This is the second part in my series of interviews with candidates for local office on the ballot this November. You may recall that two weeks ago I spent some time with Patricia Sullivan-Rothberg, Democratic candidate for Town Board. This week it was Councilman Tom Diana’s turn.
Tell us a little about your background. Where did you grow up?
Right here in Shrub Oak. I am third-generation Yorktown. I went through the Lakeland school system. I was one of the last classes that went through the old Shrub Oak School. My father’s side of the family actually farmed this area. They grew mostly vegetables and then they would truck them down to market.
What was your father like?
He was a crackerjack diesel mechanic. A WWII veteran; a take commander. He served under Patton.
Is that how you learned about diesels?
Yes. He was a career military man. We went all around the country but home was always Shrub Oak. Actually, he was in three wars: WWII, Korea and Vietnam. He passed at 75. He told me, “I laid my face in the mud long enough; you’re going in the Navy, the Air Force or the Coast Guard.”
Did you actually serve?
When I was in high school, the draft was still going on. My number was actually 36. So I figured my Senior Prom was going to be in Vietnam but they stopped the draft just prior to that. So, to answer your original question, I did not serve. To honor my dad, I joined the Sons of the American Legion Squadron 1009 here in Yorktown.
Besides farming, did your family have any other business in town?
My uncle, Nick, owned the Shrub Oak Cement Block Works, where Lakeland Lumber is now. I always used to kid him, “Why did you ever get rid of that?” I could have been a little cement block baron by now. But, unfortunately, when the war ended, the unions came in and forced the business out.
You’re now entering your fifth year. I know four years ago you were the top vote-getter. I was therefore surprised you didn’t receive the Republican nod to succeed Mr. Testa for the Westchester County Board of Legislators.
I was honored to be considered and even more awestruck that John Testa even picked me. It didn’t turn out as hoped. I thought I could have brought a lot into the community. I say that because my business is in the town of Cortlandt, I was a Cortlandt cop; I have numerous friends and family in the Montrose, Verplanck and Buchanan, upper Cortlandt, Lakeland, and Peekskill areas. So, needless to say, for me to have been a candidate for that county district would have been wonderful.
Getting back to councilperson, what’s your feeling about the job itself?
There is a lot of stuff that should be going on that isn’t because of the leadership. There’s limited cooperation and not enough knowledge. There’s no knowledge of infrastructure and cans get kicked down the road where they shouldn’t be. It’s frustrating. I have a good working relationship with Alice and Lanny. Vishnu is Vishnu.
Can you elaborate?
Alice and I work well together if we do a project. For example, Yorktown’s 230th birthday where I fell on my face in the baseball field. We put that on, we worked hand and glove. There are a couple of other things I’ve suggested to her and she’s suggested to me, and we’ll get those done. Alice will get things done. But there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians in that town hall.
If I could wave a magic wand and give you five votes on the Town Board, what would you do come Jan. 1?
The first thing I would do is delve into the Depot Square project that Michael Grace had initially started. I would revive the project.
Do you think we need more people in the Parks and Rec department to take care of the added fields?
We just added one and one half. Our superintendent is leaving and I’m very upset about that. Todd is a good guy. There never was a time where I called that department and asked for something where it was taken care of that day or the following day. The same goes for my water department and my highway department. My Parks and Recreation and Water departments are second to none. The employees there are great people. Our highway guys do a fantastic job.
Are there any other projects on your mind?
The pipe relining is something that we need to do. We always need to put a little more money into getting roads paved. People like black roads in the summer and black roads in the winter. They like not to bump around on them. So we try to throw a little more money back into that part of our infrastructure. The difference with, say, the water department is that that’s a taxing district and they make their own money.
Do the water rates need increasing?
We have increased them, about a month ago. They have a double-edged sword project for the fluoride. We have to encumber $900,000, which means they don’t have that money to do stuff with.
What’s your position on the proposed solar panel law?
I believe solar panels belong on the roof. I don’t want to see something unsightly and I don’t believe they should have solar panels in a residential zone. Those should be on a roof. However, I’m still reviewing the proposed law.
What about the proposed tree law?
There are parts of it that I like, but I feel that it’s become too restrictive and too onerous.
So, you’re voting against it?
Quite possibly. We have a tree law that’s in place right now. I know there’s been a lot of effort put into this by a lot of people. Ms. Miller has done a wonderful job. She and John Tegeder have worked together hand a glove.
Looking back on your political career: what has been the best and worst moment?
The best moment was when I won the special election. That was the shining star in my career because I had run twice before, for highway and council, and that’s when I started getting things done. Yes, we had a 4-1 board (Republican-Democratic) but things were getting done. I’m a guy who wants to get things done, not kick the can down the road. I’ll meet it head on and get the job done. That’s what I’m about, what I’ve always been about. The worst moment was recently with the passing of [Putnam County] Judge James Reitz. He was a dear friend and we worked together on many projects. It was a real loss.
Councilman, thanks for spending time with me today.
Jim, it was my pleasure.