CAMPAIGN IN FULL SWING AS VILLAGE BOARD CANDIDATES SPEAK AND LISTEN TO VOTERS AT LOCAL "MEET AND GREET" FORUMS
March 10, 2017 -- As election day approaches this March 21 and voters look forward to the first contested Village Board election in five years, residents hosted "meet and greet" events at their homes this past week. On Sunday, Village Trustee Robyn Maynard hosted guests at her home where the Sea Cliff Civic Progress candidates, Mayor Ed Lieberman and incumbent Trustees Dina Epstein and Jeff Vitale addressed voters, speaking of their qualifications, accomplishments and plans moving forward. On Wednesday, residents gathered at the home of Lisa and Hal Cashman where Deb McDermott, running on the Sea Cliff Open Government line discussed why she is running and offered many of her thoughts on the most pressing issues facing the village.
In his remarks on Sunday, Mayor Lieberman, who was first elected as a Trustee in 2013, described his vision for the village saying that he, inspired by Hudson River villages he had seen on trips to Albany, wanted Sea Cliff to be a "destination" with a vibrant business district of restaurants, small shops and galleries, "where people are out and about doing things." He gave credit to his predecessor Bruce Kennedy for making significant progress in that direction and said he would like to continue that work.
"We are continuing to where the last eight years have taken us," he said.
As for the Garvies Point development, he noted that the Village Board had brought a lawsuit against Glen Cove, and that while losing the first battle at the lower court level, he and the trustees were pursuing an appeal, "and that the Village is doing what it can do legally with regard to opposition."
He also touted the Village's financial position noting that New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, in his most recent Fiscal Stress Report on municipalities gave Sea Cliff a rating of "Zero Fiscal Stress."
In her remarks, Trustee Dina Epstein told of how she had never known about Sea Cliff until she was introduced to the village by her husband, and immediately fell in love with it.
Since being first elected trustee two years ago she said that her "overarching concern has always been to make sure that the residents of Sea Cliff get the very best services and efficiently run government while paying the lowest amount possible in taxes."
In support of that point, she explained that in those two years the Village had been able to refurbish in an architecturally sensitive way some of Sea Cliff's most prized public buildings such as the Children's Library, Village Hall and Firehouse with grant monies rather than by increasing taxes on residents.
She continued that she is especially proud of her work with the Environmnental Conservation Commission and its efforts to build a Butterfly Garden at Marden Triangle this past summer, and the village's participation in car-free day. Additionally she said she is currently promoting a recycling and composting initiative with the goal of reducing the amount of municipal solid waste so that "we can keep our earth greener and our taxes lower."
Prior to her tenure as a Trustee, as a Zoning Board of Appeals member and Chairperson, she said she consistently voted against over-development, with the "greater good of Sea Cliff always guiding her decisions." Having seen overdevelopment in other areas of Long Island, she said it was especially important to maintain the village's unique character.
Before Mr. Vitale spoke, Mayor Lieberman once again addressed the guests.
He said that he wanted to "make sure that information that people get is accurate" and to dispel rumors that his decision to appoint Mr. Vitale to the Board of Trustees this past December was motivated by "partisan politics." (Mr. Vitale was the Republican Party candidate and received the endorsement of the Conservative Party for the 13th New York State Assembly District seat this past November. Incumbent Democrat Charles Lavine ultimately won re-election.)
Mr. Lieberman said that he himself is currently a registered "independent" and had previously been a registered "Democrat."
Explaining the appointment, he said that he has known Mr. Vitale since he was 12 years old and that the trustee has a strong love for and committment to Sea Cliff and brings an enthusiasm and vibrancy to the office. Additionally, he said he has observed Mr. Vitale's work as a grant writer for the Town of Oyster Bay having watched him give a "one man-presentation" to local, state, and federal officials and said that he was "very impressed with his knowledge and preparation."
"Anyone who says this was about partisan politics," he asserted, "is completely wrong."
Trustee Vitale then took the floor and described his life-long connection to Sea Cliff and his professional background before becoming a grant writer for the Town of Oyster Bay - working in marketing and then for Hospice.
"One thing I've learned," he said, "is the importance of being able to communicate with people" and that that skill is especially important as a village trustee.
As for issues confronting Sea Cliff, he said that "we have to do everything we can to stop what is happening in Glen Cove and make sure our voices are heard."
As a grant writer for Oyster Bay he explained that he has been focused on getting funding for vital projects without burdening taxpayers, bringing in, he said, about $35 million to the Town "with a lot of hard work and dedication."
He said that he enthusiastically accepted Mayor Lieberman's offer to join the Board of Trustees.
"There's a lot of things I can do and a lot of energy I can bring," he said he told the Mayor, "that can make such a great community even better."
As Board liasion to youth groups, he said he is there to offer his help whether it is for space for meetings or other support the village can offer.
Trustee Vitale continued that he has been in contact with the North Shore Coalition Against Substance Abuse, and explained the importance of addressing opioid abuse and "making sure people get the right information."
At the Cashman home a few days later, Lisa Cashman introduced Open Government Party candidate Deb McDermott.
"The November election was a wake-up call - all politics is local." Ms. Cashman said. "Sea Cliff is lucky to have someone like Deb McDermott answer the call."
The candidate immediately opened the floor to questions, asking the guests what they would like to talk about, and the conversation jumped from issue to issue.
Addressing the question of why she was running, Ms. McDermott noted the low voter turn-out in village elections, with typically fewer than 200 people casting ballots in local contests in a community of 4000 eligible voters.
"People need to be more engaged," she said. "Giving people a choice" would bring more people into the process and give them a stronger connection to village government, she explained.
She continued that she had not known about Sea Cliff until about 12 years ago when she and her husband fell in love with the community when they were looking for a home.
"I liked the way it felt here," she said. "We felt a wonderful sense of belonging."
"It is important for everyone to feel that sense of belonging," she added.
As for the major issues facing Sea Cliff, she expressed concerns about over-development in Glen Cove and the impact that would have on the quality of life of Sea Cliffians - in particular with traffic and the quality of the harbor and beaches; and secondly, sharply rising charges imposed by New York American Water.
In addressing issues such as these, she said it was important for the village to form coalitions with other communities and municipalities that are facing similar issues and that she has demonstrated the ability to do that in her work as Chair of the North Shore School District's Legislative Action Committee(LAC), through which she played an important role in creating a partnership with the Manhasset and Garden City Districts known a SuperLAC.
"We don't have enough people [in this village] to change things - we need to form coalitions with communities with the same interests," she asserted.
Returning to a theme she has highlighted repeatedly since she announced her candidacy, Ms. McDermott called for greater transparency and openness in village governnment, in particular with regard to communicating information to the public. She explained the importance of discussing important issues and delaying decisions on them until the public has been given adequate notice through the posting of agendas on the website in advance of both Village Board meetings and conferences. In the case of special meetings that are arranged on short notice, she said that e-mail blasts and the village phone notification system could be used.
The conversation among the guests, most of whom were parents of children attending Sea Cliff School, then segued to the Board's decision two summers ago to open Littleworth Lane Sea Cliff School and its playground during daytime hours when school is closed, and whether the public should have been notified in advance so that they could have offered their input before the initial decison was made.
The meet and greet concluded with a lengthy discussion of voting strategy - in particular, regarding the disadvantages of running as an individual against a slate, and the benefits of casting a single "bullet vote" for those who strongly support an individual candidate. Casting a second vote, some guests pointed out, would raise the vote total of each of the other two candidates potentionally pushing the candidate they strongly support down into third place in a three-way at-large election in which the two top vote-getters win.
On Tuesday March 14, Sea Cliff residents will have the opportunity to see and hear all four candidates respond to the same questions at the Sea Cliff Civic Association's "Meet the Candidates" forum at St. Lukes Church on Glen Avenue at 8 pm.
The election will take place on Tuesday March 21 at the Sea Cliff Children's Library with polls open from noon until 9 pm.
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