Election 2009, Room at the Top

During Obama’s campaign for president, the popular refrain became, "Yes, we can." In the lead-up to next month’s Village elections in Irvington, the refrain has become, "Yes, he can. "

The "he" specifically refers to the lone candidate for mayor, Jonathan Siegel, a Democrat.

Siegel has been described as fair, level-headed, temperate, capable, rational, hard-working, logical and experienced. And these are all words coming from local politicians running for a Village Trustee position on the Republican and Independent tickets. 

Perhaps this is due to Siegel’s bipartisan past. He was appointed by Republican Mayor Flood in December 2003. The following March, he was elected for a full term and served until 2006. He then was appointed this past December by Democratic Mayor Nicola Coddington.  

Siegel, who graduated from the University of Chicago Law School – where President Obama taught, by the way – advises early stage companies on legal financial and organizational issues in order to identify candidates for investment. Before that, he spent eight years serving as executive vice president, publisher relations and general counsel to the Synapse Group, a Connecticut-based marketing company.   

"There’s no [mayoral] candidate they liked as much as [Siegel]," said Republican Brian Smith, referring to the Republican committee in town. Smith, who is the lone Republican candidate running for a trustee position on the Village Board, said he didn’t run for mayor since he’d like to get experience on the Board before considering a higher position.

Unlike Smith, Jim McCann, of the independent Irvington Party, said he thought of running for mayor until he saw that Siegel was running. McCann, who has been a financial advisor for 27 years on Wall Street, said it made no sense for the Village to lose out on a highly qualified person – either him or Siegel – so instead, he decided to run for a trustee position on the board. 

The other independent Irvington Party candidate for a trustee position is Francis Goudie. The Democratic candidates are John Malone and Terence Masterson, both incumbents, as well as Connie Kehoe, a newcomer. 

On the issues

Just like the national mood, every candidate listed the budget and the need for fiscal discipline as one of their top priorities. 

Candidates also mentioned the need to rezone the waterfront from industrial to mixed use while keeping it attractive to residents. And candidates also mentioned their concern for the businesses on Main Street.

While everyone, in individual interviews, seemed to endorse similar goals, the candidates differed on who would be best to lead the town toward those goals. 

Smith, a CPA and volunteer firefighter in the town, said he was "appalled" by the fire engine fiasco last year, in which Irvington lost over $300,000. He also said the Board has moved too slowly on rezoning the waterfront and pointed out that it would be within someone’s right to launch an industrial business on the waterfront since it is currently zoned for that use.

Smith, citing Obama’s cap on White House salaries, said it would be possible to keep taxes flat by not automatically giving a 3-4 percent annual raise to Village employees.

Meanwhile, McCann said his financial background dovetails perfectly with the needs of the Board. He called the $3.6 million energy performance contract unanimously approved by the Board "discretionary spending" and questioned whether Board members even read the contract. He disputed the guaranteed energy savings that would come about because of the new infrastructure and said the aging water main should be fixed instead of individual water meters in residents’ homes. He also criticized the thousands of dollars spent on consultants when local experts might be willing to volunteer their time.

McCann’s running mate, Goudie, said his experience as an engineer compliments McCann’s financial background and Siegel’s legal background. 

"I think the Board needs a bit more depth than it currently has, especially in the engineering area," Goudie said. As an engineer, Goudie pointed to his experience dealing with union and contractual issues. Like McCann, Goudie criticized spending money on consultants. 

"The people just spent $35,000 [on the Bridge Street consultant] and got nothing for it," he said, adding that the Board took a defensive posture responding to Bridge Street’s proposal for rezoning instead of coming up with its own plan.

"Things just sit on the back-burner forever and ever and ever," he said.

But the Democratic incumbents defended their record. Malone, an architect, said the tax rate increases have decreased during his tenure. He also defended the energy contract and said McCann misunderstood a portion of it, and that the Village would indeed save money in the long run. He also said the Board has put measures into place that would make it nearly impossible for another mishap to occur like the one the Village had with the firetruck. 

Masterson, an assistant in economic development to Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano, also defended the current Board. He said tax increases, which had been between 9 and 10 percent, were reduced under Mayor Malloy’s Administration. Masterson said he had been the one to call for the creation of the Citizens’ Budget Committee and said his experience in economic development would be beneficial to Irvington. 

Kehoe, who volunteered for President Obama’s campaign in Ohio, said she was inspired to serve because of him. 

"I think the spirit of service that was evident in the Obama campaign is trickling into the general population – not seen since the Kennedys," Kehoe said. She also pointed to her 20-year experience running her own sales and consulting firm, which has instilled in her a sense of fiscal responsibility.

"That does make you very aware of every penny that is out there and the need to make sure it is used well," she said. Kehoe also pointed out that she is the only woman running for the Board, and said that type of diversity is important.

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About the Author: Brett Freeman