End of An Era, Fusion Ticket Unlikely in Sleepy Hollow

After 10 years of being the Mayor of Sleepy Hollow (1999-2009), Philip Zegarelli has decided to hang up his governance shoes effective April 6, 2009. His record of leadership and accomplishment is impressive by any standards, even those of political foes.

imagesPrior to being asked to run for re-election in 1999, he had previously served Sleepy Hollow for 5 years as a Trustee and 8 years as Mayor.

"When I came back into office in 1999, we had the windows falling out of Village Hall. That was only the tip of the iceberg. I brought corporate experience that allowed me to restructure and increase Village services. Establishing reliability and service were my first orders of business. I wanted the citizenry to know that its government knew what it was doing. I began by hiring professional people and implemented a plan to restore competence and confidence Village-wide," Zegarelli said. One of the ways Sleepy Hollow went about redefining itself was to strategically pick items where people could witness visible signs of change. Change even in time of economic distress. "The worst thing any leader can do is increase taxes, which you have to, and couple that with decreased services," he added. 

The first items selected for change were all existing parks and a couple of new ones. Each park was tied into a neighborhood and residents saw Douglas Park, Barnhardt Park, Sykes Park, Margotta Courts, DeVries Park and Kingsland Point Park undergo renovations that led to greater usage and a sense of identity. Horan’s Landing, along with the River Walk and the Scenic Overlook off of Rte. 448, and County House Road were added to the park system. "All the work needed to be done and each area we chose was highly visible within our community. People saw that we were doing something and could point with pride to it. In times of economic distress like we experienced when I first took office, government actually had to step in and spend more money in certain areas because there was a need to instill confidence through action. We also dressed up the Broadway corridor leading into Sleepy Hollow from the north. Along with that is the addition of the clock at the corner of Beekman Avenue and Broadway," he said.

To do much of the work mentioned, Sleepy Hollow sought outside funding and to date has received over $30,000,000 in Federal, State and County grants according to Zegarelli. The clock which has become an icon on Beekman Avenue was paid for by private fundraising initiated by Zegarelli.

Concurrent with the restoration of local parks, the Village improved on the quality of services by purchasing much needed new equipment. The Village, unlike other municipalities, was able to pave its own roads and fix water main problems. Skilled Village employees were able to do a multitude of tasks that neighboring communities hired outside help for. It has also purchased two new fire trucks and two ambulances. An increase in affordable housing on Valley Street, along with a new senior center, were piloted and supported by his administration.

 In addition, Zegarelli’s administration helped to foster Ichabod’s Landing, the Phelps Memorial Hospital expansion, Kendal on Hudson and the Legends. "There were people who criticized me for promoting the expansion of Phelps and I told them to look at other local communities whose hospitals had closed. Phelps is very important to Sleepy Hollow, the County and the region. It’s vital and thriving," he said. "People can be critical of so many things but it has never stopped me and my administration from doing things. "We have done things that have made a difference."

General Motors and, more specifically, Lighthouse Landing, will rank high, if not at the pinnacle, of Philip Zegarelli’s second term as Mayor.  He is unequivocally unapologetic of its current status. In fact he is proud of doing what he refers to as his administration’s heavy lifting on the Lighthouse Landing project. "We actually had a ribbon cutting ceremony in place when Roseland Properties (GM’s partner) backed out of the project due to financial problems. Over 95 percent of the work and approval process has been done. "My only regret is that the new Board of Trustees chose not to meet with GM in executive session earlier last year. Their vote caused us to lose six months of negotiation with GM and stalled the project," he said.

When asked if he had considered running for re-election on a so-called "fusion ticket," he remarked that he had considered it but that there wasn’t the necessary support from Democrats. "There is a faction within the party that wants me out," he noted. How did he feel about that? "I’m at peace and feel very happy with what I’ve done. During the upcoming months or ‘silly season’, it won’t be the merit of  a candidate that’s important but, rather, the attacks against the candidate and his or her family. I’ve always been ‘all things Sleepy Hollow’ and I leave office with no regrets."  

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About the Author: Robert Bonvento