Yorktown Supervisor Michael Grace is running for re-election this November against former town justice Ilan (Lanny) Gilbert. I thought it might be fun to catch up with Michael and ask him to reflect on his political career.
Looking at your entire time in office, can you tell us what three accomplishments are you most proud of?
I am not a bragger, but I am very proud of what I have accomplished. Taxes have been flat for five years. The levy that I inherited and the levy from last year only went up zero-point-something, which means that, in essence, the levy has been flat as well. At the same time, we have a 40 percent increase in the fund balance, which is almost $12 million. So, fiscally, the town is absolutely in great shape.
My experience on the town board was that in deciding our budget, we always worked backwards. The initial question we asked ourselves was what taxes can we politically stomach and then we went from there. Hence, big ticket items (like paving the roads and a senior center) got put off and off. I think our first question should have been: What does the town need?
Most of the residents don’t mind if you’re spending money, the question for them is: how are you spending it?
So, taxes are No. 1; what is No. 2?
Finally breaking the impasse on the sewers. We can now sewer everyone who needs them. And how did we do it? It really ended up just being a 10-minute conversation with the right people.
And what would be No. 3?
We’ve done a lot of great quality-of-life stuff. The Holiday Electric Lights Parade, the Feast of San Gennaro, the revitalization of Community Day—all have enhanced the lives of our citizens.
If you could go back to the beginning of your political career, what, if anything, would you do differently?
I don’t know if it would have made a difference, but maybe I could have had a little softer tone with some people. Although I don’t know if that makes any difference with people at all.
I think it would make a difference. If your tone is negative or nasty, then that becomes the issue and it detracts from whatever it is you are discussing. Don’t you agree?
Yes. I guess I have a tendency to be a lawyer.
I personally have a great relationship with you, but people have complained to me that your tone is sometimes dictatorial and Trump-like.
Someone said to me: “What are you trying to be, Trump?” I said I don’t know if he’s following me or I’m following him. He called me “Trump-like,” but I don’t take that as an insult. If you’re supposed to be the CEO and the leader of the town and somebody says you’re arrogant, obviously in some ways you’re doing your job. I have to run the meetings, I am the chairperson of the meetings, so I have to keep order, keep people in line, make sure protocol is followed. So as a councilman, and you’ve been there, you have to let the supervisor run the meetings.
So you have to be the heavy sometimes?
You’ve got to take the shots. And what happens, too, is that people who disagree with you, they feel that you’re not listening to them no matter what you say. And I have certain people who I think have dedicated their lives to being contrary and they are operating under total misconceptions so why bother trying to correct them? But I feel that you have to at least let them know that they are going down the wrong path.
Personally, do you think your political journey has been worthwhile?
I am not sure that you can make that evaluation while you are in the midst of it. I think you probably have to look retrospectively to make those type of judgments. I am a little bit strong-minded and hard-headed. I have a vision that I wanted to see accomplished. There were certain goals I wanted to achieve.
What was the motivation to get involved in politics in the first place?
My law office is right across the street from town hall and people constantly would come over and complain about what was going on in the town. Personally, I have always been frustrated about the sewer situation, now we’re getting sewers. I always felt that we could improve the downtown area, that the highway garage should have been gotten out of there, and that was bantered about a long time ago, perhaps before you were on the board. When I was town attorney, I worked with then-town engineer Dan Ciarcia about that whole diversion issue—of diverting Hallocks Mill to Peekskill—and we had real and practical solutions that would have addressed what the whole Riverkeeper lawsuit was about. Yet, we all got thwarted on that. So, perhaps if I got involved, I could make a difference.
Thank you Supervisor Grace for your time and more importantly for your efforts on the town’s behalf.
Watch the entire interview on “All About Town with Jim Martorano.” It airs 9 p.m. Wednesdays on Optimum channel 74.