A Lively Debate for Mayor of New Rochelle

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Although the New Rochelle League of Women Voters stated personal questions were not allowed at its Mayoral forum, Mayor Noam Bramson (Democrat) made several personal attacks on his opponent, Councilman Richard St. Paul (Republican) in his replies. The questions, which were composed by the two candidates, according to the moderator, Susie Rust of the Scarsdale League of Women Voters, had to be “substantive” and not “personal.” The League also posed some questions.
Richard St. Paul asked the first question to Noam Bramson’s about how he would address taxes which have doubled during his 16 years in office. Bramson answered property taxes were at a crisis level and there has been an honest effort to address this by freezing salaries, seeking of alternate sources of revenue, grants, and pursing energy efficiencies. St. Paul said he was proud of his work on the Council and he would seek ways to get more money for the schools. Among the difficulties was the Avalon 30 year tax abatement which did not generate school taxes to support children living in these buildings. Since 2009 he and his Republican colleagues have fought to reduce proposed city taxes: in 2009 from a proposed 10.25% to 5.7%, in 2010 from a proposed 8.25% to 5.6% and 2011 from a proposed 3.9% to 2.84% Referring specifically to Republican Councilman Lou Trangucci’s initiative which resulted in Avalon paying part of its land costs to the City, he said otherwise the taxes this year would have been an increase of 13.5%.
Bramson asked what inspired St. Paul to enter public life. St. Paul reflected on his sixth grade teacher when the class studied Iraq and his desire to become an attorney. As he became “involved in government on Capitol Hill” working with Democrats and Republicans he saw what good government can do and that is why he is running for Mayor. Bramson talked about his refugee parents and their sense of gratitude for living in a democratic society. New Rochelle has enormous challenges and opportunities.
When St. Paul asked about developers who contributed to Bramson’s campaign fund, Bramson felt it was an attack on his integrity and did not want to take “lectures from St. Paul.” Further, fn his view, there was never any relationship between these contributions and what goes on in the city. He then said St. Paul had “minimal attendance” at the Council meetings. St. Paul answered that Forest City Rattner had contributed to Bramson, but it was the Republican colleagues on Council that had stopped him from moving the City Yard for his Echo Bay proposal. He enumerated other prospective developers’ contributions to Bramson and concluded that he could not see how Bramson’s ideas would lead to any prosperity in New Rochelle.
Since the IDA (Industrial Development Agency) is supposed to be independent, St. Paul wanted to know why Bramson had accepted campaign contributions from IDA members. Bramson spoke of the importance of attracting investments. He felt St. Paul’s view was harmful to New Rochelle since almost all the new developments are paying taxes to the City netting $7.5 million each year. He retorted “It’s over” and wanted to know how we are going to move forward. St. Paul replied it was not over until Bramson was gone from the Council. He cited Bramson’s 14 votes for Cappelli’s Le Count Square project which is now a block that is somewhat empty and desolate and two votes for Echo Bay despite Forest City Rattner’s financial condition. Bramson then alluded to St. Paul’s leadership suggesting he should end his candidacy referring to his support in Republican Party. St. Paul replied, “Let’s be serious” about the issues in New Rochelle.”
An interesting question presented by the League of Women Voters was “What percent of Black voters make a Black district and is race a primary criteria?” St. Paul answered he is a voting rights attorney. In 2003 the decision was for an 50% minority district. The The judge used having 50% minority residents as the legal standard. It was the Voting Rights Act of l961 that gave minorities a voice. His opponent has twice voted to diminish this percent which is currently 44% and not in keeping with the spirit of the Voting Rights Act. Bramson answered that the redistricting met the legal standard that meets the test,
When asked about reassessment by the the League, St. Paul said he was not in favor of it. He added, what we need is more revenue such as more small businesses in downtown and obtaining more grants. Bramson said it was the wrong time to consider reassessment. In the years ahead he wants to pursue transit oriented development and to update the comprehensive plan. He favors sustainability and the green lifestyle.
Former New York State Assemblyman Ron Tocci attended the forum. He thought it was a good debate and agreed that there was a need for revenue in the City. Whatever the outcome of the election, emphasis should be on gaining more retail and commercial development and not residential. There should be a moratorium on residential because the infrastructure can not handle it. 80,000 people is enough for New Rochelle.

In the October 27 issue of the Westchester Guardian