- Published on Sunday, 19 March 2017 14:09
- Joanne Wallenstein
(This is the opinion of site founder Joanne Wallenstein) On the way into the Scarsdale Village Board meeting last Tuesday evening, I heard one of the village trustees, who was fighting a terrible cold, appeal to outspoken and long-winded resident Bob Harrison to please keep his public comments to a minimum.
But instead, it seems that Mr. Harrison took that plea as a challenge to see how long he could speak beyond the five minute limit. When the public comments period started, Mr. Harrison approached the podium with a disorganized pile of papers and bulging folders ready to hold forth. For the next twenty-one minutes, he touched on many topics that had already been thoroughly discussed, managing to insult almost everyone in the room, including me. In the course of his rambling, he called an analysis of data published on Scarsdale10583 "bogus." Pointing at me in the audience, he claimed that "10583 has published misinformation," and attributed this to the tax assessment on my home.
When Trustee Stern sought to respond to Harrison, a screaming match ensued and it was impossible to hear either one as they each yelled louder and louder.
I was so shaken by being called out on television that I could barely focus on what should have been the headline of the meeting. Myra Saul from Lincoln Road was attending to call attention to the need to protect undocumented residents and workers in Scarsdale. She said, "There is a palpable fear of deportation," and asked Scarsdale to formalize policies to protect immigrants, first by supporting a proposed bill before the county legislature that would prevent county police from investigating immigration status. She said she would come forth with additional proposals in the weeks to come.
Good for Ms. Saul and the others who came to the meeting to support her! This is just the kind of public discussion that warrants our time and energy. We've spent the better part of a year focused almost entirely on the tax roll, while other important issues have been neglected. Let Ms. Saul be an example of what we can accomplish if we rise above petty differences and harness the substantial talents of our residents to move forward and make Scarsdale a model for the meaning of community.
Just consider the caliber of our residents. Among our taxpayers are Richard Garwin, who was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama for his work as a physicist and scientific advisor. We've got Irving Picard, who untangled the mess left by the Madoff Ponzi scheme and Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, who address global issues such as poverty and human trafficking. We have John Harris, who recently wrote an amicus brief on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League opposing President Trump's immigration ban that may have been instrumental in the recent decision from the state court in Hawaii to block its implementation. Among our residents is NYS Legislator Amy Paulin, who has championed legislation for the rights of children, teens and women, and much more. And we've got all of you – bright, engaged and accomplished citizens --who care about the future of our Village and the world.
We have real issues - both local and national - to confront, and if we can rise above partisan politics and bickering we can make a difference.
Just look at what the Board of the Scarsdale Library has accomplished. Recognizing the need for an improved library and meeting center, they researched, visited other libraries, interviewed planners and architects and formulated plans for a state of the art facility. Overcoming substantial opposition, they rallied supporters and presented a workable a plan for a public/private partnership for the project and ultimately won the backing of the Village Board.
For similar reasons, when the Scarsdale School Board got friction on plans to improve the district, the Scarsdale Schools Foundation was born. Their efforts have made it possible for the district to replace obsolete and unused areas of the high school with a new design lab and a fitness center that are already under construction.
What about our empty downtown storefronts? Can this issue be addressed? In addition to what the Scarsdale Forum is already doing, can residents help? With so many top lawyers among our ranks, would it be possible to negotiate with our Village landlords to lower rents and increase incentives to fill the empty retail spaces? With reasonable rents these spaces would be workable for both mom and pop stores and national chains like Sweetgreen and Papyrus . The initiative to build a mixed used project at the Freightway site is a first step forward and I am hopeful that this initiative will also reinvigorate our downtown.
But as Myra Saul points out, we can do more than improve our own lives. For example, in addition to safeguarding undocumented people within our borders we can consider national issues such as gun control and pass local laws on gun ownership, gun sales, gun security and safe storage. As Scarsdale residents Michelle Sterling and Ron Shulhof are already doing, we can support conservation and sustainability by recycling, conserving energy and saving trees and natural resources. These initiatives benefit Scarsdale but also set an example for other communities. What else? It's high time we passed local legislation to preserve historic homes, safeguard trees and prevent overbuilding.
In short, we have wasted the better part of a year arguing over a single issue and squandered the time and energy of our village volunteers and village managers who were forced to spend countless hours reviewing over 30,000 FOILED emails and defending all of us against what may very well be a meritless lawsuit.
There's so much more at stake in Scarsdale and in our country than potholes. The reason our predecessors established a non-partisan system in Scarsdale was to offer a framework to minimize conflict and forge consensus. This election is demonstrating just how divisive partisan politics can be... and how a pothole can expand into a sinkhole.
When you go to the voting booth on Tuesday, think about which party will build bridges and move us forward -- and cast your vote accordingly. Use your voice and considerable talents to make a difference in Scarsdale and beyond.