By CHRISTIAN FALCONE
Republican Councilman Peter Jovanovich, who walked away from potential runs with both of the city’s major political parties, has decided to go the independent route in an effort to become mayor.
Jovanovich announced his decision in an email to family, friends and supporters this week, declaring his intention to challenge Councilman Joe Sack, a Republican, who received the GOP nomination for mayor earlier this summer and had been the only mayoral candidate, to date.
The news has certainly stirred what was panning out to be an otherwise dull election cycle in Rye.
Four seats are in play this election cycle, including that of the mayor since incumbent Douglas French, a Republican, announced he would not seek re-election months ago.
Jovanovich planned two prep sessions, after press time, on Aug. 1 and Aug. 3, to determine the effort needed to run an independent campaign.
“Rye deserves a choice in November, and I’m counting on you to help me make that happen,” Jovanovich, 64, stated in the email.
As an independent candidate, the one-term councilman needs to collect signatures by an Aug. 20 deadline in order to appear on the general election ballot in November. Jovanovich’s term on the City Council expires at the end of 2013.
In order for Jovanovich to appear on a party line, he would have had to submit petitions by July 11, according to a representative from the state Board of Elections. Since he didn’t pursue that route with either major party, Jovanovich was left with no other option than to run as an independent candidate.
In Rye, more than 2,300 of roughly 10,000 registered voters are unaffiliated with any political party.
“I believe that the City of Rye can only be made a better place through the collaboration of Democrats, Republicans and independents,” Jovanovich said. “The challenges we face are practical, not partisan, and we need volunteers from all points of the political spectrum.”
In announcing his run, Jovanovich referred to a seven-point plan as the focus of his campaign. The plan touches on issues like infrastructure, union negotiations, financial sustainability and the Rye library.
However, any election in Rye this year is likely to include a lengthy debate over recent scandals that have engulfed the city and what culpability the current administration may hold.
But over the past year, as the city has endured ongoing criticism for its handling of a Rye Golf Club management fraud scandal and a Rye TV controversy in which senior city officials were accused of concealing a videotape, Jovanovich has become increasingly outspoken in defense of the city administration and City Manager Scott Pickup‑an ongoing target of scrutiny for his role in both scandals‑in particular.
There was speculation Jovanovich was not physically capable of serving another four-year term due to ongoing health problems. During a period from October 2012 through the end of last year, Jovanovich missed six of 11 City Council meetings.
However, the councilman has, in fact, been keen on running for mayor for the past few years, according to sources.
Earlier this year, Sack, a political rival of Jovanovich, announced that he would run for mayor. Sack, in his second term on the City Council, easily won the GOP nomination. At the time, Jovanovich considered a challenge to Sack for the Republican line, but backed out when it seemed clear that GOP leadership, particularly chairman Tony Piscionere, was firmly in Sack’s corner.
“Peter Jovanovich’s position on so many issues has been so wrong for the City of Rye that I believe he is unelectable,” Piscionere said. “People who live in Rye deserve better than to have him running for office, let alone elected to office.”
The Rye Democrats, who were ultimately unable to field a mayoral candidate of their own, did consider running Jovanovich as their mayoral choice, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. But in the end, the Democrats are only running two City Council candidates, Meg Cameron and Shari Punyon.
When notified of Jovanovich’s candidacy, Sack said he welcomed his City Council colleague to the race.
“I believe that I have been on the right side of the issues over the past few years,” Sack said. “Unfortunately, as a result of some of the scandals during the outgoing administration, people have lost confidence in the way government has run.”
Sack is running on a “Rye United” ticket with Republican Councilwoman Julie Killian and political newcomers Kirsten Bucci and Terry McCartney.
Jovanovich, who also serves as Mayor French’s deputy, was first elected in 2009, running as a Republican on the “Change for Rye” ticket with French, Suzanna Keith and Richard Filippi. The quartet touted a platform of transforming city government, increasing transparency and restoring the tone and tenor of City Council meetings. The message was highly effective and resonated with the voters as the quartet swept in office in decisive fashion.
Today, Keith is no longer in office and Filippi has no plans to seek re-election, having never officially declared his intentions.
Jovanovich made his first political run in 2005 as a Republican, but was defeated. That year saw a faction of the GOP break off and form its own coalition known as the Citizens First Party. It was the first sign of a public rift within the party.
Jovanovich is a former textbook publisher with Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Pearson Education and MacMillan/McGraw Hill School Publishing and currently heads a nonprofit, the Alfred Harcourt Foundation, which provides college scholarship money to disadvantaged students in the metropolitan area. Currently, the foundation gives approximately $650,000 a year in scholarship money.
Jovanovich is a graduate of Princeton University and has lived in Rye for more than 20 years with his wife Robin, who is the publisher and editor of The Rye Record, a local newspaper to which he sometimes contributes.
The mayor of Rye is elected to a four-year term, and serves with no compensation