By JASON CHIREVAS
In 2012, 28-year-old Andres Bermudez Hallstrom was the youngest person elected to the Village of Mamaroneck Board of Trustees in 30 years and the first Latino ever to sit on the dais. Two years later, there’s no place for him on his party’s ticket.
The village Democratic Party released its candidates for November’s elections on May 20. Joining incumbents Leon Potok and Ilissa Miller is Dave Finch, a village resident of more than 30 years and veteran of the international banking industry who has served the village as a volunteer in several capacities.
The trio will try to fill the three trustee seats up for grabs in November.
Bermudez Hallstrom said he will not let the village Democrats’ decision deter him from trying to remain in office. A May 22 post on a new website, friendsofandres.com, clarified his intention to primary on Sept. 9 for a spot on the Election Day ballot as a Democrat. He said the village party’s choices for trustee are endorsements, not nominations, and it will be up to the village’s registered Democratic voters to determine the ticket.
“I’m confident that I’m going to win a primary,” he said. “I want the Democratic nomination. I’m a Democrat.”
Village Mayor Norman Ros-en-blum, a Republican, said he asked Bermudez Hallstrom if he might be interested in running on the Republican trustee ticket, but Bermudez Hallstrom said he’s a committed Democrat. The mayor said though he doesn’t often agree with Bermudez Hallstrom, he does meet the one criterion Rosenblum looks for in a village trustee.
“I can say 100 percent of the time, I believe he does what he believes is best for the Village of Mamaroneck,” Rosenblum said. “That’s all anyone can ask for.”
Village Republicans have yet to announce their slate of trustee candidates.
The village Democratic Party’s announcement came in response to one from Bermudez Hallstrom, earlier on May 20, in which he addressed the party’s decision to leave him off the slate.
“I was shocked to find my message of good government for all residents, regardless of neighborhood, did not reach the inner circle of the Democratic Party,” he said. “Or at least the members of the nominating committee.”
The seven-member nominating committee, led by party chairwoman Elizabeth Saenger, was formed in February to seek potential trustee candidates.
According to Saenger, the committee interviewed Bermudez Hallstrom on March 16. On March 21, Saenger said, Bermudez Hallstrom requested a special meeting of Mamaroneck’s Democratic district leaders. The meeting was held at Saenger’s home on March 30. At the meeting, Saenger said Bermudez Hallstrom pro-posed to do away with the nominating committee process and install the incumbent Democratic trustees—himself, Miller and Potok—as the nominees for this year’s general election. The proposal was soundly defeated in a vote, according to Saenger.
On May 17, Saenger and fellow committee member Randi Robinowitz informed Bermudez Hallstrom he would not be one of the chosen three.
“We’ve had two years since 2012,” Saenger said. “I don’t think once someone is elected, they should be elected for life. You have a process every year.”
Saenger said the nominating committee’s decision to go with Finch, Miller and Potok was unanimous.
Bermudez Hallstrom made the committee’s decision public with his May 20 release, forcing the party to release its statement.
Bermudez Hallstrom, Miller and Potok swept into office in 2012. The three Democrats formed a majority on the five-member board, but, almost from the start, the voting block was less than rock solid.
In January 2013, Bermudez Hallstrom, an attorney in private practice in the village, publicly criticized longtime village activists Dan Natchez and Sue McCrory—both consistent opponents of development at Mamaroneck Beach and Yacht Club—who he said should leave it to elected officials to best decide what’s right for the village.
In more recent times, Bermudez Hallstrom has taken positions tradition would suggest are counter to the village Democratic Party’s viewpoint.
He spearheaded a new law, passed in April, banning smoking in the village’s parks. Some within the party thought the effort, and the law, was a waste of time.
Later in April, Bermudez Hallstrom blasted the village’s decision to pay $27,000 to village activist Stuart Tiekert to settle the civil rights portion of a lawsuit Tiekert filed in 2012 against Rosenblum and Village Manager Richard Slingerland. In voting to oppose the settlement, Bermudez Hallstrom said Tiekert’s legal actions against the village over the years have been a continued financial burden on the taxpayers.
Tiekert was the village Democratic Party chairman when Bermudez Hallstrom, Miller and Potok were first nominated for trustee.
Bermudez Hallstrom said he has no personal gripe with Natchez, McCrory or Tiekert, but he finds it disconcerting that a small number of people with whom he has been at odds may hold undue sway over the process of nominating candidates for a major party.
Earlier this month, Bermudez Hallstrom voted with Rosenblum and Republican Trustee Louis Santoro to revise village code to render the volunteer Harbor Coastal Zone Management Commission strictly advisory. Previously, the commission was able to determine whether or not proposed development projects are consistent with the village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, a legislative guideline co-sponsored by the state. Following the change, the Board of Trustees can take or leave the Harbor Coastal commission’s consistency opinion without having to provide evidence to the state about why it might want to override the commission’s determination.
“I think it’s improper that an elected board should have to go to the state to overrule a decision by an appointed board on a matter that is in the purview of the elected board,” Bermudez Hallstrom said.
Potok was the lone dissenter in the vote to make the Harbor Coastal commission advisory. Miller was not present for the vote, but she said she would have voted with Potok.
After witnessing Bermudez Hallstrom’s actions and positions on the dais in recent months, a source close to the village Democratic Party has seen enough.
“Andres is not a big thinker, he doesn’t think about the ramifications of what he’s doing,” the source said. “I’m
embarrassed for us as a community.”
Bermudez Hallstrom refutes that assertion wholesale.
“I give a lot of thought and consideration to my decisions as a trustee,” he said. “I took an oath of office to represent the best interests of the village. I never took an oath of party. If it ever comes down to what is best for the village and what will please the party, I will always come down for the village.”
The three candidates who did make the village Democrats’ slate are looking ahead.
Finch, 71, is a political newcomer Saenger said she is delighted to have on the ticket. He enters a race with its share of controversy already and a hurdle before the general election. If he fails to earn more votes than Bermudez Hallstrom in the September primary, he won’t even make it to November. Still, Finch said he’s ready for the challenge.
“I am going to put myself fully into this,” Finch said. “I’m fully ready to knock on doors and stand on platforms. I have some structural advantages; I have the party behind me.”
Miller, 42, said she enjoys working with Bermudez Hallstrom even if they don’t always agree. For her, this year’s election will be about continuing the work she began in her first term.
“One of the biggest things I’m proud of is the creation of the industrial area committee,” she said. “It’s about how we’re creating opportunities to enable change in a positive way. Not all change is bad.”
Despite the party’s problems with Bermudez Hallstrom and the jeopardy in which the village party’s majority on the board has been placed, Potok, 63, said there’s too much at stake in the village to walk away now.
“There is much to be accomplished for the village. I have worked hard to bring fiscal responsibility, transparency, and fresh ideas to the board,” Potok said. “I look forward to campaigning with my Democratic running mates.”
The identity of those running mates will apparently be determined on Sept. 9.
Village trustees are elected at-large to two-year terms with an annual salary of $4,950 and healthcare benefits.