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News & Updates

Winners & Losers (2015 Edition)

By Michael Smith, on Nov 11, 2015

On election night, the Board of Elections posts accounts of each candidate’s cumulative votes, thereby determining the day’s winners and losers. There are other ways to look at the results of election night, starting with the obvious:

Winner: Margaret Cunzio - Dubbed a “political neophyte” by one newspaper columnist, her passion, determination and clarity on the issues successfully launched her first run for public office.

Loser: John Diaconis – A former political party boss, he began his campaign talking about one issue that failed to resonate with the general electorate. His much talked about experience and endorsements couldn’t resurrect a flawed campaign.

Winners

Winner: Westchester County Taxpayers – They elected a legislator in Cunzio who supports Rob Astorino’s vision for a more affordable Westchester. In addition, she will defend our communities and property rights against an overreaching federal government meddling in our neighborhoods.

Loser: Friends of Miller House - Their treasurer ran for County Legislator because the Miller House needed fixing. He lost. The group has yet to retract the comment of its president, who compared Westchester County government to ISIS and the Taliban, five months ago. The Westchester Historical Society should question if individuals with these radical beliefs are up to the task of running the house as a museum.

Winner: Mount Pleasant – Voters in this town overwhelmingly supported Cunzio to ensure that Rob Astorino had a partner in county government who was willing to stand with him to defend local control of zoning and represent this entire community as County Legislator.

Loser: North Castle Supervisor Mike Schiliro - He “bet the farm” on one sideline issue. When genuine opportunities were available to have action on this issue, it is now very apparent that he deferred solely for political reasons. His repeated emails, videos and endorsements for Diaconis proved worthless, and further weakening his ability to have an active voice in the inevitable solution.

Winner: Diane Roth - Schiliro unsuccessfully tried to villainize former trustee Roth to gin up support for Diaconis at the 11th hour because of her unfavorable opinion of Diaconis. With that type of public behavior by Schiliro, is it any wonder why the previous local administration kept him on the sidelines as he claims?

Loser: Legislator Catherine Borgia - The former Ossining councilwoman tried to use insurgent candidates to propel her to the chairmanship of the Board of Legislators. She lost -- badly. Under her leadership, Democrats lost in competitive districts 2, 3, 10, and 14, growing the Republican caucus to its largest in years. Her leadership post is very much in danger from within her caucus.

Winner: Rob Astorino - With a another seat picked up in his coalition, look for at least another 2 years of 0% tax increases at the county level. That continuous demonstration of implementing hard decisions to make Westchester more affordable will likely be well received statewide.

Loser: John Nonna - While he was a very bright legislator in several ways, his troublesome legislative record, starting with his deciding vote in favor of the problematic and poorly-worded 2009 Affordable Housing Settlement, will attach itself to candidates he supports indefinitely.

To Be Determined: BOL Chairman Mike Kaplowitz - Given the election results, one would think the bipartisan coalition power structure would easily allow Kaplowitz to keep his chairmanship. Maintaining the delicate balance for another two years may be more difficult.

Representing District 3 Appropriately

By Michael Smith, on Jul 19, 2015

As I am in the midst of completing my second term on the Board of Legislators, I have decided to not seek an additional term. My increased professional responsibilities will prevent me from representing my 55,000 residents in District 3 in a manner that they appropriately deserve.

 

When I initially campaigned for this Legislator position four years ago, I had three prime focuses: 1) that county taxes were not to be increased, 2) that the Federal Government had no rights to override local zoning, and 3) County Executive Rob Astorino deserved the requisite support to promote the economic growth and well-being of our county without the distraction of petty political foolishness. I can proudly say that I accomplished all three of these goals as well adding my strong voice to fight the problematic Clinic Assess, Displaced Workers, Source of Income pieces of legislation as well as support the innovative Playland legislation.

 

This December will represent my completion of ten years of public service (Board of Education – 6 years, Board of Legislators – 4 years). I have often spoken of my desire of electing citizen legislators, those who know the impact of troublesome and feel-good laws and regulations on those businesses employing the hard-working taxpayers in Westchester. A good citizen legislator steps away to allow new and passionate voices be heard.

WBOL

I am proud of the fact that I refused to accept the pension that was offered, I refused medical coverage or a stipend for refusing medical coverage from the county. I did not and still do not believe that it is appropriate for pension and medical coverage be provided for what should be part time work.

 

Recently, I watched a video of one of my debates from my first county legislator race. When I was asked by the moderator what I expected to be doing in five years, I said that I didn’t expect to still be a legislator. Looks like I will be keeping my word on that one too.

 

I have worked hard to help the citizens in the district that elected me to serve them. They are some of the best and most appreciative folks you will ever meet. There may be a way that I can serve them again in the future, but for now starting in January 2016, I will be focusing the best of my attention on the 8,000 students and the 1,500 associates for whom I am responsible.

 

To everyone who has supported me, and even those who didn’t, I thank you for allowing me the pleasure of serving you. It has been an honor.

Revitalizing Playland Park in Rye

By Michael Smith, on Jun 25, 2015

Since taking office, County Executive Rob Astorino has made revitalizing Playland Park in Rye a priority of his administration. It has also been a priority of mine since I began my tenure at the Board of Legislators.

Budget 2015 - Old tricks from the Old dogs

By Michael Smith, on Dec 14, 2014

If it is hard to teach old dogs new tricks, then I guess we should just expect old tricks from the old dogs.

Last week, Westchester County passed its fifth consecutive zero increase budget under the leadership of County Executive Rob Astorino and the Republican coalition of County Legislators aided by minimal bipartisan support.

Dog tricks

During the debate on the legislative floor, Legislator David Gelfarb quoted Voltaire, who said perfect is the enemy of the good. The 2015 Westchester County budget is not perfect, but it is good enough.

The Democratic caucus proposals included fictional revenues from the hypothetical transfer of the management of Playland amusement park to a yet to be determined public-private partnership. This is the same Democratic caucus that has stonewalled any opportunity to move in the direction of alleviating the tax burden borne by County taxpayers. We are currently paying millions of dollars in tax revenues to support the Playland operations on an annual basis. Another scheme proposed by the other side of the aisle, was to create fictional revenue by attempting to charge rent to Westchester Medical Center. A simple reading of the lease between Westchester County and the medical center clearly indicated that scheme is not legally feasible. Westchester Medical Center’s very important role in providing baseline level support as a tertiary care center is critical for Westchester’s entire hospital system.

As to the old tricks for the old dogs, at one point during the budget vote, once again the lights in the legislative chambers were turned off, albeit momentarily. This reminded me of the legislative budget vote two years ago when eight Democratic county legislators walked out of the chambers to avoid voting. Additionally, as you may recall, the lights in the chambers were turned off for several hours as were the microphones and bells were rung in the chambers to disrupt the meeting. All the while, those same eight legislators were preening in front of television cameras, ignoring the most important reason why they were elected, determining how the hard-earned taxpayers’ dollars were to be spent for the subsequent year.

Leadership is about making hard choices, not excuses. While those who voted against the county executive's budget spent excessive time issuing press releases over the past month about their dismay over the budget, they never came to the table with an alternative other than raising taxes or firing county employees. While many of the same Democratic legislators will be continually endorsed by the county's largest union, CSEA, in actuality it was the Republican coalition that prevented several hundred of Westchester's county employees from being fired.

When I talk to constituents in my district, the issue most frequently mentioned is the numbing nature of Westchester County property taxes, which are the highest in the entire country. When I hear the other side of the aisle says that Westchester County should raise the taxes to the tax cap of approximately 2%, I think about those taxpayer conversations. To those legislators who say it is “only” 2%, try living in households where income is fixed or even declining. I, for one, know that increasing property taxes “only” 2%, will not encourage more businesses to come to Westchester County, nor will it encourage more to stay.

It is irresponsible and incomprehensible for elected officials to issue press releases whining about County Executive Astorino's commitment to not increasing county taxes, while not providing any semblance of a reasonable solution. Fictional revenues are analogous to raids on our reserve funds, which simply is unacceptable.

While the budget was not perfect, I am proud of the fact that I voted to not increase taxes and that I voted not to fire several hundred Westchester County employees. Keep in mind however, that this budget passed with slightly more than majority required for passage. Who you vote for does matter. It has serious consequences as to the future of Westchester County.

Further Adventures in Affordable Housing Settlement Land

By Michael Smith, on Oct 5, 2014

Have you ever been asked to take a test where the grader knew your test score before you even started? If not, meet the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Regarding the ever torturous Affordable Housing Settlement agreed to by prior County Executive Andrew Spano, there were many who hypothesized the severe consequences to allowing the federal government to circumvent local home rule regarding zoning. In just this past week, the worst of those prognosticator’s fears have been realized.

Maze

 

To quickly bring you up to speed if you've not been following this issue closely, the federal government, through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (USHUD), entered into an agreement with Westchester County in lieu of threatened lawsuits in excess of hundreds of millions of dollars, to build 750 affordable housing units in seven years at a cost of approximately $51 million. In addition, freely elected local representatives were mandated to vote to pass legislation to require all landlords to accept any tenant without their personal ability to pay the rent. Finally, the third component of the agreement was that the county was to undertake what is called an “Analysis of Impediments.” The self-study is intended to identify any laws or practices in 31 targeted Westchester communities, that in the singular opinion of USHUD, seemed to limit by design, housing that is affordable to those whose earnings are significantly less than the average Westchester taxpayers.

The federal government's premise is that if any particular community does not have enough racial diversity according to the USHUD defined standards, then it must be because the zoning in that particular community is overly restrictive and therefore discriminatory. For example, any zoning that does not permit high-rise multi-dwelling residences could be deemed to be discriminatory.  So this poorly named Affordable Housing Settlement is more appropriately named alternatively as a racial diversification settlement. In Washington, D.C., USHUD analysts sitting in cubicles have prepared statistical analysis that look at subdivisions of municipalities in Westchester County to determine that if racial diversity does not cross some Washington, D.C. defined statistical threshold, then it must be that minority groups are being discriminated against.  The inconvenient truth in reality is the fact that many of us cannot personally afford a $10 million home in Westchester County and that has nothing to do with zoning.

Despite the wide spread of opinion across political spectrums in Westchester County, I am near certain that virtually most will agree that there is a need for more affordable housing in Westchester County. Almost as many will agree that there's a role for government to play in promoting affordable housing.  As I've stated in the past however, is that the greatest impediment to affordable housing in Westchester right now is the Affordable Housing Settlement itself.

The settlement named a monitor to act as the intermediary between USHUD and Westchester County. In particular, this individual, James Johnson, has certainly worked hard to accomplish his role in a judicious manner albeit I believe that he tends to lean towards USHUD in his positions. That being said, this week, USHUD issued a 10 page document castigating monitor Johnson for not coming up with the answer to the test that they were seeking. Monitor Johnson identified six communities out of the 31 targeted communities as having potential issues with what was called the statistically based Huntington analysis. Huntington, Long Island is a community with over 200,000 residents or in other words approximately 1/5 the size of the Westchester in its entirety. Based upon a court decision in 1988, it was deemed that Huntington, which was 98% white, was discriminatory against minorities.  Conversely, in the entirety of Westchester County’s 43 municipalities, the highest percentages of white populations were 90% in only two municipalities. Only 14 other Westchester municipalities have a white population percentage of over 80%.

North Castle, one of the six communities identified by monitor Johnson as having potential problems with the statistical Huntington analysis, in actuality has one of the highest growth percentages of minorities in all of Westchester County over the past 10 year census period. USHUD in their rebuke to monitor Johnson said that demographic changes in the last measured census period have no relevance and should be removed from any analysis. So even to the extent that North Castle has had very significant minority population growth in their community, the fact that the federal government did not like where minorities specifically in North Castle, a community with only 11,800 residents, moved is a most important consideration in their eyes.

USHUD, in writing, now has evidenced the fact that they are dissatisfied that the historical and ongoing assertions made by County Executive Rob Astorino and the minority of the county legislators who voted against the settlement are correct that there is indeed a no discrimination based on zoning in Westchester County. The county has produced eight separate analyses of impediments and monitor Johnson has produced one also, and even through the proscribed statistical analysis, less than one third of the 31 targeted communities by USHUD, evidence that minorities are being prevented from moving into the communities. This completely undermines the premise and assertions that USHUD and current governor Andrew Cuomo believe that Westchester County is indeed racist.

Fortunately, this past week the US Supreme Court announced that they will hear arguments in a case based in Texas that takes up the concept of “disparate impact” that is at the root of what USHUD is applying versus Westchester County. Based on the current makeup of the US Supreme Court, it is not unreasonable to think that they will find the application of disparate impact unconstitutional thereby freeing Westchester County from this terrible intrusion upon our local home rule and our basic rights.

This could easily turn out to be the case where we are glad to hear people say “I told you so!”