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Eastchester town supervisor candidates: Michael Denning

Michael Denning

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Age: 43

Status: Challenger

Political affaliation: Democratic nominee

Party endorsements: None

Occupation: Retired police officer

Family: Wife JoAnn and two children: Joseph, 6, and Kristina, 4

Community involvement: Bronxville Manor Association, Eastchester police officer, raised money for a scholarship in town: the Michael Frey Scholarship

What’s one thing the average voter doesn’t know about you?

“I take care of an elderly couple with dementia.”

Q: Why did you decide to challenge the current supervisor?

A: It started as a rumor by my former coworkers of mine from the Town of Eastchester. I don’t know who started the rumor, but the rumor started, and it kept snowballing for about six or seven months that I was running for supervisor. After about seven months of that rumor floating, I was up in the air whether to run or not, and my opponent said “he’s not running” so that made my decision to run.

Q: Without any prior political experience, what qualities and skills do you think make you qualified to be supervisor?

A: My leadership qualities. I was president of the Eastchester Police Association for two years and vice president for seven years. I was president of Police Lodge 9 for, I believe, eight years. I was the financial secretary for the Police Emerald Society of Westchester for six years. My colleagues all find confidence in me to lead them.

Q: Eastchester is considered one of a handful of GOP strongholds in Westchester. With registered Republicans outnumbering registered Democrats, how have you tried to attract crossover voters and independents?

A: Going from door to door, knocking on every door. Even doors with Colavita’s sign on the lawn; I stop in and introduce myself, and I was told, “Wow, it takes some guts to come up.” Well, it takes guts to run for office and to run a town.

Q: If elected, you will be the only Democrat on the Town Council. How would you work well with the other members while accomplishing the goals you feel are important for the town?

A: That’s why I said we need a bipartisan board; to have a different voice. We all have opinions and, collectively, come up with answers to whatever issues that come up in the town. Right now, it’s all one side on the board. All the councilmen were appointed by the supervisor. They may go against me, and I’ll go against them, but we’ll work it out one way or another, and we’ll all work together. I’m a firm believer in doing what’s right for the people and not what’s right for the party.

Q: If elected, what would your three main priorities be? 

A: My big priority is to go after money from the New York State lottery to help fund our schools. The school tax represents something like between 56 and 64 percent of your tax bill. That 56 to 64 percent is the biggest chunk of your tax bill. I’m going to go to Albany and fight to get money for our schools from the lottery. We’re drastically underfunded. In the 30-year history of the lottery, Eastchester, Tuckahoe and Bronxville combined have received an equivalent of just under $4 million from the lottery in 30 years. Our neighbors in Pelham in 30 years have got $5.5 million. Dobbs Ferry $8.4 million, a comparable area to us,Yorktown, got $38.4, Carmel got $56 million and Lakeland got $81 million over the 30 years. Last year alone, they got $5.9 million. They got more in one year for their schools than our three schools combined for 30 years. It’s a convoluted formula in the State of New York in the Department of Education how they dole the money out and it’s going to take an active legislator to change that law and how that formula is done. The next thing I would do is also go back to the state and try to get sales tax dollars to make sure they get credited to Eastchester. There’s a whole host of stores with a Scarsdale P.O. Then there’s vehicles. There’s vehicles registered all with Scarsdale P.O.s. There’s thousands of cars to the tune of millions of dollars that were purchased and paid sales tax on that were credited to the Village of Scarsdale. I want to get more pedestrian-friendly stuff. More sidewalks in town. We’re lacking sidewalks along Wilmot Road and the north end of California Road. Going up to Lake Isle, there’s no sidewalks there, no sidewalks on New Rochelle Road. So I’m trying to get more pedestrian-friendly areas of town along the bus routes.

Q: How would you keep taxes as low as possible while still preserving the quality of life that residents are used to? 

A: The typical tax bill in Eastchester is $20,000. I wouldn’t be opposed to going outside the tax cap to keep the services that people are used to in Eastchester and enjoy in Eastchester. But you have to sell it to them and say, listen, this is a minimal increase if it’s above the 1.66 percent now. You have to sell it to them and list all the services that you get and enlighten them as to what exactly it is that their portion of their tax bill is going for that service. Just that portion is going to go up that little bit extra, if necessary.

Q: Privatizing services, including maintenance at Lake Isle, has been a focus of the current administration. Do you think this is the right move for the town and how would you try to save money where possible?

A: Privatization, I think, opens up different avenues for the possibility of corruption, the possibility of bid rigging. I’m not necessarily completely for it. The golf course does look better now that the maintenance crew is there, but, again, provided the right tools and the right education, somebody else can do it. The employees that [Colavita] laid off from there, the 12 employees from Lake Isle, and, like he said, he cut the work force by a quarter. He laid off 50 employees. Most people that work for the town are residents of the Town of Eastchester. The money they’re paid keeps circulating around the town. They buy their groceries here, they buy their gas, they register their car and pay their tax to Eastchester, pay the tax on their property if they own a home here. As far as privatization of the grass cutting that’s going on landscaping around town, the Highway Department guys used to do that. By privatizing that, they went to a contractor who’s not from town, so he’s going to purchase his machines out of town, his car is registered out of town, he’s going to buy his lunch before he goes to work outside of town, he’s going to gas up his truck and all his machines outside of town. Whereas, if you didn’t do the privatization, you get preferred contractors from within the town that live in the town, has his business in the town, his property tax is being paid, he’s buying his gas within the town, he’s buying his lunch in the town, registering his vehicles in town. All of that money circles back.

Q: What is the biggest issue facing Eastchester?

A: The taxes. Like everybody says, the taxes keep rising. Again, it’s that school tax. That’s the biggest one. They’ve seen 11 and 14 percent increases in school taxes. And people can no longer sustain that, and I think that’s why the government put in that two percent tax cap, which, again, can be voted by the people to exceed that tax cap for the school budgets. They constantly are threatening that they are going to take things away. Me, as an elected official, I will fight for not just the 15 percent tax we’re getting for the town, I’m going to fight for 100 percent of your taxes, whether it be for the county, the sewer district, the fire district or the schools. I’m going to fight for all of them and try to get the greatest value for your buck.

Q: What is your stance on the HUD settlement? And do you think Eastchester needs more affordable housing?

A: The HUD settlement is a countywide thing. I don’t know what the responsibility or the allotment of possibility of housing in Eastchester there may be. We already do have Section 8 housing in town, providing affordable housing for people in town. We do have within the town and the Village of Tuckahoe, there’s just a $30 million grant to renovate 100 Columbus [Avenue], which is an affordable unit building. So I think there’s ample affordable housing in town now. We can always say we need more, but the space to build is minimal. We want to keep within the current aesthetics of the town and keep within our current zoning laws.

Q: What is the biggest criticism you have of the current administration?

A: I think it’s most people’s criticism that he does not return phone calls. I left there in 2005 and he came on in 2004. Before I left to go to the Westchester County police, people had said to me then that he doesn’t return phone calls. It was said by one individual that’s the same as his law practice, he doesn’t return phone calls. When you’re working for the people, you have to respond to the people whether that will be phone call, email or going over to their house. Whatever it is to try to see what their needs are. That would be the one criticism I have. The other criticism I have is he appointed everyone on the board to go with his direction.

-Reporting by Chris Eberhart