Washington Square neighborhood and the construction of a new luxury apartment building at Byron Place and Madison Avenue is accomplished smoothly and with the least disburbance to residents.

As for issues, Odierna stressed that his intention in running is "not to poke a finger in Valerie's eye because we've been working together." He did say, however, that there are some changes he would like to see.

One would be to give serious consideration to hiring a deputy to assist Town Administrator Steve Altieri, who, Odierna said, is overburdened. He pointed to the parks and sanitation departments as two operations where, in his view, decisions are delayed because the council has "dumped so much" on Altieri.

What about the price tag for adding a deputy administrator? "We already pay Steve a $25,000 stipend for administering the sanitation department," Odierna replied, and suggested that it might be possible to hire, for less than $100,000, a deputy administrator who could be empowered to make decisions that would "shepherd projects through," without unnecessary delays.

He would also like to pursue discussions about shared operations between the Larchmont and town sanitation departments.

And he wants to solicit more frequent input from neighborhood groups on potential emergencies, like flooding. He also suggested that the impact of the March and April floods might have been mitigated if the storm sewers had been better monitored and cleaned more frequently and if the Sheldrake reservoir, the Good Life Pond and the duck pond in Larchmont Gardens had been dredged.

He added that he would like to "delve more deeply" into the condition of the town's infrastructure.

Odierna further said he found it problematic to frequently see O'Keeffe, Larchmont Mayor Liz Feld and Village of Mamaroneck Mayor Phil Trifiletti "arm-in-arm, making statements to the press" about matters like playing fields and day laborers, without first consulting the members of the town council and the two village boards. "It's not clear in my mind that that's appropriate," he stated..

Asked if there were a political component to his objection, since O'Keeffe, Feld and Trifiletti are all Republicans and the town council and village boards have Democratic majorities, he said, "It does make you wonder what's going on here."

More inter-municipal deliberations among town council members and the trustees of the two villages about emergency management, sharing services and relations with the school district would, he said, also be in order.

Additionally, he characterized as "crazy" what he called "the arms-length distance between the school board" and the municipal bodies because they "have related budgets and the same taxpayers."

O'Keeffe, in a phone interview, disagreed with Odierna on the advisability of hiring a deputy administrator, saying, "I don't think we need a deputy administrator, and I wouldn't vote for one.. . .Adding another $100,000 to the budget is not a good idea at this time." She also noted that Altieri "didn't ask for a deputy administrator. He asked for an assistant, and he got one. Mary Stanton."

As for the Larchmont and town sanitation departments sharing operations, she said, "we would have to change the law that created the Village of Larchmont/Town of Mamaroneck Joint Sanitation Commission." And why, she asked, would we want to take that job away from Steve," who, she said, had run the sanitation department in Scarsdale?" She added that she thinks the department "works very well as it is now."

O'Keeffe conceded that, particularly with weather changes, "Ernie may be right" that the town's storm sewers may need closer monitoring and more frequent cleaning. She, like Odierna, said she was not sure of the cleaning schedule, but noted that "before every big storm, problem areas are checked." But she took issue with the idea that more frequent sewer-cleaning or dredging the reservoirs and ponds would have mitigated the March and April flooding because "both floods were so large and powerful," and so much rain fell so fast.

She estimated that it could take "18 months just to get the permits to dredge" and added that it's very difficult to find sites where the silt could be deposited. Nor, she noted, is it simple to upgrade inter-municipal water flow through the two villages and the town The county, she said, would probably have to coordinate system-wide upgrades.

(In fact, the county is holding a "summit" this Thursday, June 20, at the County Center to pass on to municipal officials information gleaned by County Executive Andy Spano's staff from more than a decade's worth of local and regional flood mitigation plans.)

O'Keeffe, however, did point to two recent capital projects in the town aimed at better storm water management. One was the creation of a large "vault" under Orchard Road to hold excess storm water so that it can dissipate gradually. The other was the installation of pipes along York Road to carry water from the wetland in the area to the Sheldrake River.

She noted that meetings of town officials with neighborhood groups are important and already take place, but agreed with Odierna that there could be more frequent outreach. But she demurred on the need for more municipal interaction with the school district, asserting that the relationship is a good one as it is.

Nor, she said, does she see the need for joint meetings of the three municipal boards unless there is a specific shared issue to be discussed, as there was at the inter-municipal meeting on a day laborers hiring site.

And she objected to Odierna's objection to her appearing with the mayors of Larchmont and Mamaroneck Village, pointing out that the top elected official is the chief spokesperson of each community; that it is just a matter of electoral chance that, right now, all three are Republicans; and that she "never made any substantive policy statement to the press, while holding hands with these people" on issues that she had not first discussed with council members.

O'Keeffe, the only Republican on the Mamaroneck Town Board, stressed, in her statement announcing her candidacy, that she and her colleagues have had a "very productive and cooperative non-partisan relationship, which has led to many accomplishments," especially in the areas of land use, environmental regulation, recreation and financial management. The last has earned the town a Triple-A bond rating.

O'Keeffe was recently elected president of the Westchester Municipal Officials Association. She has also been named to serve on the recently formed Westchester County Blue Ribbon Committee to study flooding mitigation.


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