By LIZ BUTTON
After a campaign fraught with personal animus and assignments of blame for the city’s recent scandals, City Councilman Joe Sack soundly defeated Deputy Mayor Peter Jovanovich to become Rye City’s next mayor.
The mood among the nearly 75 people gathered at Ruby’s Oyster Bar on Purchase Street Tuesday night was raucous and triumphant as Sack gave his victory speech, after ballots were tallied by Republican supporters. Sack’s speech was soon interrupted by Councilman Jovanovich, who appeared at Sack’s Rye United headquarters during the celebration to shake hands in a brief show of public concession.
Sack, 45, said he believes the overwhelming outcome of the vote was a referendum on the administration of outgoing Republican Mayor Douglas French; French was elected into office in 2009 on a “Change for Rye” ticket that included Jovanovich, 64.
“[This win] is a long time coming, but it was well worth the wait,” Sack said. “I believe that when you are the mayor it is your job to represent everyone who lives in Rye,” not just certain people or contingencies.
In a departure from the French administration, Mayor-elect Sack said, “I’m going to go out of my way to include all points of view.”
Sack defeated his bitter rival Jovanovich by a wide margin, winding up a race that many in the community have characterized as venomous and volatile.
Republican Party Chairman Tony Piscionere announced the unofficial tally in front of an exhilarated mix of Republicans and Democrats including former Mayor John Carey and former Rye City Councilman Andy Ball.
According to unofficial totals, Sack garnered 2,412 votes, or 59 percent of the total vote, while Jovanovich, who ran as an independent candidate, came in a second with 1,581 votes, or 38 percent with 100 percent of districts reporting.
The Rye Democrats decision not to run a mayoral candidate paved the way for not only Jovanovich to run, but also a second independent candidate, Archie Comics co-CEO Nancy Silberkleit, who received a mere 125 votes, or 3 percent of the total ballots counted.
In total, more than 4,000 votes were cast in this year’s mayoral election out of the city’s 9,993 registered voters.
French’s 2009 ticket came into office on a platform of increasing transparency and restoring civility at City Council meetings.
During the 2013 campaign, Sack accused Jovanovich of thwarting the civility French’s ticket championed in its journey to power. He also criticized his opponent at multiple debates and in the press for downplaying the possibility that there was trouble at Rye Golf Club in the early days before a financial scandal blindsided the city last fall.
The golf club scandal was one of the focal points during the campaign with Jovanovich suggesting Sack, as City Council liason to the Rye Golf Club Commission, should have seen the scandal—in which former manager Scott Yandresavich allegedly pocketing hundreds of thousands of member dollars through the use of shell staffing companies—coming.
An investigation by the county District Attorney’s office into the allegations remains ongoing.
Sack has vowed to “bring integrity back to Rye” to reform the city after the scandal.
Jovanovich, who has been an integral part of the French administration, criticized his opponent during the campaign of being a legislative contrarian. He said Sack, who was elected to the council in 2008, was holding up progress in the city all too often by unnecessarily trying to shoot down uncontroversial city initiatives in six-to-one and five-to-two votes.
This year’s race initially seemed to be far less complicated. Early on, it looked as though Sack would cruise to victory unimpeded as the Republican nominee when he came on the scene in June. And particularly after the Democrats passed on offering up a mayoral counterpart.
Jovanovich, a registered Republican who has been at odds with party leaders, didn’t enter the race until July.
Jovanovich said he was satisfied with the campaign he and his supporters ran. When it comes down to it, it was crucial that Sack did not just waltz to victory without a challenger to the seat, he said.
“Whether we won or lost, I think it was important that Rye citizens got a choice,” said Jovanovich.
In the aftermath of the campaign, the current deputy mayor, whose term is up at the end of the year, said that while he is not sure whether he will continue to be involved in Rye politics, he will absolutely continue his involvement in the community.
“I live here. I love this city. And I’ve served here in a lot of ways with non-profits and on boards and on commissions, so I will definitely be involved in some way,” he said.
Now that Sack will vacate his City Council seat upon being inaugurated in January, the makeup of the council remains up in the air.
Democratic Councilwoman Catherine Parker, who was serving her second four-year council term, is leading a tightly-contested race for the District 7 county legislator seat against Republican John Verni. If Parker is victorious, the Sack adminstration will have to fill that open seat as well as another guaranteed open seat.
The Rye mayor is elected to serve a four-year term without compensation or benefits.