We have a hotly contested town board race this fall in Yorktown. To fairly present each candidate’s point of view, I am attempting to conduct four interviews. The first to reply to my inquiry is our former town clerk Alice Roker.
You have a fabulous reputation as a long serving public servant. Two years ago, you retired from the position of town clerk. Can you tell us what you’ve been doing these past years?
I left local government on Dec. 31, 2015. It took some time to get used to not working, not having to get up at 6:30 a.m. I remember chuckling to myself the first time I woke and saw snow falling. I have a normal life. I have gone on several trips. I’ve learned to play canasta and have a meal with my friends without looking at the clock. I’ve gone to a few seminars. During 2016, I was president of the Yorktown Rotary and became a member of the Yorktown Enrichment Center’s Board of Directors.
What made you get back in public life?
This was not an easy decision. Several friends of mine thought it was a bad idea. Oftentimes, when people are disturbed by something, they criticize whatever it is. After watching several town board meetings on television, it seemed to me that people were talking, but no one was listening. During my years as town clerk, I sat at countless town board meetings, some of them were quite spirited, but every board member listened, whether they agreed or disagreed with the speaker. They listened without interrupting. As you know, public meetings can be frustrating, but people have the right to be heard.
The town started outdoor summertime board meetings when Linda Cooper was supervisor. This gave the board an opportunity to hear from people in different neighborhoods. It also gave the town the opportunity to showcase places such as the Hilltop Hanover Farm, Teatown Lake Reservation, and the Mohansic Golf Course, or to see Mohegan Lake and Trump Park. Over the years, there were complaints from some members of the board, saying these meetings were inconvenient or that not a lot of people were showing up. My feeling was that if one new person showed up, it was worthwhile. This is the lesson that was made loud and clear during the 2016 presidential election—people do not have confidence in government. We can debate the reasons why, but I believe that local government has the greatest opportunity to change those feelings of mistrust. I feel I can make that difference. That’s why I decided to run.
What actions of the current board do you applaud? What actions do you disagree with?
I am thrilled that the board was able to negotiate and get a portion of the money that will go to new ballfields. I applaud the men and women who volunteer their time to keep our young people busy with sports. But, I don’t think the board should have tunnel vision. Hopefully, money has been set aside to maintain the other fields and assets such as Sparkle Lake and the town’s tennis courts, which also need attention. I have only attended two board meetings since leaving. I disagree with the proposal to do away with the town’s affordable housing law. The Westchester County Board of Legislators used that law as a model for other municipalities. There are two affordable housing developments in Yorktown that are wonderful—one is a family-oriented community called Crompond Crossing; the other is Wynwood Oaks, a senior community on East Main Street. Also, I question why the board would propose a change to the current environmental protection policies when they work. So many people showed up to oppose the move. At the end of the night, the board voted the proposal down. Why try to fix what works? How many times did people appear before the town board to speak to the board about flooding in their homes?
If you are elected, can you share with us three objectives you hope to accomplish?
Economic development is a big issue in Yorktown. People question why we are still erecting new buildings when there are so many empty storefronts and buildings. There is criticism that we do not have a plan. That’s correct. Before any plan is formulated, you have to understand why empty buildings exist here. I believe a meeting with the owners of these buildings needs to take place. It is easy to speculate about the reasons why, but why not ask the owners? One of the reasons could be that it is a way to lower their tax burden. It could also be because of the way we shop—many people now shop in the comfort of their home by using the computer. The restaurant industry didn’t post good numbers last year, either. It was good to hear that the town board reinstituted the town’s tax incentive program. But, it is property owners who receive this benefit. What about helping young entrepreneurs? Since Yorktown is home to Mercy College, why not look into Start-Up NY, which allows new businesses to operate tax-free on or near eligible campuses in New York? This program works in private colleges in lower Westchester. I think the town could benefit from hearing from business experts.
Several months ago, I spoke to the attorney for two nearby proposed developments and suggested that this affords the town a great opportunity to amend the Comprehensive Plan. An amendment to the plan would require new studies of the area. It also would allow the neighbors and the general public to be heard. The town also has an opportunity to keep the public more informed through its social media platform and the government channel. Also, something needs to happen with the hazardous traffic intersections such as Route 35 near the shopping centers as well as Commerce Street. I have no way of knowing what can be done, if anything, but it is worth looking at.
The nature of politics has turned decidedly nastier in the past 20 years. Do you anticipate that happening in this fall’s election? Can anything be done to keep the campaign positive and issue-oriented?
I will not be the one who throws the first stone. My sincere hope is that it will remain issue-oriented. In 1989, even though I had no public record, I made promises to the people in Yorktown and I am proud to say that I kept them. Every election since then, I have run on my record of accomplishments.
Can you share any final thoughts directed at undecided voters?
I would like undecided voters, or those who do not participate in local elections, to read information about me, and my record, and consider me on Election Day. I appreciate the opportunity that you have given me.