Forty-two years of Irvington leadership and history was literally on center stage at The Irvington Town Hall Theatre on Friday evening, September 28. A capacity crowd came to listen to six former Irvington mayors at an Irvington Historical Society-sponsored panel discussion entitled "Former Mayors Night."
The program was the brainchild of Irvington Historical Society trustee, Doug Wilson.
Doug Wilson, Peter Peyser, Langdon Stevenson, Robert Reisman, Reg Marra, John Hurson, Dennis Flood
Mr. Wilson, the moderator for the evening, thought of the idea a few years ago during the official dedication of the refurbishment of the Washington Irving monument located on the corner of Sunnyside Lane and Broadway. He glanced down at the former mayors lined up at the dedication that day and decided to somehow bring them together at a forum where they could share their stories of leadership and local history.
Mr. Wilson opened the evening by describing the goals of the program. He hoped that all present would leave with a clearer sense of what the village looked like during each of the mayor’s terms and how the village has changed. He said that, "Being a village mayor is like being married; it is a 24/7/365 job." He wondered, "How did it feel to be in their shoes?"
The distinguished panel included, Peter Peyser (1963-1970), Langdon Stevenson (1970-1971), Robert Reisman (1973-1979, (1991-1994), Reginald Marra (1979-1989), John Hurson (1989-1991), and Dennis Flood (1994-2007). Mr. Reisman now lives in Florida and Mr. Stevenson lives in California. The other former mayors continue to live in Irvington.
Each mayor was allotted five minutes to discuss the issues and to provide anecdotes that best described their time in office. Following the presentations, pre-submitted questions were asked and questions from the floor were entertained.
Mr. Peyser thanked his wife, Marguerite, for allowing him to run for office while being the father of five young children. His main reason for serving was a deep desire to improve recreation opportunities for Irvington residents. He spoke proudly of forming one of the first "staffed recreation departments" in the area. He thanked each mayor that served after him for expanding the department during their terms. The Irvington Fire House on Main Street was built during his tenure and the Irvington Volunteer Ambulance Corps, under the leadership of Betty Lewitt, was established. He also oversaw the first expansion of Matthiessen Park that utilized material from the reconstruction of Ashford Avenue in Dobbs Ferry. The first July 4th fireworks program was established while he was mayor and he recollected how he and the DPW Superintendent personally set off the fireworks.
Mr. Stevenson’s six-month term was the shortest of all the mayors. He completed Mr. Peyser’s term following the election of Mr. Peyser to the United States House of Representatives. Following a questionnaire to Irvington residents, a village pool was proposed on Cyrus Field Road. It was defeated by 15 votes. He felt strongly that the Village should provide swimming opportunities for young people who did not know how to swim. He put the proposition to the voters again and it was soundly defeated by over 300 votes.
Mr. Reisman served two separate terms (1970’s and 1990’s) and a village pool was proposed during both terms. A pool proposed for lower Memorial Park was defeated during his first term and a proposal for a pool at Matthiessen Park was turned down during his second term. He described "trying times" that included major fires which destroyed the Halsey Estate Castle and the Yeshiva dormitory located at Harriman Road and Broadway. A vicious murder also took place on Havemeyer Road that was reported by the major New York City tabloids. He proudly recited accomplishments that included a second expansion of Matthiessen Park, this time using material from the renovation of Yankee Stadium. The Town Hall Theatre renovation project began and the Halsey Pond Park acquisition took place during his tenure.
Reg Marra described how the late Bill Roy (trustee and later elected village justice) convinced him to run for Trustee in the middle seventies. A housing development proposed on the Halsey pond property next to Mr. Marra’s property was being discussed. Mr. Roy convinced him that the best way to impact the decision was to be on the board.
Mr. Marra served as a trustee for five years and ten years as mayor. Open space and land use were major issues during his term. A building moratorium was put in place as the Board of Trustees eventually adopted a comprehensive plan. The issue of video games took center stage as parents worried how these machines would affect their children. The board adopted a local law limiting two video machines per business. It was a controversial law that drew the attention of the New York Times and made television news. A swimming pool was once again proposed. This time the village board and the school board worked together and proposed an indoor and outdoor facility at the high school. The proposal was defeated after a close vote.
Mr. Hurson, who served one term as mayor, remembered the difficult task of negotiating contracts with the police department and the department of public works. He always enjoyed his relationship with the village employees but did not like dealing with the professional negotiators who sat at the table. He noted that as long as the garbage was picked up and the streets were plowed during a snowstorm, being mayor was not that much different from being a trustee. Mr. Hurson proudly remembered making two important appointments. Mr. Pat Gilmartin was appointed to the Planning Board and Mr. Louis Lustenberger was appointed to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Mr. Flood, whose 13 years as mayor is the longest in Irvington history, recollected how a failed attempt at a run for the Irvington School Board was really "winning by losing." He explained that shortly after the school board defeat, he was appointed to complete the unexpired term of Trustee Lewis Kaplan, who resigned to become a federal judge. He recognized Mr. Reisman as "a wonderful mentor." After Mr. Reisman retired and moved to Florida, Mr. Flood was appointed to complete Mr. Resiman’s term as mayor in 1994. He continued to serve as mayor until 2007. Mr. Flood did not elaborate on his accomplishments or issues because he felt that they were recent enough and everyone in the audience lived through them. The creation of Scenic Hudson Park, the new library at the Burnham Building and the renovation of Village Hall, including the rebuilding of its signature clock tower, are visible examples of some of the projects completed during his tenure. He graciously recognized and thanked members of his staff and members of all the volunteer boards and commissions who helped him during his time in office.
The mayors recalled a number of amusing events that occurred while they were in office. Mr. Peyser remembers being awakened at 2:00 a.m. by a police officer reporting that three high school students were swimming naked in the Irvington reservoir. The officer asked Mr. Peyser what he should do. Mr. Peyser calmly recommended that the officer ask the students "to put their clothes on and go home." Mr. Reisman laughed while recalling a phone call he received at 5:00 a.m. from an irate resident. The caller wanted to wake him up because a truck with a snowplow had just awakened him as it passed in front of his house. Another upset resident sent Mr. Reisman $1.00 for his campaign. She stated, "Thomas Dewey was the first Republican I ever voted for and you will be the last one I ever vote for." Reg Marra remembers going home after a work session as trustee and hearing complaints from his wife, Marianne, that his clothes smelled of smoke. He said he could not do anything about it because Mayor Reisman smoked a cigar during the entire session.
Two questions from the audience came from village residents Storm Fields and Anne Jaffe. Mr. Fields asked the mayors why village pool proposals continued to be defeated. The answer was unclear but they agreed that the pool location and the costs involved were the two major factors. Ms. Jaffe wondered what they saw as the biggest challenge for Irvington’s future. It was agreed that keeping taxes stable while maintaining current levels of service posed the greatest challenge for future mayors and board members.
Mayor Erin Malloy joined the mayors on stage for some final comments. Holding up a small notepad she had used to take notes during the presentation, she thanked the Historical Society for organizing such a wonderful program and individually thanked each mayor for his contribution to Irvington.