By Paul Hicks
Livingston Platt served as mayor of the Village of Rye for twelve years before he became the City of Rye’s first mayor in 1942. Although he was a leader of the Republican Party in state and national politics, as mayor he took pride in being an independent and in making non-partisan appointments.
When Platt resigned as mayor in 1943 to become head of the Westchester County Republican Committee, an editorial in The Rye Chronicle stated:
“The one thing of which this community is most proud is the fact that party politics has never been considered in the choice of its public officials. Ever since Rye became an incorporated village, we have been holding Citizens Caucus meetings where the voters get together, Democrats and Republicans alike, and nominate their candidates for office. It is one of our most cherished traditions…Rye is dominatingly Republican in county, state and national elections, yet the Republicans who live in Rye are independent enough in thought and action to fully realize that partisan politics have no place in a friendly, neighborly community of 10,000 inhabitants.”
Platt’s two successors as mayor — Julian Beatty and Grenville Sewell —were nominated by the Citizens Caucus, but in 1949, Karl T. Frederick ran successfully for mayor as a Republican. The Rye Chronicle acknowledged that non-partisan politics had ended by noting in an editorial that, “While defeated by decisive margins, the Democratic candidates can find substantial consolation in the fact that the margin of victory compiled by the Republicans was far less than in previous years.”
Throughout the 1950s, Rye was governed by Republicans, led by Mayors Joseph Hannan and Robert Hughes, although Hannan also had Democratic endorsements. In 1959, Rye voters had to decide whether to amend the City Charter to adopt a City Manager/Council form of government. A Rye Chronicle editorial counseled: “The City Manager Plan, so ardently supported by the Democrats should be entirely disassociated from the vote for party candidates.”
Former Mayor Livingston Platt told The Chronicle: “Rye does not need a city manager any more than it needs a paid mayor…It will cost the city a lot of money…Also, in many communities where a city manager has been employed, it has proven most unsuccessful…I cannot see why [the mayor] should be ‘kicked upstairs’ to chairman of the board…With the City Manager doing all of the work, we can expect to see the council meetings held monthly instead of every two weeks.” The City Manager Plan was adopted, and Platt’s predictions proved to be wrong.
Although the Republican candidate, Clay Johnson, won the contest for mayor in 1961, his Democratic opponent, John Carey, made a strong showing in winning 44 percent of the total vote. In a notable bi-partisan move by Mayor Johnson and his fellow Republicans, John Carey and Thomas Butler, both Democrats, were appointed to two of three vacancies on the City Council in 1963. Carey was quoted as saying, “Democrats do not want control of the City Council, but…forty-five percent of the voters need representation.”
By 1967, Rye was rife with partisan politics. A Democratic advertisement read: “The City Council is no longer a one-party, one-voice administration, smug and complacent. The Democratic Councilmen have questioned, challenged, and probed…Responsive government has taken on new meaning in Rye the last four years. Two-party government has worked, and the need is greater than ever to keep an open mind and an open heart at City Hall.”
An editorial in The Rye Chronicle that year clearly showed the political affiliation of its publisher: “Most Rye voters do not want Democrats in office no matter how well qualified they are, and they demonstrated their disaffection for the party and not for the Democratic candidates…”
Led by Mayor Edmund Grainger, the Republicans were in control from 1966 to 1974, a period dominated by the successful bi-partisan efforts to defeat the bridge across Long Island Sound. Then the tide finally turned, and Rye elected John Carey in 1973 as its first Democratic mayor. Two years later, the Democratic majority on the Council was reduced from 5-2 to 4-3.
Since 1974, Rye has had eight mayors. Of these, the five Republicans included Frederick Hunziker (1982-1986), Mary Ann Ilse (1986-1990), Edward Dunn (1994-1998), Douglas French (2010-2014), and Joseph Sack (2014-). The Democratic mayors have been John Carey (1974-1982), Warren Ross (1990-1994), and Steve Otis (1998-2010). The combined terms of the Republican mayors in that period total 19 years, while the similar total for the Democratic mayors is 24 years.
It would take a political scientist to assess how well Rye residents have been served over the years by changing from a nonpartisan to a partisan system for electing mayors and members of the City Council. It is worth considering the experience of Scarsdale, which has maintained a nonpartisan system of selecting candidates and uncontested elections for its village board since 1909 (see www.scarsdalecitizens.org/). In any case, it is still true that there is no Republican or Democratic way to fix potholes.
<<Mayors of the City of Rye>>
Term Mayor Party
1942-43: Livingston T. Platt (Citizen’s)
1943-1943: Julian Beatty (Citizen’s)
1944-48: Grenville S. Sewall (Citizen’s)
1948-50: Karl T. Frederick (Rep.)
1950-54: Joseph A. Hannan (Rep.)
1954-62: Robert P. Hughes (Rep.)
1962-66: H. Clay Johnson (Rep.)
1966-74: Edmund Grainger (Rep.)
1974-82: John Carey (Dem.)
1982-86: Frederick Hunziker (Rep.)
1986-90: Mary Ann Ilse (Rep.)
1990-94: Warren Ross (Dem.)
1994-98: Edward B. Dunn (Rep.)
1998-2010: Steve Otis (Dem.)
2010-14: Douglas French (Rep.)
2014- : Joseph A. Sack (Rep. & Conservative)