Family: Married; two children, Michelle and Matthew
Political Affiliation: Non-affiliated
Political Experience: Four years as mayor/supervisor of
Town/Village of Harrison
Community Affiliations: Former supervisor for the Department
of Recreation for 20 years
Years in Harrison: Lifelong resident
Q: It is extremely unusual for a sitting mayor to face a primary challenge. How surprising was it to hear that Philip Marraccini was back in the fold?
A: It was surprising to realize and to find out he was challenging me in the primary.
Q: What type of relationship, if any, do you have with the former mayor?
A: We’ve always had a good relationship. I was superintendent of [recreation] when he was mayor, so we’ll just let it go at that.
Q: What do you remember of his tenure as Harrison’s mayor?
A: I’d rather not talk about the past.
Q: How would you describe your experiences as mayor?
A: I think it’s been great. I started calling residents last night, and my wife was helping me, the response was overwhelmingly positive. My people don’t know why this [primary] is happening, but it’s all part of the political process.
Ma Riis Park has been rejuvenated, the library is going to open Sept. 12, that was a great combination of the community, a private individual and the town pooling all the resources together. Verizon FiOS is in town, no other mayor could do that. I don’t boast my accomplishments, but FiOS, I started that before I was sworn in and we got it done. The Metro-North project, it has been in existence for 20-plus years, everyone wanted to do something there, but nothing was ever done. It got done. I’ll be a lot happier when I cut the ribbon and people start living there, but we’re on our way.
These are some of the things that I’ve done, but I don’t say “I”, I say “we” because some people don’t like the way I govern, where everyone’s involved. Fred Sciliano’s been involved, he’s a construction guru, he’s been involved with the library, he’s there two, three times a week. Negotiations, [Councilman] Cannella has experience with that. When it comes to finances, that’s [Councilman] Malfitano’s forte. Councilwoman Amelio has her specialties, the downtown revitilization efforts that have been done. Our bond rating has gone up three points, now it’s a AA1, hopefully maybe we can get triple A.
Q: What are your priorities going forward if you are re-elected to a third term?
A: I’m going to try and help everyone, and that’s huge. If you live in an area that floods, that’s a priority for you. It’s got to be a priority for me. We’ve done some small flood relief projects; we’re still waiting to do the big ones. We’re in final design for those, once those are done and working with the army corps of engineers, that’s a reality.
If you’re a business owner downtown, our business district needs to be rejuvenated. It looks the same as it did 20 years ago, so it’s in the process of changing. The amount of shops and restaurants that have opened in the last four years is unbelievable, because there’s confidence back in town.
Another priority is getting rid of zombie houses, but when it comes to government, everything’s a process. We need a new courthouse, the [downtown] recreation center is 106 years old, the recreation center in West Harrison is nearly 100 years old. So these are things that have to get done. Our DPW garage needs to get done. Our police station took over a school [more than 30] years ago. We could really use a new police station, we’ve outgrown it.
Q: Development continues to dominate Harrison’s downtown landscape, like the Playhouse Lofts and 249 Halstead Ave., ushering in an unprecedented buildup of Halstead and Harrison avenues. If re-elected, how would your administration ensure smart development, while also adhering to the concerns of residents in the Purchase and West Harrison areas that would like to retain a farm-like
A: Development is good. We’re going to do it reasonably, that’s why we have a planning and zoning board, so we get it done in the right fashion. If we don’t develop, we’re going to dry up on the vine because we have to expand our tax base. We’re trying to develop downtown Harrison and we’re trying to bring people there. We have to get our shops going, our restaurants going. Port Chester did it. Mamaroneck did it—it’s booming now. But those areas took 20 years, it didn’t happen overnight. The development plan is to start moving slow and keep moving in a positive direction.
The other area that has to be developed is Westchester Avenue. Right now it’s empty office space, and office complexes are history. To put luxury, one-to-two-bedroom and studio apartments there makes sense to me. It’ll widen our tax base and keep our services where they are. The infrastructure, sewer and roads are there, it just needs to be re-purposed.
Q: Development is also highlighting some inconsistencies in the zoning code, with the town board having to issue special exception uses with certain projects that move forward. This is especially important as precedents are being set with the Playhouse Lofts, a five-to-six story allowance in a Central Business District that only allows four stories. What can your administration do to bring about uniform use and height in certain zones, or is there a plan to examine the zoning code and make amendments in the future?
A: We study everything, and as I mentioned earlier, I have complete faith in the planning and zoning boards. It’s examined constantly, we look at everything. Everything has to be very specific and everything is looked at individually.
Q: For a time, the Harrison Chamber of Commerce fell by the wayside and went inactive. What can be done to ensure that the new, revitalized efforts, started in April of this year, are sustained and Harrison grows a stronger business community? Are there any business initiatives that can foster a healthier business district?
A: We’re going to work very closely with the chamber. Holly [Sharpe], the president, is a great person and she’s not even a business owner in town, she just cares about Harrison. My thing is, I try to work with someone on whatever they need—be it signage, parking or sanitation—but I would always work with the chamber and the businesses in town. I don’t want to govern the chamber, they’re on their own, but if they ask me for something, I’d try to get it done.
Q: Parking is another major concern for residents. What are some of your plans to address parking headaches in the town? Would you like to see other areas of the town, such as West Harrison, enact a similar residential parking model?
A: When it comes to parking, what I tell people is: it’s not that there’s not enough parking spots, there’s just too many cars. When I grew up, there were five of us and we had one car. Today, there’d be five cars. It’s a problem.
For the parking system, it’s moving forward. Permits are being issued, but the signs have not gone up yet. It’s not going into effect until after Labor Day. We tried to do the same thing in West Harrison, but the problem with parking is it has to be a state initiative. We can’t just make parking rules and regulations; it has to come from Albany. The boundary for Harrison [was] in the attorney general’s office and no one addressed it, so I got involved and now it’s a reality. It may not work, but we’re trying new initiatives.
We have to try new things. The easiest thing to do would be to say, don’t park on the streets at night, but that can’t happen. So we’re trying to do the best we can. If we had no overnight parking in the town, sanitation and snow plowing would be much easier.
Q: What accomplishments as mayor are you most proud of? What do you see as the town’s biggest failure during your tenure?
A: I just think the positive outlook people now have of the town. Everything else leads to that—the bond rating, FiOS, Avalon Harrison and development—flow and the positive atmosphere that people want to live here. Other communities envy us now.
When I first became mayor, we went to other towns to look at sanitation, snow plowing and the police cameras. Now, people are coming here to see how Harrison mulches and looking at our police cameras, and finding out what we’re doing because we’re on the cutting edge of getting things done.
Q: Avalon Harrison, a proposed 143-unit, mixed-use development alongside Harrison’s Metro-North train station, is going to be a hot topic in the months ahead. Is your administration softening its stance on affordable housing and is there more to come? Do you think there needs to be more affordable housing options in the town and which locations are suitable?
A: We’re studying every locality of every development. We’re always exploring options, as part of the [federal] mandate, and we’ll keep exploring options.
Q: Transparency is always in the foreground during an election cycle with many candidates touting it as campaign platform. Grade your efforts at transparency since taking office in 2011.
A: I think it’s an A+. I have a weekly column, I call people on the phone—we hide nothing. What we do is out there. My office is always open; I mean that’s part of the reason why I’m always late on things, people walk in and out all day. I think that’s why our meetings go by quickly; people don’t come to the microphone. They don’t have to come to a town board meeting to see me and address an issue.