The two candidates for County Legislator, District 7, are Catherine Parker, a Rye City Councilwoman and businesswoman who is running on the Democratic line, and John Verni, an attorney and businessman who lives in Mamaroneck and is running on the Republican line.
The two candidates for County Legislator, District 7, are Catherine Parker, a Rye City Councilwoman and businesswoman who is running on the Democratic line, and John Verni, an attorney and businessman who lives in Mamaroneck and is running on the Republican line. The seat is currently held by Judy Myers, a Democrat, who is retiring after four terms in office. District 7 represents Mamaroneck, Larchmont, Rye, and parts of Harrison and New Rochelle.
We’ve interviewed Mr. Verni and Ms. Parker individually and listened to them at candidate forums hosted by the League of Women Voters and The Osborn. We’ve read all their campaign literature, seen them on the campaign trail, and met their supporters, aides, and family members.
The two subjects voters ask Parker and Verni most often about are: how to keep tax increases to a minimum and what steps they will take to reduce flooding. The Rye Record’s Tom McDermott and Robin Jovanovich asked them those questions and more.
A big part of a County Legislator’s job is passing the budget. Do you think another no-tax increase budget is sustainable? What further cuts would you make?
Verni: We need to shrink County government in a compassionate manner. We can make County government smaller, more efficient with common sense reforms. Trimming should start with the politicians. There are far too many political aides, for one. We need to promote more shared services, bringing County and municipal government together, and we must ensure that there is more competitive bidding.
The County has a huge burden of unfunded mandates, which in the case of Medicaid is $223 million, 41% of the tax levy. We can’t deal with unfunded mandates at our level. The biggest relief would be a change at the state level. I was happy to hear Governor Cuomo is creating a bipartisan commission to look at the situation.
While reforming the procurement process and pursuing energy service contract savings, the County must focus on smart growth policies.
Parker: Being the most heavily taxed county is not good for our communities. We borrowed $48 million to keep taxes flat. Budgets can’t be about smoke and mirrors; they must be sustainable. Cutting back on childcare was one of those things the Astorino administration did, which makes no sense on a number of levels. We’re adding to the poor’s burden which will cost us more in the end.
Has the County done enough to mitigate flooding in our area? What are the next steps you’d like seen implemented?
Parker: Flood management is the most difficult project for any municipality. Water doesn’t know any municipal boundaries. What’s needed from the County is an Office of Flood Management. This office could coordinate financing for projects with the State and the Fed, too. New York State has put aside $500 million for flood mitigation.
Verni: Flooding is a big issue. I have experience on this as I developed Mamaroneck train station, ground zero for flooding.We need to look at both long- and short-term solutions. On a smaller scale, the County can do aquatic restoration. As much as $80 million is needed for large-scale mitigation projects. No one has a crystal ball, but there may come a point where we an environmental bond is needed. There is definitely a role for the County on a regional basis.
Are you in favor of a regional stormwater district?
Verni: Definitely. We need to make sewage protection upgrades to protect Long Island Sound.
Parker: Yes, especially in the Sound Shore area. Runoff is creating a situation that is negatively affecting Long Island Sound.
The Federal Monitor has asked Westchester to add multi-family housing near schools. Are you in favor of this? Do you think the Fed is overreaching when suggesting taking over our local zoning laws because it is their contention many Westchester municipalities are not building what they have determined is the requisite number of affordable housing units?
Parker: My first year on the City Council we passed legislation to build affordable housing on Cottage Street. It is the tone from the top [the County Executive] that has incited a lot of feeling that the Federal government is coming in and ramming affordable housing down our throats. This rhetoric is not fostering an air of cooperation and trust.
The Mamaroneck Supervisor reached out and their town has adopted a new zoning policy, which goes a long way toward compromise.
Verni: The settlement predates Mr. Astorino. Units are being built. Debate remains about opening up zoning and usurping local zoning. I’d sit down with the Federal Monitor and discuss what’s right for Westchester. I’ve built affordable housing. We have 395 homes in the pipeline and we’re already over the monitor’s 2013 requirement.
Do you think Rye or Mamaroneck practices exclusion zoning?
Parker: We all know the driver in the area is the price of land. We want to do more and must. Mamaroneck has 600 people getting Section 8 vouchers and 400 on the waiting list. Rye has 100 people getting Section 8 vouchers.
Verni: HUD (Housing and Urban Development) officials are looking on a list and saying ‘Mamaroneck is exclusionary and North Salem is exemplary,’ when that’s simply not the case. People in the Sound Shore are progressive. There is certainly a feeling that all of us want to help. Of the 750 units the Fed is asking Westchester to build, Rye has built 27 and Larchmont 51. There are some places where affordable housing makes sense and is practical for all, along the Boston Post Road in some sections, for one example.
As a County Legislator, you have the authority to pass legislation that could change how the County operates. What kinds of changes would you like to put into action?
Parker: I’d like to work on some environmental initiatives — wind and solar power, for starters.
Verni: People are concerned. Some leave due to taxes. Smaller, efficient government is better; we need incremental, not radical change. There are /county and regional needs like flood control, which could be coordinated.
For most of Rob Astorino’s first term, the County Executive and the Democrats on the Board of Legislators have had a rocky relationship. In fact, the public has seen far too many dueling press releases. How can the parties move beyond this and focus more on progress for Westchester?
Verni: I’ve always worked in a bipartisan way on all my adaptive reuse projects and in all my community efforts.
Parker: I’m the only Democrat on the City Council and I’ve been able to work with people. I’ll bring that to the Legislature.
Where do you think, based on your experience as a business owner that you’ll make the most difference in the Legislature?
Parker: I run a small retail business; retail is never easy. I was a leader in the Chamber of Commerce. I’ve prided myself in six years on the Council working on what’s good for the community and treating people with respect.
Verni: I’ve worked with both sides — building Habitat houses, preventing the building of IKEA in New Rochelle, and in getting approvals for the expansion of Iona Prep and the conversion of the Mamaroneck train station. To be an effective businessperson — or politician — you have to work across the aisle.
Catherine Parker is a fourth-generation Westchester resident, whose parents, Richard and Barbara Dannenberg, live in Harrison. Parker and her husband, David Walker, have two school-age children.
Owner of an eponymous travel and lifestyle shop in downtown Rye for the past 17 years, she has served as president of a number of local organizations, including The Rye Arts Center, the local League of Women Voters, and the Chamber of Commerce. She was elected to the City Council six years ago.
Parker says that her a record shows she can get things done. “I’ve succeeded in keeping Rye’s taxes low; I have a strong environmental record; and I’ve worked on historic preservation and land-use issues.” She adds, “I’ve worked with both sides.”
John Verni also has deep roots in the community. He grew up in Rye, and, after living in New Rochelle for many years, recently moved to Mamaroneck. His brother, with whom he redeveloped the Mamaroneck train station into a restaurant with offices above, lives in Larchmont. His parents, Vito and Mary Verni, live in Harrison. He and his wife Katrina have four children.
After starting his career as a Westchester County prosecutor, serving for six years as an Assistant District Attorney, Verni joined the White Plains firm of Kent Hazzard. He specializes in land use and real estate.
Past President of Habitat of Humanity for Westchester, Verni is Chairman of the Board of Iona Prep and a board member of Pelham Community Rowing.
If elected, Verni said his priority is to give residents “The County government we need at a price we can afford.”