By JASON CHIREVAS
And Nancy makes three.
Three weeks ago, Republican Rye City Councilman Joe Sack was the only declared candidate for mayor after Democrats failed to field a contender. Two weeks ago, Councilman Peter Jovanovich, also a Republican but no ally of Sack’s, announced his intention to run for mayor as an independent. This week, the once unopposed Sack has another challenger in one of the stewards of an American institution as Nancy Silberkleit, the co-CEO of Mamaroneck-based Archie Comics, has joined the race.
“Leadership has always been in my blood,” Silberkleit said. “It’s a good thing to give people choices. I want the people to know I hear them. I had to get out and meet the people.”
To that end, Silberkleit, a 22-year Rye resident, said she took on the task of gaining the signatures necessary for a spot on the November ballot herself, meeting with residents everywhere from the train station to front yards and kitchen tables.
“I had someone tell me, ‘You can’t go out and get signatures, that’s not the way it works. You pay people and we go out and do it for you,’” she said. “That’s not me, I’ve always been a worker.”
Unimpressed with the 377 signatures required to get on the ballot as an independent, Silberkleit resolved to surpass that number and said she has collected more than 1,000.
“I was connecting with people I knew in the past, I was connecting with new people. It was just amazing,” she said.
Before her husband’s death in 2008, work for Silberkleit meant teaching art in New Jersey public schools. When Michael Silberkleit, son of one of the comic book company’s founders, died unexpectedly, there was no succession plan in place and his half of Archie Comics—one of the oldest, most successful comic book publishers in the United States—passed to Nancy, his wife.
The transition from art teacher to co-CEO was not an easy one and Silberkleit found herself at odds with John Goldwater, Archie’s other co-CEO, who inherited his half of the company when his half brother, Richard, died in 2007.
Goldwater and Silberkleit’s dysfunctional working relationship became public knowledge when the conflict spilled over into the court system in 2011, during which time Goldwater barred Silberkleit from the company’s Mamaroneck headquarters.
“That was just wild, bizarre, over the top,” Silberkleit said of her battles with Goldwater. “I think it shows I’m not a person who will fold. I’m a person of character.”
The two buried the hatchet and agreed to begin their working relationship anew in June 2012, but Silberkleit sees echoes of her past conflicts, however faint, on today’s Rye City Council.
“It’s sad. It bothers me,” she said of the acrimony on the council, which often involves Sack and Jovanovich. “It’s troublesome when I would see how the board was interacting with one another. I’ve been through my share of that, but I’m always calling for collaboration.”
Though she attended the odd City Council meeting with her husband and sometimes watched them on TV, Silberkleit said she first wondered what being mayor would be like during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in November 2012, when she found her Rye home without power and spent a great deal of her time at Starbucks, where she started talking to people and learning about their problems.
When Mayor Douglas French, a Republican, announced earlier this year he would not seek a second term in office, Silberkleit decided his seat could be a possibility for her. She said her two primary goals, should she be elected, are generating more money for the city and fostering an atmosphere of communication and collaboration between members of the City Council and between the council and the people. The length and tone of council meetings, Silberkleit said, have turned many people off to participating in city government and the municipal process.
“[People] don’t need that,” she said. “They’re coming [to the council] because they have an issue. I hope I can be the one that either solves their problem, or explains in great detail why we can’t do what they want.”
Long concerned with environmental issues, Silberkleit said she’d make flood mitigation another centerpiece of her administration. She said the newly completed sluice gate device is a positive step, but she would seek to develop relationships with surrounding municipalities also affected by flooding to develop broader-based solutions.
She’s also a fan of the plastic bag ban in Rye, and wouldn’t mind seeing what she describes as an overabundance of plastic bottles addressed next.
Of her opponents, Silberkleit said her status as an outsider unknown in political circles could give her an advantage.
“I am very different from the two of them. I’ve not been in politics,” she said. “I have no conflict, I’m a true independent. I have no business interest in the community. I’m just like one of the people of the City of Rye.”
For his part, Sack said he remains undaunted by a suddenly crowded field of contenders out to succeed outgoing Mayor French.
“I welcome them both to the race,” he said about Jovanovich and Silberkleit. “I’m not necessarily running against anyone or anything. I’m running on the proposition that we need to restore faith and trust in the way that our city government is run.”
Jovanovich said he didn’t know enough about Silberkleit to comment on her candidacy.
Sack and his newest opponent may have one thing in common as Silberkleit took a dim view of the possibility that City Manager Scott Pickup may have unknowingly allowed former Rye Golf Club Manager Scott Yandrasevich to allegedly bilk the city out of hundreds of thousands of dollars with a shell staffing company scheme.
“When anybody is responsible for disbursements, you have to know what the disbursement was for,” she said. “You do not give out money unless you know what service is going to be provided.”
Silberkleit said the race, and a possible term in the mayor’s office, will not keep her from her duties at Archie Comics.
“I don’t have my husband anymore, so I can take care of a city,” she said.
-With reporting by Liz Button