Almost 10 years ago today, in the early stages of my career as a political consultant, I found myself in a booth at a popular local watering hole, joined by the chair of the Yorktown GOP at the time, and our assemblyman, wargaming out who we could ask to be on our ticket for the November elections.
We had not elected a Republican to the Town Board since 1997. There was not a deep bench of potential candidates to draw from. It was clear that we wanted a local business owner by the name of Dr. Terrence Murphy leading the slate, and he had tentatively agreed to do so, after we pitched him on the idea of a team campaign based on a slogan from Benjamin Franklin, “Well done is better than well said.”
We struggled to find someone for the town supervisor slot, where we had last elected someone in 2005. No one was interested.
It was a long-shot, but I knew of a gadfly of sorts, an enrolled Democrat with perennial fond illusions of a third-party campaign, by the name of Susan Siegel. We agreed we would offer her the Republican line, in the hopes that having a full team would make us appear more competitive and improve our chances of winning at least one race. To our delight, both the candidate and the Republican Committee heartily endorsed our plan.
Seven months later, then Councilman-elect Murphy was sitting on the largest number of votes in town history and we had propelled Supervisor-elect Siegel to a surprising upset with 55 percent of the vote.
As we soon learned, for as much as Susan Siegel lectured us about good government during the campaign, she so very rarely practiced it.
Many of the things we had talked about in her messaging and mail—the needless delays caused by the Town Board to permit applicants like the winery, the loss of state and federal grants, the want for a dog park, a senior center, a hasty approval of Costco, an expansion of our sewerage capacity, and the completion of the Bear Mountain Extension—were immediately walked back, or worse, scuttled.
The Republicans who had endorsed her received every excuse under the sun for why things were not moving or why they could not be done.
Two years later, she drew a primary challenge from an enrolled Republican and went down to defeat in November with just 28 percent of the vote (Editor’s Note: It was a three-person race).
In 2014, through a bargain between the right-wing Conservative Party and the ultra-left wing Working Families Party (that could only happen in the world of New York’s “electoral fusion” politics), Susan Siegel managed to ride five lines to victory in a special election to fill the unexpired term of one of our former councilmembers, eking out a victory with just 50.5 percent of the vote.
The next year, she was up for re-election. To spur investment, our GOP slate had unveiled a plan to participate in the state’s 485-b commercial and industrial tax incentive program, which would offer a modest tax break to property owners who invest in infrastructure improvements.
Susan Siegel, once again proclaiming herself an expert, confidently told the Yorktown News at the time that there was no such program. There was nothing that the town could to do offer incentives to anyone, notwithstanding the fact she believes it is the town’s role to dictate nearly every other aspect of a project to an applicant, down to the font on their signage.
She finished last in a field of four candidates. Her GOP-majority successors on the Town Board enacted the program in 2017.
In her glib “reality check” op-ed two weeks ago, we read more of the same. Paragraphs and paragraphs of reasons why it is neither the town’s function nor responsibility to be helpful to applicants and existing property owners trying to expand or improve our commercial tax base. To her, the town can and should tell you how to do everything else in your life, just not that.
As a former supervisor and councilwoman, she is entitled to sanctimonious guest commentary. But to call it a “reality check” is farcical, when as Susan Siegel showed us time-and-again, her actions seldom lived up to her rhetoric.
Susan Siegel was voted out of office, twice, because she is the embodiment of what many know to be the biggest issue with our current town administration. They tell you why you can’t do something, instead of showing you ways you can.
The next time a former supervisor and councilwoman tells you all the reasons we as a town cannot strive to innovate and improve, you may want to ask them why she contradicted nearly everything she ran on to get elected in the first place. It is unfortunate that the current board majority seems to share her mindset.
That is the voter’s reality. We are not better off than we were two years ago here in Yorktown. There are more vacancies, more red tape and more excuses.
As much as Susan Siegel has styled herself a student of public administration, planning and zoning, she forever seems to miss the lesson from Dr. Franklin that we first campaigned on together: that well done, is better than well said.
Chris Arnold is chairperson of the Yorktown Republican Town Committee.