With a career that includes a hitch in the Navy, corporate postings around the world, and decades in government, it’s hard to imagine a more diverse career than Philip Zegarelli’s.
Although known for his civic involvement, Zegarelli’s expertise in the financial sector took him to Australia where he worked to clean up coal mining land; and to Israel for the restructuring of one of that country’s largest conglomerates.
Zegarelli is stepping down Sept. 30 as Briarcliff Manor’s village manager for a retirement that includes more time with his wife, Barbara Joan, their four children and seven grandchildren.
As he prepared to leave the job after a dozen years, the longtime Sleepy Hollow resident who twice served as its mayor answered a few questions about his past and future.
(Note: this Q&A has been condensed and edited for brevity)
Question: Why have you chosen this time to retire?
Philip Zegarelli: I’ve worked all my life. At age 16 I worked at the Grand Union. I was in charge of the beer and soda aisle, which was very popular. When I went to Columbia College, I worked in the Athletic Department. I went into the Navy right out of college, stationed in Antarctica. Then I became George (H.W.) Bush’s military attaché at the United Nations. I went back to graduate school. I was an elected official all of that time. I can honestly say that I never didn’t work.
Don’t miss the RiverTalk podcast Zegarelli HERE.
I love what I’m doing, I love public service. So from being a banker and going into government, I like to believe I’ve sort of welded a few different things together that maybe makes me more determined to do things, and I love projects. But, I’m 73 and a half, and maybe it’s time. I’m certainly not trying to outrun an avalanche of problems. If anything I’m trying to settle union contracts so that going forward, whoever comes in doesn’t have to deal with that first thing.
I know I’m leaving the place much better than when I came and I know we’ve done some great projects here under three different mayors, and I think it’s just a good time to leave.
Q: Will you stay on in Briarcliff in some capacity?
PZ: Whatever makes the village run better. We’re still talking about how to do it. I’ll continue chairing the Tri-Village Waterworks. And they’ve asked me to continue working on some special projects. If they’d like me to stay on and be involved,
it’s up to the mayor and the board and my successor.
Q: What are the three biggest challenges ahead for Briarcliff Manor?
PZ: – Land use. What’s going to happen with large properties such as the Pace and Phillips campuses.
- Reimagining the downtowns. There’s a pullback into your local communities because people are working from home. They are rediscovering downtowns. We view the forward look at our downtown as “back to the future” where you not only update businesses to attract people but restore the concept of a tried and true mixed use of housing (above the businesses) to bring people back to inhabit the downtown: Affordable, strategic housing reinvigorating the zone.
- There’s an acute housing need at certain levels, with people wanting to move here because of the schools, the services we provide, the parks, the trails, concerts, camps.
Q: Please list the top three accomplishments during your tenure as Briarcliff’s village manager.
PZ: – Getting stimulus money to upgrade the Tri-Village Water Works system by installing a new pumping station and replacing water lines to reduce leaks. Continual cleaning and maintenance to provide high quality service to Briarcliff Manor, Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown.
- Rebuilding the Law Park Pavilion [following a 2015 arson fire that necessitated the building’s demolishment].
- Developing the William J. Vescio Community Center.
Q: Will you miss sending out those weekly email blasts to your 1,800 subscribers, hallmarked by your meticulous attention to detail?
PZ: I try to put a little humor in it. I get calls from people, especially on Fridays, if I haven’t sent it out at a certain time.
I haven’t missed a week since we started. We’re up to 508. And this is why it’s time [to retire]. It was a Friday and we were in Malta, and I’m doing it and sending it back and forth. My wife said, ‘You’re nuts.’ And then we were down Ushuaia, Argentina, that’s way down south close to the Antarctic Circle, and it was the same thing. The communications were really poor, and my wife said, “Will you give it up?” and I said, “I’m not gonna break my record.”
Q: Can you share anything about what retirement looks like for someone with your background?
PZ: I’ll continue to stay on the board of the Historic Hudson River Towns, and the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery historic fund. I love my volunteer work, but I’m not going to close the doors on other opportunities.
Believe it or not, I do have some other hobbies. I’m a beekeeper. I like gardening. I like being outside. I still have my model trains.
Q: Tell me about the two memoirs you’re planning to write.
PZ: I have 16 pages of outlines already for “Outrunning the Avalanche” [about his time in public service]. It’s going to be funny. It’s going to be really funny.
From being in the Navy I also have the idea for a book. Especially being stationed in Antarctica. “Many are Cold, Few are Frozen.”
Q: Tell me something about yourself that readers might be surprised to learn.
PZ: I know you’re not going to believe this, but there’s a little bit of a shy streak in me. I’m very person-oriented and once I meet somebody, I think we can become fast friends, but there’s a little bit of shyness.
Phil Zegarelli, in His Own Words
Here are a few notable quotes from The River Journal’s interview with outgoing Briarcliff Village Manger Philip Zegarelli.
“I come from a family of dentists. I’m the only one who didn’t become one. So people said, ‘Why’d you go into government?’ And I said I’d rather put my foot in my mouth than my hand in yours.”
“I walk up and down the street and there’s a little bit of Andy of Mayberry to it, even though you don’t think so. But [Briarcliff] is a lot more of a closer-knit community than people give it credit for.”
“I don’t look back. I’m a lead, follow, or get out of the way guy. And I think you earn respect and I think people believe in you if you make a decision. A lot of times people can’t make a decision, they’re concerned about ‘What if it goes wrong.’ I don’t. [I say] ‘OK what went wrong. OK, how can we repair this.’”