By CHRISTIAN FALCONE
Call her county legislator-elect.
After two weeks of anticipation, Catherine Parker was declared victorious in her race for Westchester’s District 7 legislative seat. The final confirmation came on Nov. 19, after Westchester County Board of Election officials pored through hundreds of absentee and affidavit ballots.
The results weren’t enough for Republican John Verni to close a near 400-vote gap as Westchester Republicans had hoped. In fact, Parker’s margin of victory increased by 21 votes after the final tallies.
The delay left little time for the Rye City councilwoman to celebrate; she met with County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, just days later.
Parker said her meeting with Astorino was an effort to try and forge relationships on both sides of the political aisle. Parker, still technically a registered independent, will officially become a Democrat at the outset of 2014.
“I really believe that the county needs to do a better job of bringing everybody together and not being obstructionist and not being ideological,” she said. “I intend very much to work with all my colleagues. I believe that’s how we get things done.”
Parker will face a tough task trying to steer away from partisan influences dictating her decision-making.
The collegiality in White Plains has evaporated in recent times after the relationship between the Republican administration and Democrat-controlled Board of Legislators soured o-nce the county executive was inaugurated in 2010.
The political infighting has reached critical mass at times; board chairman Ken Jenkins, a Yonkers Democrat, has sued the administration over differences with Astorino.
One such lawsuit pertained to Astorino’s asset management agreement with the non-profit Sustainable Playland, Inc. to manage and operate the historic amusement park, which is Westchester County owned.
The status of the park will likely come to a head in early January. And it’s an issue with which Legislator-elect Parker is all too familiar.
There has been a recent grassroots uprising in Rye over the revelation of a 95,000-square-foot fieldhouse proposed for Playland’s main parking lot. There remains some uncertainty as to when the scope and size of the project grew to its current proposal from an initial 70,000-square-foot design concept.
Members of the Rye City Council, including Parker, have faced criticism over claims of unrelenting support for the Sustainable Playland proposal, which grew out of Rye, but Parker said she is eager to tackle the Playland issue and bring her insight to the county level.
“I think I’m in a very unique position coming to White Plains as an elected official from the City of Rye,” she said. “I know one of the things Rye needs is assurance that it will be included in discussions going forward related to what happens with Playland, and some assurance there will be better communication and partnership.”
Parker will soon vacate her Rye City Council seat after six years in office. She also wanted to take a moment to reflect on that experience.
“I’ve really considered it an honor and privilege,” the councilwoman said. “It has been tremendously gratifying on many levels.”
Parker now gives Rye City a firm grip on every state and county legislative seat in the area. Parker will take office alongside state Sen. George Latimer and state Assemblyman Steve Otis, both Rye Democrats.
Parker’s victory is impressive in an election in which Democrats were unable to wrestle any additional control of county government. Parker was able to win holding only the Democratic party line on the ballot, while her opponent Verni ran on four lines.
She attributed her success to widespread support of Democrats across the Sound Shore district.
“I certainly feel that their support was what pulled me over the finish line,” she said. “Yes, I have my eyes wide open, but I’m not taking my eyes off what I believe are priorities for the district.”
She said she was able to stick to her message throughout the campaign.
“I think that, clearly, the number one issue, at least in our district, was the property tax burden,” she said. “I made it very clear from the beginning, this was certainly the issue voters cared most about. They were voting with their pocketbooks. They heard my message and responded to that.”
As for her Republican opponent, Verni, who said he would remain active in the Mamaroneck community, w-ished Parker well in her new role after a clean campaign that lacked the animosity of many others.
“We both agreed that it was a cordial race based on issues. No mud slinging,” he said. “A race that others should emulate.”