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LeahDembitzerThis month we begin our series of profiles of notable community volunteers – people who spend their time and energy making Scarsdale a great place for all us of to live. There are hundreds of people who pitch in – doing everything from manning the PTA’s, coaching sports, planting and maintaining gardens, advocating for those in need to serving on the boards of community organizations and Village Boards and Councils. Perhaps this network of committed volunteers is what makes Scarsdale the special place it is.

For our first interview, we are spotlighting Leah Dembitzer, the incoming President of the League of Women Voters in Scarsdale. We first spotted her at School Board meetings where she sat for many hours, observing the proceedings of the Scarsdale School Board. At times, she was the only one in the audience. Following these meetings, she reported back to the League and spearheaded in-depth consensus statements on board policies and actions. The League served as the community’s eyes and ears, providing an independent view on matters that affect us all.

Here is Leah’s perspective on her experience and why she volunteers:

When did you move to Scarsdale? Did you have a career prior to coming here and if so, what did you do?

I moved to Scarsdale in March 2009 after the birth of my second child. I was in graduate school for Art History for many years and worked in the New York art world as a Fine and Decorative Art Appraiser and as an art historical researcher.

What was your first volunteer job - and how did you get involved?

I first got involved at my son’s preschool. The school director (at Westchester Reform Temple Early Childhood Center) asked if I would be interested in being one of her program’s ECC Co-Chairs. The Co-Chairs work on creating welcoming events as well as social and cultural programs for ECC families. I was an ECC Co-Chair for three years and really enjoyed the volunteer work. I met so many new people and really enjoyed the creative collaboration.

What did that lead to - what are some of the other jobs that you have taken on?

After being ECC co-chair, and as my kids moved into the Scarsdale Schools, I became involved in the Quaker Ridge PTA, serving as PTA President and chair of the school’s Learning to Look program. I co-chaired PT Council Young Writers’ Workshop, an annual event for 3rd - 5th graders that is celebrating its 25th event in November. I met and worked with many talented local writers and creative thinkers through YWW on a well-loved event.

I also became chair of one of the Jewish Learning Lab programs at WRT, Sharing Shabbat, and am a member of WRT’s Board of Trustees. For WRT, I co-chaired their 65th Anniversary Homecoming Gala Event a few years ago.

How old are your children and do you find it difficult to balance you volunteer commitments with your responsibilities to your family?

My son Lucas is 12 and is entering 7th grade; Noah is 10 and is an incoming 5th grader and Sloan is 6 and will be in 1st grade. Sometimes it can be difficult to balance, usually when I have to attend meetings or events in the evening. Generally though, as I’ve been involved in the schools and organizations that the kids know, they are excited when I explain what I’m doing volunteer-wise.

What are you doing for this coming year?

This coming year, I’m President of the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale (LWVS) and I’m thrilled to be doing the important work of voter and issue information and education during such a complex cultural moment in our country. The League has many exciting upcoming speakers, programs and opportunities for community engagement this year.

What do you like about working with the League of Women Voters?

I really enjoy working with the League Board of Directors, an incredible group of local women. I like learning about Scarsdale’s local government and the schools. The League has been very involved in Youth Engagement as well and it is inspiring to see political interest and engagement in our student community.

Have you experienced challenges or found some people difficult to work with?

Yes, volunteer work is not always smooth sailing and you encounter people with many diverse personalities and ways of interacting. It is not always easy to get from Point A to Point B when you are coalescing diverse views. I’ve found that it is important to be positive and light with others and to not hold onto a negative interaction, to move forward.

In order to do you volunteer work, have you had to give up anything you like to do?

In general, I’m really happy as a volunteer in Scarsdale, and feel that the role fits well with my life. It’s not always easy or seamless to balance work or volunteer work when you are taking care of your kids too but volunteering in Scarsdale has brought a new edifying and inspiring dimension to my life.

What advice would you give to someone new to town about getting involved?

I would encourage anyone new to Scarsdale to seek out something related to your interests and get involved. There are so many volunteer roles and these roles are a powerful way to get connected to the community and to make a positive contribution.

What do you hope to accomplish?

Through the League of Women Voters, I hope to get people excited and engaged in voting and advocacy on the cusp of the 2020 election. The League is a near 100-year community organization — we celebrate 100 years in 2021 — started by Scarsdale women who fought for the right for women to vote in public elections. The Scarsdale League of Women Voters has been deeply involved in helping to inform the public about local issues. We welcome and encourage all community members to join the League and to get involved in making democracy work.

safestorageThis past week, two bills proposed by Assemblymember Amy Paulin were signed into laws by Governor Cuomo. Both bills dealt with firearm issues and gun safety. Here are the press releases from the office of Assemblymember Paulin:

 

Amy Paulin’s Bill to Keep Guns Out of the Hands of Those Unable to Pass a Background Check Signed Into Law

Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) is proud to announce that her bill to increase the time interval before a firearm, shotgun, or rifle may be sold to an individual whose background check requires additional investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (A.2690) was signed into law today by Governor Cuomo.

Under current law, approximately 9-11% of the background checks for gun purchases utilizing the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) do not come back as either “proceed” or “deny.” They come back designated as “delayed,” and the case is referred to an FBI examiner for additional investigation to determine if the buyer is one of 9 categories of prohibited purchaser. However, after three business days, if the background check still has not come back with a clear “proceed” or “deny” designation, the buyer can be provided the firearm at the dealer’s discretion.

The new law increases the time interval before the dealer has the discretion to hand over the firearm to 30 calendar days so that the FBI has sufficient time to complete their investigation.
“Most background checks come back quickly and cleanly from NICS,” said Assemblymember Amy Paulin. “This will not hinder a law-abiding citizen's ability to purchase of a gun. According to the FBI, they just need more time to do their job to keep guns out of the wrong hands.”

The Gifford Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence has nicknamed this issue with the background checks system the “Charleston loophole.” Dylann Roof, the confessed shooter at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, received a “delayed” designation on the background check when he purchased the weapon that he would later use in that tragedy. The NICS database had the information that Roof had a prior drug arrest, but did not have the information that he had confessed to that charge, which would have been sufficient to deny his background check. An FBI examiner did not receive the case files from local authorities within the three business day window, and the dealer had discretion under the law to hand over the gun to Roof.

Giving law enforcement officers a full 30 days to complete their investigation is particularly important to prevent those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors, which takes the longest of any prohibited factor to be noted appropriately in NICS. According to a 2016 report by the Government Accountability Office, 30% of cases of domestic violence misdemeanors take 11 calendar days or more to be adequately taken into account in NICS, making it entirely possible under the prior law for someone convicted of domestic violence to begin a background check, receive a “delay” designation, but still receive a gun from the dealer before NICS could accurately determine that the individual should be denied the gun. This had the potential to create an incredibly dangerous scenario for victims of domestic violence.

Finally, persons who are on the FBI’s Terror Watch list will receive a “delayed” designation on their background checks. Under current federal law, being on the Terror Watch list in and of itself is not sufficient to deny an individual a gun, but it is a flag for the FBI to conduct more rigorous scrutiny of the individual’s background. This law will extend the period of time in which that investigation can discretely take place before the dealer would be permitted to hand over a gun.

"Despite all our progress, it is still simply too easy for guns to fall into the wrong hands," said Assemblymember Amy Paulin. "This law will build on our already strong gun laws by ensuring that law enforcement has sufficient time to complete a background check without impinging on the rights of law-abiding citizens."

Amy Paulin’s safe storage of firearms bill signed into law

Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) released the following statement upon the news that Governor Andrew Cuomo had signed into law her bill (A. 2686A) to require the safe and secure storage of rifles, shotguns, and handguns to prevent access by children and other prohibited persons.

“This achievement has special meaning for me. I was an advocate on the issue of commonsense measures to prevent gun violence long before I was an Assemblymember. I introduced a bill on the safe storage of firearms at the very beginning of my Assembly career. Though it has been a long time in coming, the result is a law that will help prevent accidental injuries and deaths, particularly of children, and will also help prevent incidents of suicide and theft.

“New York state law already requires the safe storage of rifles, shotguns, and handguns in households when a person who lives there has been convicted of a crime, is subject to an order of protection, or other factors. This law adds households where a child under the age of 16 lives, or times when a child of that age could reasonably be expected to be visiting a house. Given everything we know about the effect a gun in the home can have on our children’s health and safety, and the many tragic stories when a firearm was left unattended by an adult, this law is absolutely necessary for keeping our kids safe.

“Too often have we hears stories like that of 12 year-old Nicholas Naumkin of Wilton, New York, who was fatally shot at a classmate’s house in 2010 when his friend was playing with his father’s unsecured gun. In addition to accidents, adolescents also face increased risk of suicides in households where guns are not secure. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the mere presence of a gun in the home increases the risk of suicidal thoughts. Also according to AFSP’s most recent annual report, 51% of all suicides in the United States are by a firearm, and 60% of gun-related deaths are suicides.

“Our law has been carefully designed to respect the rights of law-abiding citizens, and to honor hunting traditions and educational training programs for teenagers. Given the well-documented risk to our children and our families, it is not too much to ask gun owners who live with a child under 16 to safely store their firearm when it is not in their direct control in an appropriate safe storage depository and/or by using a gun-locking device to prevent the weapon from being fired. This law is commonsense for many gun owners already, and will enable us to prevent accidents, suicides and school incidents that put our children in harm’s way.”

Arthur33The Arthur Manor Neighborhood Association held its 91st Annual 4th of July parade and picnic in Davis Park on a beautiful and slightly muggy Thursday morning, July 4th.

The various marchers began gathering at the corner of Bell and Sprague Roads at 9:15 am on Thursday morning with the numerous musicians from the Westchester Band, led by Jill Weiss. During the rallying of the parade goers, the judges ranked the individual and group marchers in categories such as most scooters, most patriotic costumer, tricycles and strollers and floats.

At 9:45 am sharp, a special Scarsdale Police Department motorcycle escort accompanied the Scarsdale Volunteer Fire Company Number 1 and the Westchester County Band from Bell and Sprague Roads and proceeded through Arthur Manor to Davis Park. Michael Keating drove his vintage Scarsdale fire truck in the parade, making the day all the more memorable.

The parade ended at Davis Park where the traditional 4th of July ceremony was held before the flag pole at the North end of the park.

The ceremony began with the raising of the flag by the Scarsdale Volunteer Fire Company No. 1’s color guard and accompanied by the trumpet playing of Dr. Jack Binder of the Westchester Band. Scarsdale Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 celebrated its 126th year in 2019.

Arthur Manor resident Richard Gast then perfectly sang the National Anthem which was followed by the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. The crowd then observed a moment of silence to remember all of the men and women who sacrificed so much for liberty and democracy in the United States and abroad.

Jonathan Lewis, Trustee of Scarsdale, then addressed the crowd gathered in Davis Park on the importance of July 4th and the relevance of this special day for all residents. Village Trustee Jane Veron and former Trustee and member of Scarsdale Volunteer Fire Department Number 1, Matt Callaghan, were also in attendance together with Arthur Manor’s own Uncle Sam (played magnificently, as always, by Teegan Lee).

The crowd then observed a moment of silence in memory of long time Arthur Manor resident and active member of Scarsdale Volunteer Fire Department Number 1, Manny Caras. Manny was a constant presence at all of the Arthur Manor 4th of July parades and picnics and many other community events and he will be truly missed.

Former Arthur Manor President Al Stuart then conducted the awards ceremony for the day’s marchers and other parade participants in the various categories such as floats, bicycles, tricycles, etc.. (A complete list of the winners follows below).

The Arthur Manor Neighborhood Association’s July 4th parade and picnic was sponsored by Scarsdale Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 and Heather Harrison of Compass Realty.

At the conclusion of the 4th of July ceremony, the crowd then walked to the other end of Davis Park for the annual field events including the three-legged race, potato sack, wheel-barrow, relay and Arthur Manor’s favorite, the annual favorite “egg toss” - first appearing at Arthur Manor’s July 4th picnic in 1944! This year the games were again expertly conducted by Sam Bryant and his daughter, Olivia. (A list of the winning field event participants also follows below).

There was a three-way tie for this year’s egg toss with the three winning teams including Tommy and Charles Chesnut (Team 1), Shane and James Kelly (Team 2) and Olivia and Sam Bryant (Team 3). Congratulations all those who participated in the 2019 egg toss event!

Hosting the event was Arthur Manor Neighborhood Association President, Matt Martin.

This annual event in Arthur Manor is only made possible through the collective efforts of the Arthur Manor volunteer residents including the Marcus, Roche, Porco, Bonanno, Bongiorno and Stuart families, and all of the other Arthur Manor volunteers too numerous to list here.

A special thanks also to Eileen Donovan and her Scarsdale Lion’s Heart chapter especially Esha Mehta, Anish Mehta, Danielle Eforo, Clara Weller and Raymond Donovan. These young neighbors and members of our Scarsdale citizenry highlight what is best in our youngest residents – a commitment to putting service into action to help our community.

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amypaulinThis in from New York State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin:

A lawsuit in federal court seeks to challenge regulations that were recently finalized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Treasury Department that would deny a full charitable deduction for donations to the charitable funds for which states authorize tax credits, including both long-standing charitable funds and those created after the federal government severely limited the state and local tax deduction (SALT).

The case, Village of Scarsdale v. Internal Revenue Service at al., asserts that the IRS’s regulations “usurp the lawmaking function and purport to unilaterally impose the current administration’s political will in violation of clear statutory limits.” In doing so, the regulations would cause charitable reserve funds explicitly authorized under New York State law to “suffer irreparable harm.” This includes the charitable reserve funds established by the Village of Scarsdale and the Town of Rye after the SALT deduction was limited by the passage of the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA). If successful, the lawsuit would reverse the IRS’s regulations.

Both Scarsdale and the Town of Rye are members of the Coalition for the Charitable Contribution Deduction (3CD), which consists of Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties, 17 municipalities, 17 school districts, and eight state and countywide professional and advocacy organizations.

“Starting today, we will stand up for New Yorkers already reeling from the cap on the SALT deduction by making our case in court that these regulations are arbitrary, capricious, and invalid,” said New York State Assemblymember Amy Paulin, who took the lead role in developing New York’s charitable reserve fund legislation, coordinated the coalition, and had attended the IRS’s public hearing on the proposed regulations last October. “The denial of charitable deductions for donations to charitable reserve funds disproportionately hits communities like mine. In trying to satisfy the whims of this administration without running afoul of powerful interests, the IRS regulations strayed far from the law that they were supposed to interpret. These regulations will cause real harm for villages like Scarsdale and taxpayers across the country struggling to remain in the communities they fell in love with and to send their children to the same nurturing, high-quality schools.”

“The IRS and Treasury Department have clearly exceeded their authority with these regulations. As a previously practicing tax attorney, I have confidence in the merits of this case, which is important to so many New Yorkers,” said New York State Assemblyman David Buchwald. “I applaud the work of the Village of Scarsdale, the attorneys at Baker & McKenzie LLP and the municipalities that banded together as the Coalition for the Charitable Contribution Deduction for their hard work that shows how premature it is to believe that the SALT deduction question has already been decided.”

The lawsuit was filed today in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. It comes on the same day as the Attorneys General of Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York filed their own lawsuit challenging the same IRS/Treasury Department regulations.

Scarsdale and the coalition assert that in preventing individuals from receiving a full federal charitable deduction for making a contribution to a charity state or municipality when that donation has been encouraged at the state or local level with a tax credit, the IRS has broken “with judicial precedents, published guidance binding on the IRS and the Treasury Department, IRS administrative pronouncements and settled taxpayer expectations.” Prior to the IRS/Treasury Department issuing their regulations, 70 active programs across 24 states already encouraged charitable contributions to various public and private programs with tax credits at the state or local level – all of which will now be denied a full charitable contribution at the federal level.

The complaint also takes aim at the complex and confusing distinctions made by the regulations in order to create carve outs and “safe harbors” for various corporate entities who also benefit from federal deductions for charitable giving and business expenses encouraged at the state level with tax credits – distinctions which “result in divergent consequences for substantively identical circumstances without any statutory authority, let alone a reasoned explanation, for doing so.”

For example, as was originally stated by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in August and confirmed in the final regulations, the disallowance of a charitable contribution deduction for an individual under the reasoning that the state or local tax credit represents a quid pro quo would not apply to any business-related payments to charities or government entities, even though any so-called benefit received by the business would be identical and serve the same purpose of creating incentives to support charities. A separate safe harbor provision would also allow C corporations to claim an “ordinary and necessary business expense” federal deduction for contributions without state or local tax credits they receive being considered quid pro quo incentives.

Even more illogical are carve outs for a very narrow set of individuals. Under the regulations, a charitable contribution encouraged by a state or local tax credit is not considered a quid pro quo if the value of the credit is 15 percent or below the value of the contribution – with no explanation for why or why that specific percentage provided either in the regulations or in the TJCA. Additionally, individuals making contributions may still claim a federal charitable deduction to a charitable fund if the value of doing so doesn’t exceed the SALT cap – mixing the apples of charitable contribution deductions with the oranges of a SALT deduction without any obvious basis in law.

The local governments that comprise 3CD had previously stated their belief that the regulations are arbitrary and capricious, and therefore invalid. Under the Administrative Procedure Act, they now ask that the regulations be found unlawful and be set aside.

Members of the Coalition for the Charitable Contribution Deduction (3CD)

Association of School Business Officials of New York
Association of Towns of the State of New York
Lower Hudson Education Coalition
New York Conference of Mayors
New York State Association of Counties
New York State Council of School Superintendents
New York State School Boards Association
Westchester Putnam School Boards Association

Nassau County
Suffolk County
Westchester County

City of New Rochelle
City of White Plains
City of Yonkers
Town of Bedford
Town of Lewisboro
Town of Mamaroneck
Town of New Castle
Town of North Salem
Town of Ossining
Town of Pelham
Town of Rye
Village of Ardsley
Village of Hastings-on-Hudson
Village of Pelham
Village of Pelham Manor
Village of Scarsdale
Village of Upper Brookville

Ardsley Union Free School District
Brewster Central School District
Briarcliff Manor Union Free School District
Byram Hills Central School District
City School District of New Rochelle
Dobbs Ferry Union Free School District
Eastchester Union Free School District
Edgemont Union Free School District
Hastings-on-Hudson Union Free School District
Katonah-Lewisboro School District
Ossining Union Free School District
Pelham Public Schools
Pleasantville Union Free School District
Pocantico Hills Central School District
Public Schools of the Tarrytowns
Scarsdale Union Free School District of the Towns of Scarsdale and Mamaroneck
White Plains City School District

DSC03254The celebration for Fred Smith’s graduation from Scarsdale High School was not your average graduation party. Members of the Scarsdale STEP Board, friends and family gathered Tuesday, June 25th at the home of Lisa and Andy Rodman to honor Fred as both a member of the SHS class of 2019 and as the 56th alumnus of Scarsdale STEP. The STEP program has brought promising students of color from economically disadvantaged households to Scarsdale High School for their junior and senior years since 1966.

(Indiya Smith, Derick Rivers, Catina Smith and Fred Smith.)


DSC03258There were more than a few tears in the group of roughly 40 well wishers as Fred reflected on his two years in Scarsdale. “ You need to understand I come from a place of little opportunity” Smith noted, “but STEP has worked its magic.” He noted that with heavy doses of emotional and financial support, along with lots of tutoring and college application help, he leaves feeling “that STEP really, truly is a family”. Smith will be attending Center College in Danville Kentucky on full scholarship next fall.

Gail and Todd Leone of Barry Roa hosted Fred his senior year and Marissa and Julio Gurdian of Boulder Brook Road hosted him during his junior year. Fred thanked those “graceful enough to open their home to me. ” Of the Leones, Fred noted, “you don’t know a big family who loves each other a lot until you know the Leone family”. He thanked them for helping him reevaluate himself and prodding him to continually improve.

DSC03260Kathy Steves, Elizabeth Pflaum and Susan GronerFred’s mother, stepfather and sister traveled to Scarsdale for graduation festivities from their hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Fred’s tender words to his mother Catina struck a deep emotional chord. “Thank God, you were strong enough to let me go after only DSC03257Fred Smith, Anna Decker and Roderick Carrtwo years of high school” he said to his mother. “When I’m a parent, I don’t know if I could do that.”

Scarsdale STEP is urgently seeking a host family for its incoming junior Victoria Reliford from rural North Carolina this fall. Interested families are urged to visit the Scarsdale STEP website, email info@scarsdalestep.org or call Nan Berke at 914-548-3617.

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