By CHRIS EBERHART
Both candidates for Westchester County legislative District 7, Democratic Rye City Councilwoman Catherine Parker and Republican businessman and attorney John Verni, emphasized their bipartisan achievements, but reiterated their parties’ stances on the key issues facing the county in an Oct. 21 debate at the Osborn Retirement Home.
In what is viewed as one of the friendlier races throughout the county, the two candidates are fighting to succeed retiring Democratic Legislator Judy Myers.
When Verni, a real estate developer and restaurant owner, was asked about his experience in government and relevant non-governmental experience, he responded by saying he worked with both parties when he lobbied for safe school buses after a girl was killed in New Rochelle and when he renovated the Mamaroneck train station.
“I lobbied with the state legislature, whether they were Republican or Democrat. I work in a bipartisan way to get results,” Verni, currently living in Larchmont, said. “When I started the project in Mamaroneck, it was a Republican mayor and, halfway through the project, it was a Democrat mayor. And by the time we finished the project, the guy that was head of the Tree Committee had become the new mayor.”
Catherine Parker, the Democratic candidate, answered the question in a similar fashion, citing her six years of experience serving as the only Democrat on the Rye City Council.
“I think I’ve learned a lot over the last six years as well as how to work well with people,” said Parker, a small business owner in Rye. “I was the only Democrat on our seven-member board and I think we worked very well together because I’ve always said good ideas can come from both sides of the aisle. In a community like this, you expect your elected officials to look at these through the lens of the issue and not the lenses of the party.”
When questions about the Department of Housing and Urban Development settlement as it pertains to Rye and the increase to the child care subsidy were proposed, the candidates repeated their parties’ answers.
Verni, like his fellow Republicans, painted HUD as the problem, saying it’s at fault for the loss of a $7.4 million federal block grant because it exceeded the original agreement with former Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano, a Democrat, by attempting to force an alternation to local zoning codes to require more affordable housing than was originally mandated in the settlement.
“What HUD is doing to overreach the settlement is they now want to require over the 27 units to be built here in Rye,” Verni said. “They’re looking for another 140 units to be built. They’re looking for that to be built in the 90/10 market rate to affordable structures, which means they want to see 1,400 new units built here in Rye.”
Verni also defended the current county administration’s progress by saying the HUD agreement was to have 300 units built by the end of this year and 395 units are already in the works to be built.
Parker, touting the Democratic platform, said there is a great need in Westchester County for affordable housing and made her case by citing the 100 people in Rye and the 658 people in Mamaroneck that have Section 8 housing vouchers, which allow low-income tenants to buy housing where they wish.
Parker also attacked Verni for promoting Republican County Executive Rob Astorino’s stance, on HUD calling it a “scare tactic.”
“I’m very sorry that you’re echoing the tune from the top, and that the Astorino administration is putting out this scare tactic that we’re going to have to do much more than what we were originally asked to do,” Parker said.
Another issue the two candidates differed on was the state of childcare services for low-income families, with Verni defending the Astorino administration’s seven percent increase in the childcare subsidy by saying the 27 percent subsidy is still lower than neighboring counties.
“Other counties required that people pay 28, 29, up to 35 percent. The county Board of Legislators upped it to 27 percent to be more in line, and in doing so, opened up another 100 or so spots to get more people the childcare subsidy,” Verni said.
But, Parker said the increase is ripping a hole in the social services net and pointed the finger at the county administration.
“I think, whether we’re talking about childcare, healthcare centers or foreclosure prevention, the safety net that these things provide for our working poor is critical because everything I just named experienced significant cuts,” Parker said. “The offset [for the childcare subsidy increase] is an extra $60 a month for working parents…The short-sightedness of the administration that has made these cuts is, in my mind, a clear indication of somebody that cannot see the tree from the forest.”
One topic raised during the well-attended debate that both Parker and Verni agreed on was supporting Sustainable Playland’s vision for a new Playland.
Verni said he is supports redeveloping Playland.
“Playland, as we know, has been losing money under county control for the past 40 years. It loses $3 to $5 million a year,” Verni said. “And I think Catherine and I agree on the concept of Sustainable Playland. It will make it both economically sustainable and environmentally sustainable.”
While Parker agrees with the concept, she doesn’t agree with the process of how it has been handled at the county level. She said there has been little interaction between the administration and the Board of Legislators and the administration and the public.
“The administration withheld information from the Board of Legislators…They have a role in this in that they have to approve all the changes,” Parker said. “There has been only one public forum about Playland, and that was in February. The administration isn’t listening or working with the Board of Legislators or the people.”
Following the debate, Parker told The Mamaroneck Review that the withheld information she was referring to is the Playland Improvement Plan, which was submitted to Astorino in September, but wasn’t shown to the Board of Legislators until a few weeks ago.
Parker also wants to see more public involvement and for the county’s Government Operations Committee meetings to be held in Rye instead of county headquarters in White Plains.
The 7th legislative district includes Mamaroneck, Larchmont, Rye City and parts of New Rochelle and Harrison.