in the November 14,2013 Westchester Guardian
Many residents of New Rochelle expected to be listening all evening to election results in the Rob Astorino and Noam Bramson County Executive race. So it came as a shock at 10:28 p.m. only an hour and a half after the polls closed, that Bramson conceded. There have been reports that Bramson uses spotter districts around the County to determine how strongly he is running. The conclusion drawn was that he did not do well in these bell weather districts. Even in New Rochelle’s heavily Democratic northern part of the City, Bramson reportedly did not win several districts. This must have been quite a surprise to his supporters since in the last Mayoral election Bramson had captured nearly 80% of the vote in New Rochelle.
Bramson’s concession speech to his supporters was gracious and he stressed the need to concentrate now on “what unites” the people of Westchester. Our neighborhoods, he continued, are becoming “unaffordable.” Problems with taxes and the need for jobs to stem the number of young people leaving the County were cited. Thanking his many volunteers he said there would “always be respect for conversation.”
Astorino later that evening acknowledged the “aggressive race” and suggested Bramson should be proud of his service in New Rochelle. However, many people did not agree with this statement. Political analysts and journalists had characterized Bramson’s campaign as “national” because his biggest issues were more national than local. Support for women’s abortion rights, gun control and willingness to accept aggressive federal housing guidelines being promoted by HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) were viewed with caution and some dismay in different parts of Westchester.
Many residents of New Rochelle, however, were accustomed to Bramson’s usual style of leadership and were not surprised by these issues. One of his fliers said he had “the right plan for moving Westchester forward.” It claimed Bramson would create good jobs, “invest in infrastructure,” “support schools,” and eliminate waste. But observers in New Rochelle had noted his actions as Mayor and previously as a Council member and they wondered how he would accomplish these goals. Looking back in New Rochelle it would be hard to cite any real creation of jobs except temporary construction jobs or perhaps a few jobs with new stores or restaurants. The Avalon and Trump buildings have not produced many jobs for the City despite promises made they would. The New Rochelle IDA (Industrial Development Corporation) was rated by the New York State Comptroller as second worst in New York State. Residents hoped there would be an effort made to change these statistics in the future but more recent IDA decisions do not appear to have made any positive changes.
The proposed Echo Bay development which includes IDA tax reductions is another example of how costs to the taxpayer are being overlooked. Promises of “progress” are being promoted. Lack of concern for the taxpayers by Bramson was made clear at the last public hearing for Echo Bay when Bramson chose to tell the overwhelming majority of the residents who had spoken against the project that he had to consider the best interests of the City when he voted for this project. The date for this project was postponed until after the election and is now scheduled for the November meeting in addition to the vote on the adjoining Armory. The frustration residents feel has not been allayed by Bramson’s defeat because they feel he has an “I know better” attitude. It was reported in the recent days that Forest City Residential supporters were at the railroad collecting petitions supporting their Echo Bay project.
Among the loose ends from the campaign were observations that Bramson had never suggested a plan on how to settle the HUD housing dispute. Astorino had publicly stated his opposition to what he considered HUD’s overreach into local zoning. In New Rochelle residents wonder whether public money will dictate development in the City. HUD financing was recently used to rehabilitate a senior building but only temporary construction jobs were created. This has been a pattern with other development projects. Bramson has a tendency to appoint “committees” rather than taking full responsibility for decisions. New Rochelle residents are anticipating that this “hands off” attitude will continue in the future. Although Bramson claims to be voting for what he thinks is best, will this defeat for County Executive send Bramson a message that the people want accountability in their elected officials?
In his campaign for County Executive, Bramson was cited many times for running on national issues such as women’s rights and gun control. These issues are not local. New Rochelle residents still want to know how much of an increase in new taxes will be proposed in the 2013 City budget. Will the tax cap be the guide used for raising property taxes? Rumors have it that in the new budget there will be a move to again go above the tax cap. Astorino’s commercials had said “Westchester can’t afford Noam Bramson,” but apparently New Rochelle must be the exception in Westchester. Residents will be watching to see if Bramson suggests any cuts in the budget to enable the tax cap to be the guide for property taxes. How will Bramson lead his Democratic Council majority when the Forest City Residential project’s cost to taxpayers is truthfully presented? Astorino told the voters where he stood on real estate taxes and how he had to make painful cuts in staffing and increase some fees. Bramson, on the other hand, has used committees to reach conclusions about fees. The garbage fee continues to frustrate property owners.
So residents of New Rochelle wonder if threatened lawsuits against the approval of the Echo Bay project or the Armory will occur. Past history has shown Bramson and the Democratic majority on City Council have tended to ignore substantial portions of the voting population’s views. New Rochelle residents will now be watching to see if a new pattern in City government will emerge.