By Tom McDermott and Robin Jovanovich
In January, weeks before Governor Cuomo set April 24 for the special election to fill George Latimer’s vacated 37th District State Senate seat, and the Republicans named Julie Killian their candidate, Assemblywoman Shelley Meyer was ready for a fight. Garner the Democratic nomination without a primary? Establish a campaign HQ in Mamaroneck away from her home base in Yonkers? Collect a slew of union and organizational endorsements, toss the “Trump” brand on Republicans early, and hire a Brooklyn-based PR firm? Check to all of the above.
She stopped campaigning long enough for the paper to find out more about her.
The Governor’s planned tunnel from Long Island to Rye seemed like a good place to start. Mayer is against it. “I start opposed. It’s a bad idea for all of Westchester. I already told the Governor I’m opposed. But, I’m a listener and I’d like to hear from the communities that have already set up committees [to review the Governor’s plan].”
If the State has money to spend, Mayer would like it invested in long-needed infrastructure improvements. “New York has fallen behind. I was a strong supporter of the Tappan Zee Bridge, and I’ll be a big supporter of MTA projects, because the MTA is part of the lifeblood of Westchester.”
Would that mean she is willing to work for contract reform? Mayer replied, “Construction trade unions are smart, they are willing to talk. We can carve out some exemptions to prevailing wage rules for small projects.” She added that she is in favor of “procurement reform to some extent,” but not always going for the lowest bid, “because quality matters in construction.” As an example she cited the Kawasaki subway car plant in her current Assembly district, which she sees as vital to the area. “Well-paid jobs are really important.”
Now that George Latimer is the County Executive, proffers Mayer, “we are on a path to working together with unions. He has a real feel for this.”
She is proud of her work on flooding issues in Yonkers, having obtained, in partnership with fellow Democratic Assemblyman Steve Otis, $3 million from the state after Sandy, and fighting for more. She believes that the state should be taking a leadership role in flood prevention. “Hopefully, we’ll be in the majority; you have to be creative and you have to “go to war for things your communities need,” work on the leadership, and meet with the DEC, which can sometimes be amenable according to Mayer. She and Latimer co-sponsored legislation on flood mitigation best practices, but Gov. Cuomo vetoed it.
Why are Westchester roads in such impoverished condition, and what can be done to improve them soon? Mayer said she will continue to meet with DOT and ensure that the district gets the appropriate allocation for repairs.
Agreeing that being the highest taxed county in the nation, as Westchester does, is a dubious distinction, Mayer is opposed to raising property taxes. “It’s my line in the sand.” She fully supports the tax cap where it is, otherwise she says we run the risk of making the District (which runs from New Rochelle and Larchmont to Bedford) unaffordable.
While she sees little or no chance for tax reduction — “it’s unrealistic” — she thinks there are some opportunities for shared services to reduce costs. Still, she admits that it’s hard to do. “We have to have a conversation about it.” As for pension reform, Mayer starts with the presumption that people in public jobs deserve a good pension.” However, going forward, she said she could support some kind of benefit contribution and cost reduction plan.
Mayer believes that the economic engine of Westchester is small industry — warehouses, factories. “We’ve made regulation unduly burdensome,” she says. “There needs to be an integrated path to building approvals for one.”
She also sees education as a top issue, since some parts of the District are lagging far behind others in performance. “Parental involvement is a key to better scores. The PTA has to up its game.” She believes the Assembly’s Education Committee has made some improvements in naming better regents, like Judith Johnson, rather than status quo thinkers.”
Mayer believes that her opponent will be in lockstep with the Senate Republicans system, where dissent is not allowed. “She will be locked into their ideas about guns, reproductive health. She can have her views but she will not be heard.” This week, Killian forcefully supported stricter gun laws in her campaign literature. Mayer has made gun control legislation a top priority in the campaign.
Residents of the 37th State Senate District await the League of Women Voters debate, which, at press time, had not yet been finalized. The Osborn in Rye is definitely planning to host one, as well.