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The Last Mile Project, a comprehensive reconstruction of the one-mile stretch of I-95 from Rye to the Connecticut border, is scheduled to begin later this year. At the February 7 City Council meeting, Mayor Josh Cohn updated the community on the status of the large-scale project, which is estimated will take two years to complete. “I think it’s going to be very hard on certain portions of Rye,” he advised.

The reconstruction is expected to cause major disruptions in traffic flow for Rye residents, particularly since the on and off ramp for I-95 North at Midland Avenue will be closed in full or in part for a substantial period of time. The bridge over Purchase Street and the Boston Post Road Bridge will also be rehabilitated, while the Grace Church Street Bridge over I-95 will be completely replaced.

Mayor Cohn said the state has put the project out to bid, and once the bids are awarded (April or May), the next step is the completion of detailed construction plans. “We want to be involved in the fine-tuning of those plans,” he emphasized, so Rye can be certain that accommodations already agreed upon by the state (alternate routes, dust and sound protection, etc.) are included in the final plans. Cohn also wants the City to be able to review the plans to determine if additional accommodations should be provided to further protect Rye from this invasive project.

At the Council meeting, Rye resident Nancy Benson asked if residents would be notified in advance of any construction in town. “I hope we don’t wake up one morning to see detour signs all over Rye,” she said. Benson also expressed concern that the Byram River Bridge (scheduled for resurfacing) will experience too much overflow traffic from both the Last Mile and the United Hospital projects.

After the update, Cohn proposed that the Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Committee take responsibility for closely monitoring this project and alert the City of anything that might require attention or action on the City’s behalf. The Mayor had already asked City Manager Marcus Serrano for background from the Department of Transportation.

For a more detailed look at the project, visit thruway.ny.gov/oursystem/last-mile.

 

— Gretchen Althoff Snyder

 

By Robin Jovanovich and Tom McDermott

Luck may be on Julie Killian’s side in the upcoming special election for the 37th State Senate District seat. The office became vacant when incumbent George Latimer ran for Westchester County Executive and won. Killian, the former Deputy Mayor of Rye, knows the 37th District well having run against Latimer in 2016. She garnered 58,000 votes in that election to Latimer’s 73,000.

But last week she won the Republican nomination and is back on the campaign trail.

In an interview at our office this week, she said, “I haven’t lost my passion for the issues and I know the concerns in every community in the District.” (The District stretches across 13 towns and parts of three others across the County from Yonkers to the Sound Shore to Bedford.)

The issue for all remains affordability, Killian stated. And to that end, if elected, she would focus on creating a better environment for small businesses and greater economic opportunity (“The best social program is a job”); push to move administration of Medicaid from the County to the State level; and fight to ensure that schools in the District receive their fair share of state aid. “Long Island schools receive far more benefits than Westchester schools,” she noted.

“My goal is a good quality of life for everyone in the District, not just those who can easily afford to. The best social program is a job,” she added.

To save taxpayer money, Killian is an advocate of getting rid of or significantly amending the Scaffold Law, which was enacted in 1885 to safeguard workers on skyscraper projects. “We have much better engineering and safety measures today and because of this law, which costs New York close to $4 billion a year, many insurance companies won’t do business here.” She informed us that Illinois repealed its Scaffold Law in 1995 and construction-related fatalities decreased by 26 percent over five years.

“There has to be fat in the State budget,” she said, pointing to the fact that New York with 19 million people has a budget of $168 billion, while Florida, which has surpassed New York in population, has a budget of $87 billion.

For those who believe in two-party government, the special election on April 24 is particularly special as the current balance of power in the 63-member chamber. Two seats are open, 31 are held by Democrats, and 30 by Republicans. The Independent Democratic Conference currently caucuses with the Republicans to give them the majority.

The 37th District seat has been held by a Sound Shore resident for decades. Suzi Oppenheimer (D-Mamaroneck) served from 1984 until retiring in 2012. Latimer (D-Rye) ran and won his first term that year.

This week Killian came out in support of several measures before the Senate and Assembly that would strengthen protections and rights for sexual assault survivors. “We must have zero tolerance for sexual abuse.”

In a statement to the press, she stressed that there is a distinct contrast between herself and her opponent, Assemblyman Shelley Mayer (D) of Yonkers, in this regard. “As the chief lawyer for the State Senate, Assemblywoman Mayer made the decision to seat Hiram Monserrate after he was elected, even though he had been charged with felony assault for slashing his girlfriend’s face with a broken bottle during an argument. She also supported then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s use of taxpayer money to cover up sexual harassment by Vito Lopez, a Brooklyn Assemblyman.”

Ms. Mayer was elected to the Assembly in District 90 in 2012. In 2016, she ran unopposed. She has worked closely with Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Mayer was unavailable for comment before press time.

Whoever wins the special election will serve out the remainder of Mr. Latimer’s term and faces having to run in the regular election in November.

 

The long overdue unveiling of former mayor Doug French’s photograph in City Council chambers took place February 7, with a number of what French referred to as his 2010-2013 team present.

In his introduction, Mayor Josh Cohn noted that French served through very challenging years in Rye. He thanked the former mayor for “stepping forward to offer advice and encouragement to me and others” calling it an act of tremendous generosity.

County Legislator Catherine Parker, who served on the Council with French said that nobody exemplified the honor of serving Rye more than he did. She also noted his generosity in ignoring party politics in reaching across the aisle to compliment her at times. “I never saw you once complain or grumble,” she added.

In his own remarks, French thanked fellow Council members Suzanna Keith, Rich Filipi, Peter Jovanovich, Paula Gamache, as well as City staff members Eleanor Militana and former City Manager Scott Pickup. French recalled their time as being defined by Mother Nature – hurricanes Irene, Lee, and Sandy – and the Great Recession.

“It was a privilege to serve Rye residents,” said French.

  • <Photos by Tom McDermott>

His Honor Doug French with his photograph at City Hall.

From Left, in rear, Scott Pickup and Richard Filipi; in front: Suzanna Keith, Eleanor Militana, Doug and Carrie French, Paula Gamache, and Catherine Parker

By Peter Jovanovich

When Dr. Eric Byrne was appointed Superintendent of Rye City School District last summer, he promised to immerse himself in the Rye school community, and so he has.

In just over six months, he has interviewed 127 teachers and 12 PO/PTO leaders, and met with 21 community organizations, 32 parents, and 20 administrators. (These meetings have lasted 45 minutes or more.) He has attended seven parent coffees, numerous athletic and arts events, and even found time to meet with city officials, pre-school administrators, and leaders of houses of worship.

Aside from the importance of sleep, what has Dr. Byrne learned? In his presentation to the Board of Education on January 23, he stated:

“I asked everyone the same question: What are your expectations for your superintendent? The number one answer: Have a clear sense of purpose, focus on curriculum and instruction, and not keep the status quo.”

 

 

By Robin Jovanovich and Tom McDermott

The idea of building a bridge from Long Island to our shores is not a new one. Back in the late 1960s, “master builder” Robert Moses, with support from Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, proposed a bridge from Oyster Bay to Rye to alleviate congestion on the Long Island Expressway.

Rye Mayor Ed Grainger, realizing that this was not going to be the “gossamer thread across the Sound” as Moses described it, worked with his counterpart in Oyster Bay, and stunningly stopped Moses in his tracks in 1973.

Fast forward to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address last month in which he mentioned that a tunnel across the Sound was “feasible”. He went on to describe it as “underwater” and “invisible”. In fact, Mr. Cuomo’s administration had already been instructed to allot $5 million for the Department of Transportation to study such a project.

The results of the feasibility study by WSP, a global tunnel and bridge design firm, are in. One of their three recommendations, at a cost of $53 billion, is for the tunnel to begin in Oyster Bay and end in Rye. WSP estimates 113,000 would cross every day.

We stopped a bridge, and we will stop the tunnel was the immediate response from many local officials.

 

 

By Robin Jovanovich

Last spring, Rye’s Catherine Parker, who was running for a third term two-year term on the Westchester County Board of Legislators, made a big decision: “Regardless of the fact that I had a challenger, I was going to help change what I perceived was a problem in County government.” The problem, in her view, was at the top of the administration, and she took time off from her own race and from running her eponymous travel and lifestyle store in downtown Rye to help elect a new County Executive.

“Rob Astorino, whom I voted for when he ran the first time, was no longer working to benefit the County,” Parker said in an interview this week in her office in White Plains. “The idea that you can cut and cut and not raise taxes is not sustainable. During his eight years, he may have reduced some redundancies, but he decimated the Planning Department and did nothing about the aging infrastructure.”

So Parker pitched in and helped elect a fellow Rye resident, George Latimer, to the top job. “George has already set a different tone and is out there listening to what residents and communities want and need.”

She’s now refocused on the road ahead, which includes the $30 million airport deal she says never reached the Board of Legislators’ desks, and the public/private partnership with Playland that wasn’t properly structured.

Approving the County’s annual budget remains the primary job of a County Legislator. “I never lose sight of that, but as the Board unanimously overrode the County Executive’s last budget — which was structurally imbalanced to the tune of $100 million — I think we need to spend more time talking about expectations when we budget.”

In the end, the Board of Legislators approved a 2 percent tax increase “because the math we were handed didn’t add up.”

For those who routinely remark that there is no glory in Westchester being the highest taxed county in the country and question whether we actually need county government, Parker points to the fact that county government is actually an effective level of government.

“We have an excellent Health Department; we set up mosquito baiting and inspect 60,000 storm drains; we maintain parks that are beautiful and treasured,” she said. “And as New York State shares the burden of Medicaid with the County and 200,000 Westchester residents benefit from the program, I think we are very necessary.”

Parker is glad to report that there are already six pieces of legislation going to committee in just the first month of the new year, including prohibiting gun shows at the County Center, an immigration protection act, an opioid take-back, and improved sick leave.

“We’re off to a good start,” she promised.

County Legislator and Majority Leader Catherine Parker in the legislative chambers in White Plains