Voters filled a room at Rye Middle School October 30 to listen to the three candidates for mayor of Rye answer questions posed by the League of Women Voters and the audience.
By Tom McDermott, with additional reporting by Paul Hicks
Voters filled a room at Rye Middle School October 30 to listen to the three candidates for mayor of Rye answer questions posed by the League of Women Voters and the audience. For some residents, perhaps many, it was an opportunity to listen and make a decision on how they will vote with less than a week to go before November 5’s election.
For the candidates, especially Independent Peter Jovanovich and Republican Joe Sack, who must be considered the leading contenders, and are definitely considered experienced City Council foes, it was perhaps one last opportunity to gain the edge. Nancy Silberkleit, also an Independent, answered the same questions as her two opponents, but the spotlight remained on the two men.
Some of the seeds for the tension in the room were sown at a previous debate at The Osborn earlier in the month, sponsored by the Sterling Park Residents Association’s Civic Affairs Committee. At that forum, Sack had complained that last July he could not get any information regarding goings-on at Rye Golf Club from Mayor French, Deputy Mayor Jovanovich, or City Manager Scott Pickup. “I had to file a FOIL, then had to begin an investigation to find out what was going on,” said Sack.
Jovanovich responded, “In 2008-2009, Joe was the Council’s liaison to the Golf Commission and he did not raise a question about Mr. Yandrasevich. In 2010, Joe said, ‘Great job, Mr. Yandrasevich.’
Later that night, the two men sparred over a police uniform contract, who had been truthful and who had not in the Golf Club affair, the City Manager’s performance, and the use of personal attacks during a campaign. All of that while Silberkleit gamely tried to get a word in, like a referee caught up in a clinch between two fighters.
So, whether the audience at the Middle School realized it or not, the stage had been set at The Osborn and in flyers and ads winging their way around town.
Jovanovich opened by announcing that he’d picked up the endorsement of former Republican Mayor Ted Dunn and Democratic City Councilmember, Carolyn Cunningham, while Sack spoke of his deep commitment to the community. While all three candidates favor fixing streets and sidewalks, Sack said he favored last year’s bond, while Jovanovich said that, in fact, he’d voted against it. Silberkleit touted her idea to sell bricks in walkways downtown to raise revenue.
On the question of the proper role of the City Manager, Sack said the City Manager’s job is a tough one, but that truthfulness was lacking in the current manager. Jovanovich agreed that City Manager Scott Pickup had not done a good job in the Golf club matter, but said he had hired terrific people and that an arbitrator had just given the City and Pickup and extraordinary police contract award.
There were moments of agreement: on the importance of upstream retention ponds to prevent flooding, on not wanting HUD to dictate Rye’s zoning codes, and that SPI’s new proposed field house had become a problem.
But, things got testy again when the subject turned to the City Planner’s new proposal to limit attic size. Jovanovich took the opportunity to point out the ‘unprecedented’ number of developers who had contributed to one candidates campaign, Sack’s.
On the City Planner’s proposal itself, to limit attic size and curtail the number of huge homes being built in Rye, Sack credited John Mayo Smith for bringing attention to this issue. He said it was a complex question and that five or six homes on his street had been expanded, all by current owners, without any increased pressure on classroom size. Silberkleit wants the curtailment of building large homes. Jovanovich stated that he is in favor of the new plan.
The two men also disagreed on the merits of the arbitrator’s award in the police contract, with Sack claiming the City would have done better to settle much sooner, and Jovanovich pointing out that the City actually rejected a 6% overall rise in costs and got 3% from arbitration.
In her closing statement, Silberkleit noted her experience as a teacher, which taught her patience. She expressed her desire to create sustainable revenues, and to empower Rye residents to be more creative in marketing the City’s strengths.
Sack noted his experience as a criminal prosecutor, saying, ‘When I see something wrong I point it out. I have a keen sense of right or wrong; I wear it as a badge of honor. If you elect me as mayor, I will continue to ask questions.’
Jovanovich in his final remarks, said, ‘You’re electing someone to lead this City. Leadership is best expressed through solidarity with those you work with. My hope is that I’ll treat every day as a gift – to listen and to work with you.’ He thanked over 100 volunteers who worked with him as he knocked on 1,000 doors while campaigning.
At the end of a long night (six City Council candidates spoke first), it was not possible to tell from the audience what choice for mayor they would make next Tuesday at the polls, but it was certain that they had heard at least two very different points of view.