As I awaited the returns on election night, I couldn’t help but reflect on my very first electoral experience. It was a cold November night in 1991. Many months before, having been weaned on John F. Kennedy’s call to activism as well as my dad’s living example of community involvement, I answered an ad in the North County News which called on any persons interested in running for office to appear for an interview with the local Democratic Party.
Approaching my 43rd birthday at the time of my interview, I expressed interest in running for the position of town judge, then occupied by Mark Dillon. A fellow interviewee, Aaron Bock, also had the same position in mind. Despite our stated desires, the Democratic committee had other ideas for us. Somehow, Aaron and I were persuaded to run for supervisor and town board, respectively. Filling out the ticket were Bridget Krowe for town board and Marci Chinsky for town justice.
The odds of us winning were certainly bordering on negligible considering a Democrat had not been elected in quite some time and only a handful of times in the town’s history. To make matters worse, we were up against true Yorktown political legends: Supervisor Nancy Elliott as well as board incumbents Neal Bailenson and Tony Grasso.
We ran a spirited and issue-oriented campaign, as did the Republicans, one that I am still proud of today. I never considered those running against me to be my “opponents,” but rather fellow Yorktowners who were putting in countless hours in an effort to make their positive mark on our town’s history. On Election Day, Aaron Bock, Bridget Krowe and I were fortunate to upset the three incumbents and, in January 1992, we assumed office.
Dillon, who became a close friend, was the only winner on the Republican’s local ticket.
After that election, the people of Yorktown returned me to the board four more times. Each time I took office, I tried to continue the same congenial mindset I had maintained during all my campaigns. I learned that more can be accomplished with collaboration rather than confrontation; with constructive cooperation rather than partisan-based opposition.
Call me old-fashioned and out of step with today’s slash-and-burn politics, but I still firmly believe that maintaining respect and courtesy does not mean you’ve abandoned your principles. What it does do is declare loud and clear that your primary value is your desire to work with other board members toward a common goal: improving the life of all our citizens.
As I reflected on campaigns gone by, I was saddened by what transpired during this year’s campaign. Collegiality and respectful issue-oriented discussions were replaced by ad hominem attacks and Willie Horton-type fear-mongering ads, none of which should have any place in our town. The worst transgressions occurred on Facebook, where people feel emboldened to say terrible and mean-spirited things about opposing candidates. Silly flyers of candidates being controlled by a puppeteer or as passengers on a runaway bus made a mockery of our serious issues deserving of real discussions. It devolved to the point that an Appellate Division panel had to order the town to delay town hall’s renovation by a few days just so people could vote at their usual polling place.
As the results came in, however, it became clear that our town and its surrounding communities were experiencing a Democratic tsunami, resulting in some astounding upsets. Most shocking of all was George Latimer’s solid victory over Rob Astorino for county executive. In Cortlandt, as part of a Democratic sweep, my late friend Dennis Ragazzo’s daughter, Kimberly, upset a 28-year incumbent, Judge Gerald Klein, while Peekskill witnessed a similar result as an extremely young and inexperienced Democratic ticket upended that of a seemingly invincible two-term Republican mayor.
Similarly, in Yorktown, Ilan Gilbert bested three-term veteran Michael Grace, while Alice Roker and Vishnu Patel nailed down two important board positions, giving the Democrats a majority for the first time in a long time. In the months to come, as we dissect the numbers, perhaps we will better understand the contributing factors to these dramatic upsets. We do, however, know this: Democrats voted in record numbers. Were they motivated by a repudiation of the Trump agenda, by local issues or a combination? Only in time will we be able to answer those questions.
What I can tell you is that, first and foremost, we must say thanks as we bid adieu to Supervisor Grace and Councilman Bernard. This town owes a debt of gratitude to both these gentleman for their hard work and dedicated service.
I can also tell you that I’ve known our new supervisor, Ilan Gilbert, for more than 35 years. He is a man of great intelligence, integrity, compassion and character.
I understand that elections leave emotional scars on both sides and this one is no different. What I ask from everyone is that you give this wonderful man a chance to succeed. Regardless of your political stripe, we are all Yorktowners and we owe it to the town we love to roll up our sleeves and work with Lanny to make this town even greater than it is already.
I know I will.
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