With headshots of Susan Watson, Sara Goddard, Ben Stacks
On the Campaign Trail
While most of Rye was tuned to the summertime channel, eight dedicated citizens were knocking on strangers’ doors, listening to residents’ concerns, answering their questions, and trying to make a good case why you should vote for him or her for City Council.
Luckily, the candidates discovered residents were welcoming, had moved past the 2016 presidential election, and really wanted to engage with them in serious, practical discussion about the community.
Ben Stacks, who is running on the Democratic ticket for City Council, describes the experience to date as amazing and enjoyable. “I’m a novice at this, but people have been extremely encouraging and we’ve seen an outpouring of support.”
He’s happy to have met so many residents who are “passionate about Rye and want to make sure the town runs smoothly. On the face of it, many people think the town runs on its own, which prompts me to suggest that a lot more residents need to get involved.”
Susan Watson, running on the Republican ticket, isn’t a novice, having run two years ago against Catherine Parker for County Legislator. She lost, but she is comfortable knocking on doors in Rye. “I wouldn’t have done it in Los Angeles, where I grew up!” she said with a laugh.
What do residents want most? Better crosswalks and sidewalks to ensure pedestrian safety. “It’s time for the City to address the Purdy/Purchase/Theodore Fremd intersection downtown. It’s challenging for pedestrians to know when to cross.”
The current proposal to move all or part of DPW to the Post Road has residents asking lots of questions, mostly about the cost and the need. Watson is not in favor of any of the options presented so far. “I want to make sure the City spends taxpayer money wisely, carefully.”
Flooding is another issue Watson has heard a lot about. “And it should be. Flood insurance has risen 20% in five years, and much of Rye has experienced serious flood damage.”
Since beginning her door-to-door campaign on July 1, Sara Goddard has knocked on close to 500 doors and is approaching 400 handwritten thank-you notes. “I wish I could say the thank-you notes were my idea, but the suggestion came from a friend who’s an elected official. He said that it was imperative that I write all my notes by hand. Although it’s time-consuming (to say the least), it has been a thrill to have people approach me about the notes I’ve written them. I’ve learned how important that personal touch is, particularly in a small community like ours.” She continued, “I want to underscore this point because meeting people from all parts of the community is a critical component, in my mind, of campaigning and understanding what needs to be changed and preserved in our town.”
The overarching issues for residents, according to Goddard, are: where is the City going on intractable costs, preservation of community character, taxes, and the repair of its roads and infrastructure.
Terry McCartney, who is running for a second term on the Council, said he’s received a lot of positive feedback. “Most people I've spoken with are happy that I’m standing for re-election. Our record over the last four years has been solid and Im proud to run on it.” He added, “Despite the unfortunate misrepresentations being published by our opposition, we will continue to balance every issue in favor of what is best for all of Rye — which is why we chose our campaign name, All Rye.”
Josh Cohn, who is running for Mayor on the Democratic ticket, whose slogan is Moving Rye Forward, has found walking door-to-door “incredibly energizing, because there has been a consistency of warmth and graciousness, and everyone shares a care of Rye.”
Many people knew his name because of his work to prevent a proliferation of cell towers in residential neighborhoods, but he discovered that quite a few knew nothing about the plan, still being reviewed by the City, which was sued by the potential wireless provider earlier this year.
In between hearing and sharing lots of good stories with residents, the concern they bring up most often is the ever-changing DPW proposal. “They’re questioning the multi-million dollar plan to move DPW and appalled that Rye is considering sharing a DPW site with Port Chester.”
Residents have asked Cohn and the rest of his team (Sara Goddard, Stacks, Julie Souza) for assurance that, if elected, they will do more to improve the roads and sidewalks, push flood prevention measures forward (“as flooding isn’t just a neighborhood problem”), and help preserve Rye’s landscape through thoughtful development.
“Rye is a town with a strong identity and a character that we should nurture,” he said in conclusion.
Incumbent Republican mayor Joe Sack leads his All Rye team, and has been campaigning door-to-door, and is hearing from voters about issues that have come before the Council. “But I am surprised our opponents are pushing out ‘false narratives’ about a number of issues.”
One of those is the potential use of the surplus Thruway property along I-95.
“The truth is that no final decisions have been made, and we won’t do so until we have vetted all our options to best serve all of Rye. Some folks, especially those affiliated with Rye Country Day or aligned with Assemblyman Otis have already made up their minds, and by the way, we respect their legitimate perspective. But there are 15,000-plus residents and the City Council has an obligation to advance a full and fair process so that all views can be heard.
Sack said that conversations are mainly about his City Council colleagues’ role in managing Rye’s success, including the golf club, public safety, and downtown infrastructure. “We definitely get a lot of compliments on the new streets and are quick to praise our top-notch City staff.”
Sack does not expect and does not believe national politics should play a role in the election or in municipal government.
First-time Republican candidate Elizabeth Parks says she has really enjoyed getting going on the campaign now that summer is ending. She’s been going door-to-door both alone and with another candidate, sometimes Susan Watson. Residents have been very open, according to Parks and she believes the more she hears directly from voters the better.
“This is about electing the best person. It isn’t partisan. I’ve even been getting my kids involved.” Parks has been educating herself about local issues by watching a lot of City Council meeting tapes and attending live Council meetings. She has not yet drilled down to the nitty-gritty of the Disbrow Park- DPW issue, but she expects to be up to speed soon.
Parks wants to get to every Rye district, but knows her own Glen Oaks best.
Has she been hearing from people about other candidates on the Council and mayoral races? “You have to find your own voice. People have been very positive. They’re thankful we’re running, and I’m excited to be out there.”
For Julie Souza, one of the best parts of running for local office is getting to know her running mates, “people with integrity and a real interest in helping Rye.”
And she said campaigning has been a lot of fun — “whether it’s knocking on doors, standing in front of Starbucks, or passing out literature at the train station. It’s been encouraging to hear from Rye residents who are engaged and clearly care about their community.”
The DPW plan is one issue they clearly care about, and one which has elicited a myriad of concerns — “traffic implications, aesthetic impact, financial implications, and the manner in which the issue has been addressed by the current City Council majority, the lack of transparency.” Souza continued, “I know people who went to City Council meetings to ask questions and were so discouraged that the topic was scratched from the agenda and they weren’t given an opportunity to engage with their elected officials. People don’t want to be cut out of their local government, they want to contribute to it, and that should be welcomed.”
The most gratifying thing she’s heard from residents? “Thank you for running.”