Democratic and Republican candidates faced off September 24 at a League of Women Voters of Rye, Rye Brook, and Port Chester City Council candidate forum.
By Tom McDermott
Democratic and Republican candidates faced off September 24 at a League of Women Voters of Rye, Rye Brook, and Port Chester City Council candidate forum. The Democrats, Emily Proskine Hurd, Jeff Taylor, and Danielle Tagger-Epstein – all first time candidates – are also listed on the Independence and Working Families tickets. The Republicans at the forum were Jim Culyer and Leon Sculti. Councilman Richard Mecca, who rounds out the ticket, and is the only incumbent running, was unable to attend. All six candidates are vying for three open seats on the Council in the November 3 election be viewed on RyeTV.org or at lwvrrbpc.org.
The candidates made brief opening remarks. Hurd, a former corporate lawyer and Fulbright Scholar, serves on the Rye Nature Center’s board. She led a neighborhood group effort to include third-floors in maximum allowable FAR and wants to protect Rye’s unique assets. Tagger-Epstein served two years in the military and has been an advocate for children’s health, especially for Lyme disease awareness, and is on the board of Community Synagogue. She terms the current Council “unbalanced and unaccountable.” Taylor is a former Peace Corps volunteer and served as President of Rye Arts Center. An art advisor and Assistant Professor at SUNY Purchase, Taylor believes Rye’s assets need attention, especially sidewalk completion and improvement.
Sculti is currently Chairman of the Rye Golf Committee. He used his opening remarks to praise his late Rye High wrestling coach and teacher, Dennis Rice, for his positive impact on countless students. And to praise all Rye’s teachers. Culyer, a former President of the School Board, followed by noting his long record of community service and saying that his leadership skills and experience would stand out.
The questions came from the League and from members of the Middle School audience of approximately 60 people.
To begin, the candidates were asked to address whether Rye’s roads were in “deplorable” condition, and, if so, what to do about it.
All agreed that Rye’s infrastructure needs attention. For Tagger-Epstein, some roads and crosswalks are dangerous public safety issues and this is a “livability” issue. Taylor tied together the “mess we’ve made of downtown parking” with shop vacancies. Sculti mentioned that a Master Plan committee has been formed and countered Taylor, saying rents are set by landlords and drew a distinction between what the Council can affect and the private sector. Culyer noted that in the 1985 Master Plan parking was described as a problem, and pointed to Bronxville and Harrison which are building downtown retail, parking, and housing complexes; he believes that Rye should have a partnership with the MTA, and that any solution cannot come from the budget, only bonding. Hurd, responding to the committee idea said, “I would not ask us to hold our breath,” stating that Rye hadn’t even used its existing bond money.
On the question of balancing complaints about rock chipping in town with the need to meet demands of the housing marketplace, the Democratic candidates support the recommendations of the Rock Chipping Committee formed by the Mayor. Tagger-Epstein said that those committee members are now “deflated” by developers and the Council efforts to change the recommendations, expanding time limits on chipping. Taylor noted a Central Avenue project near his home as being out of “Dante’s Inferno,” and Hurd thinks basements should be counted in FAR as a way of potentially reducing rock chipping.
Differences between the two slates began to appear, as Sculti defended the process put in place by Mayor Sack, defended the Council’s right to legislate, and reminded the audience that he grew up in Rye with the developers who have been “demonized,” but should be respected. Culyer supports the proposed 30-day limit on chipping.
Should we study how to cull the deer population more, or take action? Culyer believes Rye and other towns should work with the County on a plan. Hurd wants to hire a biologist to help with the problem, a thought echoed by Tagger-Epstein who favors a deer management consultant,” someone who can help quickly. And Taylor said,”We three agree that culling is the answer.”
Sculti asked his opponenets what County Legislator Catherine Parker, who was in the audeience, was going to do, saying that she “had not been doing her job” when it came to finding a solution to deer over-population.
As for taxes, the candidates generally agreed that the City is running lean as a result of previous cuts. Culyer found one area where he sees a potential need to add staff, the Fire Department, where he sees a drop-off in qualified volunteers as demographics change, resulting, he believes, in a need to hire professional firefighters.
Longtime senior advocate Joe Murphy wanted to know how the candidates viewed senior citizens and resources for them. All were in favor of focusing more attention on seniors, and finding a place for them in summer when they are displaced from Damiano Center.
The Democratic candidates favor the Council accepting $3 million in Rye rising flood mitigation funds from the federal government, admisnistered through the state. Mr. Sculti warned that Rye must be careful that there were not potentially harmful “strings attached,” an allusion to the possibility that HUD might make housing demands based on the use of those federal funds.
The next debate will take place at The Osborn October 20, at 7 p.m. Interviews with the six candidates will be published in the October 23 Rye Record.