Continuing my effort to present to you with the opinions of every candidate for local office, I offer for your consideration my interview with yet another office-seeker, newcomer Rob Puff, who is running for a seat on the Yorktown Town Board:
Please tell us a little about yourself—your schools, family, occupation, etc.
I am the proud son of Robert Sr. and Bernadette Puff, and brother to Lori Sheehy, Doug Puff, Judy Johnson, Veronica Shubert, Dawn Palumbo and Mike Puff. I come from a very blue-collar upbringing where our family kept hard work and integrity as the foundational principles at everything we do. I am a graduate of Walter Panas High School (2004), and completed my undergraduate studies at UConn (BS in international business management, 2008, and BA in political science, 2009). I went on to earn my Master of Public Administration from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in 2015. Professionally, I work for New York Life Insurance Co. in Midtown Manhattan, where as a partner, I currently hire, develop and ultimately strive to promote sales professionals after they’ve established their own business.
Growing up, who did you look up to the most in politics?
I’ve always looked at the top of our political world (presidents) for guidance and examples of sound practice or policy. They face the most scrutiny and have the weight of a great people on their shoulders. In particular, there is one person I’d like to highlight:
President George W. Bush--a pivotal leader in my lifetime. The president caught tremendous headwinds regarding the decision to invade Iraq and the financial crisis toward the end of his presidency that may ultimately shape his legacy. I’ve looked at him as a role model not because I love all of his policy decisions, but because he [made them] with steadfast and unwavering conviction when it wasn’t the popular thing to do. The troop surge he ordered in 2006 in Iraq ultimately stabilized the war effort before handing the provisional government control of military operations. A good political servant must not be a weathervane and change when tides of public opinion shift, and in that regard he was a great example.
It’s rare for first-timers to win running for the town board, but it has happened. Do you see this as an uphill race?
This is not my first dabble in politics, just the first time I’ve been the candidate. I’ve worked on local and national campaigns and have seen the work necessary to win and where candidates have succeeded and why others have failed. In that respect, I don’t know that any race has to be uphill. I think being in tune with the electorate and listening rather than dictating the terms of the race was going to be important. I’ve been on the campaign trail officially since March and have spent the entirety of our campaigning listening first and acting second. We are providing a platform for our neighbors in a way most politicians don’t by going to them and hearing their concerns and using their feedback to drive our campaign. My neighbors across town have expressed the need to feel heard and many times we find ourselves spending 20 to 30 minutes at a door with someone who just wants to vent—good, bad or indifferent. If elected, I’ll make this a regular routine and not something that only occurs around election time. We have kept and will continue to keep the voter, not the candidate, at the center of our race.
What three issues do you feel the present town board has handled well, and why?
I think our town board has done a tremendous job in keeping the taxpayer in mind with zero tax increases the last five years, and this is a direct accomplishment of Supervisor Grace, who has worked with a different cast of board members throughout his tenure. To have the eight-figure budget surplus our town enjoys without raising taxes is a testament to the bipartisan work the board has done.
Another major issue that the board has handled well has been working with local, state or federal agencies in opening communication channels and eliminating red tape for businesses and major projects to take form. Many people see empty storefronts (we seem them, too), but don’t know why or how to fix it. My opponents expect to wait to address these issues if elected rather than meet these businesses now in anticipation of what needs to be done and, quite frankly, the taxpayers can’t afford on-the-job training. The majority on the board the last few years has been focused on updating or replacing outdated standards from previous administrations that created the shortfall in businesses in the Heights in the first place. The adoption of the 485-b tax incentive for businesses is one example of real solutions proposed.
Finally, the board has recognized the need for a renewed investment in our infrastructure. This year there was roughly $1.5 million additional funds added to the highway department budget to pave roads that need serious repair. Making sound financial decisions and investments such as this make our town more attractive, directly impacting property values. This creates a personal return on our tax dollars without having to invest additional personal dollars into our homes above and beyond the individual tax levy.
If elected, what would be your three most important objectives?
On Day One, I will propose legislation for the creation of an organization called “The Council for Common Ground” to foster open discussion around town issues. There will be rotating moderators with strict limits regarding the open forum which will bring some of the hateful comments directed at the board meetings--which are intended to update the public on the state of the town--to a venue where your comments can be heard. This will hopefully filter out the heated rhetoric on both sides of the aisle and can let our board meetings run more smoothly and efficiently, allowing the board to get down to the real issues that need to be addressed to keep Yorktown moving forward.
Second, it is a major priority to continue to follow sound fiscal practices when it pertains to our taxpayers’ dollars, especially for our limited income seniors. The current board has a stellar record of keeping this in mind and I’d like to enhance it by creating additional transparency around how some of those decisions are made, and if possible, look to find additional ways to cut the budget and run more efficiently. To do so, we will need a red pen and an itemized budget by line item to see where dollars can be better allocated, including back to the taxpayers’ pockets.
We can also lessen this burden and shift the tax revenue coming almost exclusively from individuals by continuing to attract new businesses (which creates new jobs), and creating private-public partnerships where an overlap in services can be eliminated.
Last and certainly not the only other objective, is to continue to find ways to keep returning college students in Yorktown. To do this, it will require a combination of local job growth that can pay competitive wages that will rival big-market cities as well as the availability of modern, yet affordable, housing. This will take time and many factors are at play, but bringing this to the forefront of the issues ensures the next generation of Yorktown residents can be ready and able to take the torch.