Trustee debate focuses on environment

By CHRIS EBERHART

The environment was at the core of a passionate Tuckahoe discourse on March 9 as the League of Women Voters hosted a debate in Village Hall for the four candidates running for two open trustee spots in this month’s elections.

The four candidates for two open Tuckahoe trustee positions debated village issues on Sunday with environmental concerns drawing the most passionate disagreements. Photo/Chris Eberhart

The four candidates for two open Tuckahoe trustee positions debated village issues on Sunday with environmental concerns drawing the most passionate disagreements. Photo/Chris Eberhart

On the Democratic ticket, incumbent Steve Quigley, 61, who has served on the village Board of Trustees for the past four years, is up for re-election and running along with the village’s Democratic Party chairman, Chris DiGiorgio, 47, who is looking to succeed outgoing Republican Trustee Janette Hayes, who chose not to seek re-election.

Across the aisle, the Republicans nominated two attorneys—Steven Alfasi, 48, and Melba Caliano, 60—to oppose Quigley and DiGiorgio.

During opening statements, Quigley, an intellectual property attorney at a Manhattan-based law firm, admitted most of the issues in Tuckahoe do not receive strictly partisan line votes with the exception of environmental issues, which created the most passionate moments in the debate.

DiGiorgio, an eye doctor with his own practice in New Rochelle, said, “I’ve seen enough environmental disasters throughout this country that the minute we are not looking at the ball in regard to the environment is the minute we have an environmental disaster.”

The Republicans held steadfast to the idea that the village is already doing enough for the environment.

“I reject the thought that we in Tuckahoe are irresponsible toward the environment,” said Alfasi, a private attorney with an office in Village Hall who has also served on Tuckahoe’s Zoning Board of Appeals for the past two years. “We are not. We are very responsible toward the environment.”

Environmental discussion first made its way to the dais in March 2013, when Quigley proposed a measure that would have banned plastic bags in Tuckahoe retail stores. The proposal was shot down by the majority Republican board by a 4-1 vote. Quigley, the board’s only Democrat, was the lone vote in favor of the legislation.

Fast forward to this past Sunday, plastic bags and the issue of re-zoning to rid Tuckahoe of the last remaining industrial zones—which allow businesses to have chemical plants and electronic manufacturing and create pollution—became a topic of intense, partisan debate.

“One way the Democrats stand apart is in environmental initiatives,” Quigley said. “By pledging Tuckahoe to be a climate smart community, we will be eligible to file for grants from New York State that will fund improvements to our infrastructure and our environmental sustainability.”

Alfasi refuted the statement.

“I had a discussion with Angela Vincent, who is the Mid-Hudson Climate Smart Communities coordinator. There are no such grants that Tuckahoe is barred from applying for when it comes to environmentally sound grants,” Alfasi said. “It doesn’t exist. We can apply for everything and anything.”

Doing away with Tuckahoe’s industrial zones was one of DiGiorgio’s long-term goals for the village.

“I would like to get rid of the last two industrial zones here in Tuckahoe,” DiGiorgio said. “I don’t believe we should have these types of zones that can potentially pollute the environment. I would like to see them converted to business zones, where we could have businesses that won’t do that.”

Caliano, an attorney with the New York State Education Department, fired back, saying there are no more industrial zones currently in the village.

“Tuckahoe has zoned out all industrial zones,” said Caliano, who has served on the village’s Planning Board since 2004. “The only industrial zones that exist today are those that are grandfathered in. No new industrial zones are permitted to come into Tuckahoe at this time.”

The debate then shifted gears to the rumored construction of a hotel on Marbledale Road, availability of playgrounds in the village and thoughts on being more inclusive to the Hispanic community.

The four candidates were mostly in agreement and their answers on those topics were similar: they all said they need more information about the construction plans for the rumored hotel, the parks are safe and well-kept and including more Spanish writing for village literature such as agendas and minutes would be beneficial, as would looking into the cost for a Spanish translator.

Then the hot topic that is plastic bags in Tuckahoe finally crept into the debate when Quigley said he’d like to see a separate plastic bag pickup by village DPW crews, which created a partisan divide between the candidates.

Alfasi snapped at Quigley’s plastic bag pickup idea, saying it would be a waste of money.

“The DPW has a place to bring your plastic bags if you’d like [to recycle],” Alfasi said. “Now should we have a plastic bag pickup additionally to the services we already have from the DPW? No. How are we going to pay for that?”

Caliano jumped on the back of Alfasi’s statement.

“One of my opponents indicated he was in support of a curbside pickup of plastic bags. That very opponent of mine at this juncture could’ve moved for that option at any time during the [Board of Trustee] meetings, but never did that,” Caliano said. “So now we’re hearing about it at this time is curious to me frankly…It’s a costly thing that we already have a system in place for.”

Quigley cited a New York Times article that listed areas—such as San Francisco, Honolulu, Austin, Los Angeles  Ireland—that have passed the plastic bag ban to illustrate his point about how that concept is spreading. Locally, the City of Rye and villages of Mamaroneck and Larchmont have also adopted such bans.

“I think that’s indicative of how this movement should be going,” Quigley said. “It would eliminate the problems moving forward. As far as why it wasn’t suggested earlier, that’s a contractual issue. That’s something that’s part of the collective bargaining agreement between the village and the DPW. That’s not something that the board has direct control over.”

DiGiorgio came to his running mate’s aid.

“With all due respect, Mr. Alfasi, we can always do more for the environment,” he said. “Anything we can do to reduce waste, anything that we can do to improve efficiencies with our environment needs to happen.”

Elections for the Tuckahoe trustees, who are elected to serve two-year terms with an annual compensation of $5,000, are held on March 18.

CONTACT: christopher@hometwn.com