Rye City mayoral candidates: Peter Jovanovich

Peter Jovanovich

Photo/Ashley Helms

Photo/Ashley Helms

Age: 64

Political Affiliation: Running as an independent, registered Republican

Political Experience: First-term councilman; two years as deputy mayor

Party endorsements: None

Years lived in Rye: 21

Occupation: President of the Alfred Harcourt Foundation, which gives college scholarships to low-income students.

Education: I attended Briarcliff elementary schools; attended Hackley School for secondary education. I have a B.A. from Princeton University, class of ‘72.

Birthplace: Born in Queens. Grew up in Briarcliff.

Family: Wife Robin and two married sons. One is a graduate of Rye High, the other from Rye Country Day School.

Community involvement: Director and then treasurer of The Friends of Rye Nature Center, Former member of Rye’s Board of Architectural Review and the Rye Planning Commission, congregant of Rye Presbyterian Church.

One thing the average voter doesn’t know about you: “During my career in book publishing, I called on colleges and schools in 46 states. It seems as if I have visited nearly every mid-size or large city in America.”

Q: Last week, you sent out a campaign mailer saying that there is overwhelming support among the people of Rye for Sustainable Playland. Yet, last weekend you publicly came out against SPI’s fieldhouse proposal and a week before the election seemed to have changed your stance. Why?

A: I support SPI. I think a lot of people they have noticed that the original SPI plan has evolved over the last year or so and what we originally proposed now has been changed several times. As far as the fieldhouse is concerned, I have to say, I didn’t realize the [95,000 square foot] fieldhouse would have to be built on some kind of mound. When it’s in a flood plain, the city’s Planning Commission has a remarkable amount of power to decide how something might be done. The county has taken the position that we don’t have planning authority. Kristen Wilson, the [city’s] corporation counsel, has said yes, she believes we do. I think the next mayor needs to impress on the county that we are not a bystander.

Q: Do you think Whitby Castle can become successful again as a city-run facility?

A: No. Year in and year out, the castle has lost money. The castle has lost money when it was run by honest people starting in 2001, it lost money when it was run by a crook and now that it is run by honest people, it’s still losing money. And I’ve talked to restaurateurs who said no, restaurants and clubs don’t make money. And the city went to the public in 1999 and floated this $5 million bond on the promise that this restaurant would throw off $440,000 a year in surplus to pay off the bond. It’s almost as if we’ve had two scandals running. One of them was we said to the public we’re going to borrow all this money and the restaurant is going to pay it off. Never been true.

In fact, effectively what the council did [at the last council meeting] was finally go to the public and say, no, we’re going to lease this thing out, and we’re not going to say it’s going to generate $440,000.

Q: Do you think the City Council’s performance has suffered due to too much attention being devoted to the Rye Golf Club scandal?

A: It turns out that the council has been able to entertain two thoughts at the same time. So while the golf club scandal was going on, we passed a bond, we made a really tough decision about these labor negotiations. I think the damage related to the golf scandal as to how it has affected the council, which I think is that we rely on these liaisons as somehow or other our eyes and ears to what is going on. The classic is the golf club, Joe was the liaison in 2008, 2009 during the embezzlement: That meant that he attended or should have attended 20 meetings; he never raised an issue. As mayor, if I’m elected, I would seriously look at these liaison functions.

Q: In 2010, the administration decided to promote Scott Pickup to the city manager position and eliminate the assistant city manager position. In retrospect, do you believe this was a mistake?

A: I think what the city needs is an internal auditor that reports to the City Council, not to the city manager, so by charter, I think we need to create a third position that reports to the City Council. If there are matters of embezzlement, fraud, etc., then that’s investigated by the Finance Department, who in turn reports to the city manager. Then you get down to money as to whether you can hire an internal auditor and an assistant city manager. Scott needs help. He can’t do the job as it is.

Q: You have said one of the key reasons for the golf club scandal is that the city is understaffed. In contrast, your opponent has pointed to faults by those in decision-making positions. Do you agree with your oponent’s stance?

A: I think both statements are right. I think being understaffed, there’s no doubt about it: We went from 175 to 151 employees. Basically people were just doing as much as they could do. But we [had these layoffs] purposefully in order to get through the recession. In order to maintain police and fire, we decimated City Hall. But on the intentional side as opposed to the organizational side, I think Scott [Pickup] intentionally decided OK, the enterprise funds are over here, they have their own funding mechanisms, and I’m not going to pay attention to them because I’ve got so much else to pay attention to, and that was mistake.

Q: How would you grade the performance of the city manager since being promoted in 2010?

A: As far as labor relations go he is superior. We just got a judgment from an arbitrator [on PBA contract negotiations] that is the talk of Westchester. As far as hiring new managers to run the department, we have a really fantastic city staff. I give him an excellent grade as far as improving the management within the city. As far as the golf club is concerned, I think he made a big mistake. But as a former manager of employees, over time I began to realize that the question is really, yes, somebody made a mistake, but will they learn from that mistake, and do they have more to add to the organization? I think for the citizens of Rye, probably the biggest consequence of firing Scott is they are going to lose the strongest executive that we ever had related to labor negotiations.

Q: Name one way in which you differ from each of your opponents.

A: I think votes tell more than anything else, frankly. We can all talk and have nice rhetoric and craft our positions and so on and so forth, but the great thing about being in legislature is in the end, you voted. Did you vote for the bond? Keeping the library open on Saturday? Crossing guards. The police union contract. So these are all votes that Joe [Sack] took and in nearly every instance, he was either one [to] six [votes] and in a few instances, two [to] five. People in Rye don’t want to go this direction.

Q: Recent reports show that police enforcement statistics are significantly down from prior years. What is the reason for this?

A: It’s not acceptable. Police officers are professionals just the way nurses or teachers or doctors are professionals. Being in a contract dispute is no excuse for not acting like a pro. I am very disappointed in these statistics and I expect that, now that we’re coming back to real negotiations at the table and the arbitrator has given the award, that both sides will act in a professional manner.

Q: Why did you decide to run for the mayor’s office?

A: When the Democratic Party didn’t choose a candidate, it just seemed to me that, this direction that [Republican Party chairman] Tony [Piscionere] and Joe [Sack] were taking the party was not in a direction which I felt was good for Rye. So, a bunch of friends got together, actually they sort of corralled me, and said, this just does not work. There’s got to be a real election here. And so, extraordinarily, about 40 friends in a period of 12 days got 900 signatures and put me on the ballot.

Q: Do you view yourself as the underdog in the race?

A: Without party backing, it requires more energy. You don’t have this established group of people to help you. But I don’t see myself as being an underdog at all, mostly because I’m just overwhelmed by the generosity of people around me, giving their time and everything else.

Q: How would you respond to people who say there is a conflict of interest in the Rye Record’s coverage of your campaign for mayor since your wife is publisher of  The Rye Record? 

A: Conflict of interest is a serious issue, the fact that Joe Sack has said, if elected, he will shift city advertising legal notices to [The Rye City Review] is something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in American politics. I think that is a very serious conflict of interest and it think it needs to be investigated.

Q: If elected, what would you do to address the train station? Where on your list of priorities would this be and what would be your course of action?

A: The city did not get into negotiations with the MTA for the last four years for one obvious reason: We were broke. With no money in the pocket, there was no use sitting across from the MTA. Most people don’t realize that, in 2010, 2011 and 2012, how cash-poor we were. So with the sale of Lester’s, our reserves are now up to 16 percent. We had a very good year, according to acting City Comptroller Joe Fazzino. So, we are now in a position to sit across from the MTA and bargain.

Q: What would be your next step to address the issue of flooding?

A: The next step is to go to the county and to the state to see if we can get a retention pond built on the SUNY Purchase campus. We can’t do this by ourselves. It is $20 million, but we need help and the first step for the mayor is to develop relationships with the county executive and the governor in order to get something done. We know what the problem is. We don’t need another study group.

-Reporting by Liz Button

This entry was posted in News, Vote 2013 on by .

About Liz Button

Liz Button is a staff reporter for Hometown Media Group’s The Rye Sound Shore Review. Previously, she covered Bedford and Mount Kisco for The Daily Voice, an Internet-based, hyperlocal publication. She’s also written for Patch in her hometown of Trumbull, Conn., as a freelance reporter and fill-in editor. Preceding her time there, she worked in publishing in New York City. She is a 2008 graduate of Bowdoin College with a degree in English. Reach Liz at 914-653-1000 x20 or liz@hometwn.com; follow her on Twitter @ryesoundshore.