By Gretchen Althoff Snyder
Pullquote: One vote has the power to set the direction of the future.
While many Rye residents are fully engaged in the current Crown Castle and Thruway property/DPW debates, our town has a long history when it comes to hot-button issues during local elections. Issues relating to safety, education, development, and quality of life resonate with voters year after year, often unrelated to political party affiliation.
What are some of the issues that surrounded elections in year’s past?
Doug French, who served as Rye’s Mayor from 2010 to 2013, recalls several contentious issues from his 2009 campaign relating to taxes and government spending, infrastructure and road repair, flooding, litigation, affordable housing, and pedestrian safety. The one that sticks out in his mind is the purchase of the former Lester’s property at 1037 Boston Post Road.
The property (most recently Mrs. Greene’s) was purchased by the City in 2006 for $6.2 million as a site for a new police headquarters and municipal court. However, due to the projected $25 million cost of the project, plus the sharp downturn in the real estate market in 2008, the City had to abandon its plans and subsequently leased the property to Lester’s. At the time French was running for Mayor, “the City had a $5 million IOU on 1037 Boston Post Road and crumbling infrastructure (among other issues) . . . and residents were pushing for resolution”. In 2013, French’s last year in office, the City finally sold the property for $5.6 million and the money was put back into the General Fund for desperately needed infrastructure and road repairs.
Arthur Stampleman served on the City Council from 1994 to 1995, and again from 1998 to 2001. When he ran for re-election in 2001, one of the contentious campaign issues was whether the City should exchange property at the town dock on Stuyvesant Avenue for adjacent property owned by American Yacht Club.
The Club owned a good portion of land along the side of the inlet that faces Hen Island, however, the city-owned town dock dissected this property. Fisherman and other residents who used the town dock for public access to the water vehemently objected to the proposed land swap.
Stampleman suspects that one of the reasons he lost the 2001 election was because he declined to take a public stance on this issue. In the end, the proposed exchange never happened, which is how the former Councilman would have voted had it ever gotten that far.
George Pratt, who served on the School Board from 2001 through 2006, recalls that a large-scale school construction project was the hot-button issue that permeated both the 2001 and 2004 School Board elections. In 2001, the School Board decided to embark on an elementary school rehabilitation project to address rising enrollment and aging facilities with limited classroom space. After a targeted $26 million bond referendum, primarily benefitting Milton School, was rejected by the community, the board came back with a scaled down second bond (approximately $21 million) which was spread more evenly across all the elementary schools.
After the approval of this second bond, the planning process (including prioritizing which school came first) commenced and dragged on for over two years. Pratt notes that, “By 2004, without a shovel in the ground, the board was theoretically $8 million over budget . . . and with design changes and additions they were facing the need for a second bond to be voted on in June 2004.” During this time, Pratt proposed that (1) the professional staff should play a larger role in the project planning, (2) control of the project should be returned to the staff, and (3) the scope of the project should stay within the original budget and bond size previously approved by the community.
Pratt was re-elected to the School Board in May 2004, and the Board subsequently cancelled the additional $8 million bond vote and handed control of the construction project over to the Administration. Pratt, who went on to serve on the City Council from 2006 through 2010, totaling 12 years of public service, strongly urges all residents to get out and vote in November: “In a community like Rye, each vote cast truly represents the power to set the direction of the future.”