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In Support of Dan Hochvert and the Non-Partisan System by David Irwin and Carl Pforzheimer III

letter-to-the-editorTo the Editor: As someone who served with Dan Hochvert over a three year period on the Scarsdale Village Board, I had the opportunity to work closely with Dan and to observe how he performed as a Village Trustee. I am writing this letter to state why, based on my experience with Dan, I think Dan would be an outstanding Mayor for Scarsdale.

Dan was a first rate Village Trustee. He considered carefully every issue before the Village Board, and he listened attentively to the views of his fellow Trustees, the Village staff and members of the public. As indicated below, he made himself knowledgeable on every issue before the Board, and he exercised what I always considered to be excellent judgment in addressing those issues. He worked well with his fellow Trustees, persuasively expressing his views but always seeking to build consensus wherever possible. I felt that the Village Board was significantly stronger because of Dan's presence.

Moreover, Dan displays additional qualities that I feel would significantly enhance his performance as Mayor. Dan is someone who will go the extra mile to research and learn about an issue, never being satisfied with taking a position on an issue that he does not fully understand. One of the best examples of this relates to the almost unprecedented eight inch rainfall that occurred in the spring of 2007, causing major flooding throughout the Village. Following the storm, Dan was soon to be found in the Village examining the watercourses where the worst flooding occurred – he correctly felt that this would put him in the best position to assess what steps by the Village would be most effective in mitigating future flooding and what the Village's priorities should be in implementing mitigation measures. It wasn't sufficient for Dan to go out alone – he insisted that I join him so that I too could share in the knowledge he was gaining. This was typical of Dan's approach as Trustee throughout the time that I served with him.

Dan also possesses to an unusual degree a knowledge about the Village. He seems to know more people in the Village than just about anyone else whom I am aware of. He appears to know what every neighborhood association is doing and what the concerns of its members are. He keeps himself informed on the activities of the various organizations in the Village and has served on many of them over the years. As a Trustee, this knowledge gave Dan an unusual sensitivity to the interests, needs and concerns of Scarsdale residents and how they might best be addressed by the Village Board. I believe this in depth knowledge of the community would greatly enhance Dan's effectiveness as Scarsdale's Mayor.

Dan is as strong as any candidate for Scarsdale's Mayor whom I have seen over the many years that I have lived in Scarsdale. I urge residents to support his candidacy for Mayor with their votes on March 21.

David Irwin
Drake Road
Scarsdale, NY

(from Carl Pforzheimer III)

Nonpartisan System – Scarsdale's Strength

In 1911, before Scarsdale had incorporated as a village or women had won the right to vote, this community grew tired of local political fights and decided to choose its public officials by having Republican and Democratic party leaders endorse a single bipartisan slate.

 

Four years later when the shift from town to village government occurred, a nonpartisan caucus was convened to nominate candidates for the new Village Board. The nonpartisan system was a political innovation. The big question then (and today) was whether the adversarial two-party system really serves a small village well.

 

From the outset, residents felt that high caliber candidates with no need to campaign would more readily agree to serve the Village. And with a two-term limit and no party identification, Village Board members could ignore political considerations and deal with issues on their merits, as they arose.

 

The system resulted in tangible benefits, including top-grade municipal services and investment in public infrastructure that gave us, among other things, our extraordinary recreation facilities and programs and our school system's reputation. Scarsdale was the first municipality in the State (other than New York City) to adopt zoning, which accounts in large part for the high property values we enjoy today.

 

Residents proud of this community have had an enviable tradition of civic volunteerism. Political comity and sound administration have contributed greatly to the sense of well being that has been a Village hallmark.

 

This, then, is an important moment for citizens to step back and ask themselves if they like the kind of village Scarsdale has been.

 

Supporters of the system believe that it consistently produces high quality officeholders. Opponents of the system argue that it is too entrenched, not sufficiently "democratic". Let us consider the changes we might expect from a deliberate return to party politics as usual:

 

1. Before each annual election, we will have to listen to the static of campaign rhetoric, a phenomenon which has made many Americans cynical about their governments and doubtful about whose statements to believe and what campaign promises will be kept.

 

2. Fundraising, which has tainted legislatures at higher levels of government, will be inevitable for each election. Contested elections require money. Moreover, will we have to wonder whether contributions from developers, for example, are made to influence zoning or building regulations?

 

3. We will have to find candidates for public office who are willing to campaign. Will capable people volunteer to sacrifice the extensive time it takes to serve the Village if it entails facing the poisonous atmosphere of political campaigning? Or will "party professionals" fill up the slots?

 

4. Greatly at stake is our pride in our community. It is the sine qua non of party politics for one party to attack or seek to undermine the positions of the other party. As well, the contesting party has to generate a sense of dissatisfaction among voters about the elected officials they are trying to unseat. Do we want that attack mentality to influence the thinking and the decisions of our Village Board?

 

5. Adoption of a system of competing parties will almost certainly diminish Scarsdale's ability to hire top administrators. Truly able professionals are not attracted to places where their tenure is at stake as a result of elections that shift power from one base to another. Moreover, village managers cannot carry out their administrative functions efficiently when policy makers are divided.

 

Some of these conditions are already visible here. Confrontational tactics have begun to dictate the outcome of issues. We have seen issues (e.g., "The Reval") substituted for painstaking study of issues. We have seen attacks on the Village staff entangle administrative function in politics, feeding the impatience and alienation that such roadblocks to action beget. Nothing gets done while people argue.

 

The nonpartisan system is not perfect. For over a century it has been a work in progress. In its earliest stages the nominating process was tightly controlled. As anointed policy makers, Trustees often discussed issues and made decisions in the Board room out of public hearing and took pro forma votes at public sessions.

 

The system has evolved in the intervening years to the point that:
• elections are held each November for seats on the Citizens' Nominating Committee that nominates candidates for Mayor and Trustee,
• meetings of the Board and its committees are open to the public under the "sunshine" laws,
• the system's inclusive nature today belies its reputation as a home for the "establishment". More than 130 different citizens presently sit on its boards and councils, including many who are young or relatively new to the community, and
• the term limit tradition means a steady succession of new faces on the Village Board.

 

I am persuaded that the nonpartisan system has worked well for Scarsdale, and that the reasons we live here are worthy of strong defense through a constantly evolving, nonpartisan process of government.

 

It is important to support that process whenever possible and not just assume its continuation, or those who oppose it will triumph. I will be voting in the elections for Village Board members and the mayor on March 21. And I will be sure to choose those candidates who have not heretofore expressed dissatisfaction with the nonpartisan system, and reject those who have engaged in relentless personal attacks on the current board and Village staff.

 

Carl H. Pforzheimer III

 

Comments   

+1 #2 Michael Otten 2017-03-09 16:49
I would like to build on Carl's point that we should have "a constantly evolving, nonpartisan process of government." While I too worry that 'partisan' politics can lead to the problems that Carl so well describes, I believe that we've become too ingrained in consensus governance where majority votes are the norm for our trustees, to a large extent inhibiting our representatives from truly representing the diversity of views in our intelligent and interested community. To extrapolate to Republican versus Democratic Party politics does not appear to me to be the inevitable result of this year's contested election.

1. What makes me cynical is not broken campaign promises, but a sense that not all our trustees are willing to ask tough questions, nor to air publicly legitimate differences of opinion.

2. I may be naive, but I don't think that Fundraising will be a major factor in this or future contested elections. The main commitment will be candidates' time, which is the case for anyone who serves as a Trustee, albeit that the time is not invested before the election.

3. Campaigning has already become more a part of our non-partisan system that it was before. Candidates have to justify their legitimacy to the Nominating Committee, and I've seen more campaigning than I'd like to see for people to be elected to the Nominating Committees.

4. I've been 'out of town' for the past month, but hope that an 'attack mentality' is not part of the current challenge. I do believe that both mayoral candidates have earned and deserve the respect of the community as individuals who want the best for Scarsdale and its residents. They do represent different styles of governance and oversight. Personally I think I shall be voting more for a different management approach rather than choosing a 'better' person.

5. Policy should come from our trustees, and division of views should not prevent the community from supporting a decision that did not have unanimity of the Board. I believe we are mature enough, and can expect our Administrators to be mature enough to tolerate differences as policy is developed, as long as the community supports decisions once they are made.

I am grateful that the new Scarsdale 'party' is in an important sense not aligned with traditional political parties or unions. I am not convinced that it is a violation of our non-partisan tradition for members of our community to organize to propose a different approach to governance. With some caution, I would like to support this direction as evolution, not revolution. At minimum, I am pleased to see intelligent discussion taking place now, recognizing that even Scarsdale has room for improvement.
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+3 #1 Charles Rubens 2017-03-09 16:34
Mr. Pforzheimer makes a compelling argument for the continued use of the Non Partisan system. As a resident for over fifty years I can attest to its success. Above all, it has been responsive when needed. It is open to all and our local press has played an important part in our community in keeping issues before the village. Thank you.
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