By PHIL NOBILE
In an unexpected rematch of two years ago, Harrison mayoral candidates incumbent Ron Belmont and Joan Walsh went toe-to-toe Tuesday in the town’s first election season debate.
Incumbent Mayor Ron Belmont, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger, former Mayor Joan Walsh, traded shots about issues surrounding the community.
Questions each candidate faced included transparency of board meetings, bringing in a full-time municipal manager and cutting the mayor position to part-time, reinvigorating downtown Harrison and extending the mayor’s term to four years instead of two. The debate, which took place at the Veteran’s Memorial Building on Halstead Avenue, was sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
In their opening statements, the candidates made their differing positions immediately clear.
“We’re investing to make our town better,” Belmont, who is finishing out his first-term in office, said. “I’m not a politician, I have no agenda, and I have no score to settle. I’m here to help the residents.”
Walsh expressed concern with aspects of Belmont’s brand of governance.
“The town is living beyond its means,” she said. “We have to curb our spending.”
On the topic of board meetings, Belmont received criticism regarding the brevity of Town Council meetings.
“When I was a mayor, there was discussion, there were comments between members of the board,” Walsh said regarding her two terms as town mayor from 2008 to 2011. “Unless you talk about it, there is no transparency.”
Belmont fired back. “Our meetings may be brief, but I have allowed anyone to speak. We’re there to conduct a business meeting; it’s not a show. We are a $58 million dollar business, and I want to run it that way.”
When asked about reducing the mayor’s position to part-time and bringing in a full-time municipal manager, like neighboring communities such as Rye, Mamaroneck and New Rochelle, Belmont expressed frustration, claiming he reached out Harrison Democrats earlier this year to discuss the potential of a such a change but never heard back from them. He said the decision to change the level of the mayor’s involvement would ultimately need to be “a bipartisan one.”
“It would have to be a position between myself, a past elected official, people from each committee,” Belmont said. “I discussed it with the Democratic Committee, and I was told ‘I’ll get back to you.’”
The candidates also expressed differences on the idea of extending the mayoral term to four years rather than two. While Belmont expressed
adamant support for the idea, citing the period of time it takes to campaign as mayor, Walsh agreed with the burdensome task of having to run every two years, but disagreed with some of the possible effects of making the change.
“It has pluses and minuses,” Walsh said. “What you would have then; you would always run with the same councilmen, unless you extended their terms.”
In his closing statement, Belmont touted the job he’s done while in office, and further stressed his financial philosophy.
“We are not spending: we are investing in our town,” he said.
“After my first year in office, our fund balance is well over $7.5 million. When Joan was in office, there was a 30 percent tax increase in her four years, and our reserve was in the negatives. These are things you have to do: you have to invest.”
Belmont defeated Walsh, then an incumbent, in 2011.
Walsh replied to the mayor’s comments by saying it was “time for change.”
“When I saw what was going on and heard the comments of the people, I came back,” Walsh said about the Republican monopoly of the town board. “We do have a one party government at the moment, and I don’t think that’s healthy for any organization.”
Election Day is Nov. 5.