Passing the Baton

The new mayor in 2006 and the old(er) mayor in 2022

Today, I am sharing the news with friends and neighbors that I will not be a candidate in next year’s election for Mayor of New Rochelle.  (My decision is also detailed in this press release.)

I make this announcement with a deep sense of gratitude – for the partnership of colleagues in government, for the energy, wisdom, and generosity of supporters, and, above all, for the trust and confidence of the people of New Rochelle. I have never taken these things for granted, and have always worked my hardest to earn the privilege of public office.

And what a great privilege it has been! To shape a community for the better, to help lead its growth and evolution, to give voice to its values, to learn from and share in the lives of its residents – these are rare opportunities, afforded only to a few people. Although every position, including this one, has its frustrations and disappointments, for me the good days have far outnumbered the bad – and every one of those days was made more special by the knowledge that this is my hometown, the place where I grew up, the place where I went to school, the place where I am raising my own children.

When you love a job this much, it’s not easy to leave, so let me explain the reasons for my decision.

First, the major goals I set for myself and our community are either accomplished or well underway.

Our downtown is booming with new growth and vitality; we are making unprecedented investments in infrastructure, parks, and other capital priorities; environmental sustainability has been integrated more fully into our local policy-making; and New Rochelle has been notably successful in securing competitive grants for exciting initiatives like the LINC.

Our progress today is made even more gratifying by the memory of challenges overcome. I assumed office just before the onset of the Great Recession and recall well the years of painful choices when it was difficult to imagine a better tomorrow. Now, far and wide, New Rochelle is viewed as an innovative leader with an exceptionally bright future.

Through it all, we have preserved what is best in our civic character – an inclusive spirit that celebrates diversity and welcomes people of every tradition and circumstance.

To be sure, it will take additional time for the full benefit of our accomplishments to be realized, and I cannot deny that there would be some personal pleasure in remaining mayor for such things as the completion of our downtown plans, the opening of the Echo Bay waterfront, and other initiatives that are still mid-stream.

But this would be a pleasure of observation more than action. To a great degree, the major decisions are already behind us, the foundations already laid, the plans already set, with their own self-sustaining momentum.   Regardless of my continued service, I feel confident that New Rochelle will remain on a positive course, and a new mayor perhaps would be in a better position to establish fresh goals, moving beyond mere completion of the work already underway.

Second, I don’t want to overstay my welcome.

When this term ends, I will have served as mayor for eighteen years, with another ten years prior on the City Council. In all, that’s nearly three decades in local office – the great majority of my adult life.

Since I first joined the Council, a whole new generation of residents with fresh perspectives has grown up or moved in, while many old friends have passed on or moved out. New Rochelle is a different place.

It’s just a fact of political life that people start itching for change after a leader has been in office for a long while. I respect this impulse on the part of voters – periodic change is necessary and healthy – and I shouldn’t impose myself on a community that seems primed for its next chapter.

Third and finally, I am ready for new challenges.

Don’t get me wrong – the work of municipal government could not be more meaningful or engaging. You can see and hear from the people whose problems you have solved. You can visit and touch the physical spaces – the parks and towers and roads – you have changed or wholly created. On rare occasions, you can use the bully pulpit to confront cruelty, or bigotry, or selfishness, and stand up for someone who truly needs a champion. Even the opportunity to officiate weddings, an honor I never expected to have, can be genuinely moving. Everything is tangible and immediate, and you always feel like you’re making a difference.

This is especially true during crises. Think of New Rochelle’s intense experience at the initial center of the COVID outbreak, or the storms that periodically paralyze whole neighborhoods for days on end, or the human tragedies that can, with horrible suddenness, tear apart families and communities.

In these difficult moments, I have done my best to serve New Rochelle calmly and steadily. I have tried to find the right words and take the right steps, offering empathy, decisiveness, advocacy, or just information, as needed, especially when the vulnerable or marginalized have been threatened. I hope this has inspired confidence when confidence has been needed most.

And, yet, even the best responsibilities can wear thin with time and repetition, especially in a position lacking boundaries and perpetually on call. It will be nice once again simply to stand in awe of a great windstorm, without worrying about fallen power lines, or to wake up to the hushed, magical beauty of a snow-draped dawn, without thinking about plows and salt, or even to spend Tuesday evening with my family, instead of a public hearing.

What’s next for me? The short answer is: I don’t know. I plan to take some time in the months ahead to polish up my resume, seek advice from friends, and explore the landscape of possibilities in both the public and private sectors. Being mayor imparts useful skills and experiences, but how they match up with specific opportunities is still to be determined. It’s a little nerve-wracking to be so uncertain of next steps, yet also exciting to find new ways to add a little bit of value to the world. If you have any suggestions, I am all ears!

Although a different elected office is not among the options on my radar right now, I remain deeply committed to our democracy and to the cause of a just, free, and forward-looking society. For all its problems and frustrations, and there are many, politics is still the means through which we improve – or wreck – lives at scale. As a citizen, if not a mayor, I intend to remain active in civic affairs, and I hope those who have supported me will do the same.

To give individual shout-outs in a note like this is risky, because, undoubtedly, I will exclude someone who deserves special recognition, but I would be remiss if I did not mention just a few people: my assistants (now Judge) Eileen Songer McCarthy in my first year as mayor and Angela Derecas Taylor in all the years since; City Managers Charlene Indelicato, Peter Korn, and Chuck Strome, with a fourth City Manager on the way next year; innumerable City Commissioners and other staff, most of whom are deeply dedicated to their craft and several with whom I have worked very closely; and 24(!) members of the City Council, representing both parties and every viewpoint, who have been friends, partners, teachers, competitors, adversaries, and sometimes all of the above at once. Not to mention the hundreds of front line workers, first responders, and other city employees who perform the rarely glamorous, occasionally dangerous, and always essential tasks that enable a community to function. Nothing I achieved in office was an individual accomplishment; everything was the product of teamwork.

(The foregoing list doesn’t even include invaluable community partners, colleagues at other levels of government, and the many other people to whom I am indebted in a political or campaign context, and whom I will recognize another day.)

Most importantly, my family.

Jeremy and Owen, who have always been sources of joy and have matured into thoughtful and kind young men. Having a father in the public eye comes with both good and bad, and my sons have taken each in stride, never showing even a hint of entitlement to special treatment. I could not be more proud of them.

And Catie. She has been patient, wise, supportive, tough, and understanding in exactly the right measures, endured with (mostly) good humor the negative comments that come at elected officials, carried an entirely disproportionate share of parenting responsibilities, pursued with great success her own professional career, and demonstrated an unerring instinct for deflating the sometimes swollen ego of her spouse. How very fortunate I am.

Before closing, let me make clear that this is not a good-bye, at least not yet. The current term still runs for more than a year, and I will remain focused on my responsibilities until the last day in office. I am writing now, well in advance of the next election, in order to give prospective candidates and the larger community sufficient time to sort through options, without any last-minute surprises.

Ultimately, it will be for others to judge the quality and effect of my service; often it takes the passage of time to bring a legacy into clear focus, for better or worse. What I can say with certainty is that I will depart office with gratitude and satisfaction, thankful for the greatest privilege of my professional life, and ready with a full heart to pass the baton.

WAG Spotlights New Rochelle

I am flattered to make the cover of the June issue of WAG.  While the framing of the cover article overstates my role in City government, the magazine as a whole shines a very positive spotlight on New Rochelle’s growth and vibrancy, as well as the partnerships and teamwork that have helped our community achieve tremendous progress.  Take a look.

State of the City 2022

It’s not a good idea just yet for us to gather in a big crowd at City Hall for a traditional State of the City Address, so, instead, I recorded a message to report on the opportunities and challenges confronting New Rochelle, and on the progress we have made together as a community.  Please watch a video of the speech or read my remarks.

 

 

Even through the worst of the pandemic, New Rochelle kept making big strides on the essential priorities that will shape our future. When it comes to our economy and our budget, our environment and our neighborhoods, and our commitment to the dignity and worth of all people, we are poised to emerge from the crisis with fresh momentum and a renewed sense of possibility and optimism.  The State of our City is strong.

New Rochelle Updates Downtown Development Plan

The New Rochelle City Council has unanimously approved a significant update to our downtown development plan. These amendments include an extension of the Downtown Overlay Zone (DOZ) to encompass the Echo Bay waterfront, provisions for new open space and parkland, additional housing to meet surging demand, and enhanced requirements/incentives for sustainable building design, green infrastructure, and climate resiliency, including an allowance for offsite improvements that advance environmental justice. The refreshed development framework is bolstered by parallel efforts to expand opportunities for local Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs), strengthen New Rochelle’s affordable housing policy, and create new recreational and pedestrian amenities, such as the LINC.

At regional and national conferences, New Rochelle is often cited as a model of intelligent, successful planning.  Our combination of a form-based zoning code, completed environmental review, and master developer for publicly-owned sites has created an ideal regulatory environment that reduces risk, ensures predictability, and requires every project to advance community-based goals and design criteria.  Since the inception of this framework in 2015, New Rochelle has experienced unprecedented economic growth, attracting $2.2 billion in private investment, with thirty-two projects approved, totaling 9.2 million square feet. Six are already completed, with lease-up exceeding 90%, and twelve more are under construction, all within an area that is compact, walkable, transit-served, and highly diverse — exactly the kind of setting in which growth makes the most sense and does the most good.  Ongoing development is also making a positive, and escalating, contribution to City and School District finances.

The amended DOZ will extend New Rochelle’s impressive economic momentum, while guiding the next wave of projects more fully toward principles of environmental and social governance (ESG) — achieving development that is sustainable, equitable, and inclusive, and also creating a powerful magnet for ESG-focused capital.

To be sure, New Rochelle’s redevelopment is still a work in progress: the growing pains of construction are widespread and intense; completion of all the approved projects is years away; and we have not yet experienced the street-level commercial activation that really makes a downtown come alive.  There is much still to do . . . and yet every reason to be confident of our trajectory.

I am grateful for the outstanding teamwork and robust public engagement that made these accomplishments possible, eager to grab hold of the important work still ahead, and optimistic as never before about the future of our city.

Follow our progress at ideallynewrochelle.com.

Huge News: New Ro Receives $12 Million Federal Grant for LINC Project

Big, big news.  New Rochelle has been awarded a $12 million federal grant for the LINC project.

The LINC is among the most significant and transformative initiatives in New Rochelle’s history. By repurposing a portion of Memorial Highway (and its overpass extension to I-95) into a linear park, the LINC will bind together the Lincoln Avenue neighborhood with New Rochelle’s burgeoning downtown — enabling better, safer access to transit and employment, while also creating an expansive new open space and recreational amenity for tens of thousands of residents.  Combining our federal award with State dollars already allocated to the LINC through the DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative), the City is now in a position to fully implement this exciting vision.

Memorial Highway in its current form is a classic example of a car-centric planning disaster — a six-lane overbuilt thoroughfare, originally intended to connect the New England Thruway with the Hutchinson River and Cross County Parkways, but instead simply dumping excess traffic into local roads never designed to accept it.  Even worse, it is emblematic of the injustice visited upon many Black and Brown neighborhoods around the country that were either bulldozed or severed from their surroundings by acres of concrete.  The LINC presents a rare opportunity to heal a historic wound and build a better, more equitable future for everyone in New Rochelle.

The federal RAISE program, the source of our grant, is highly-competitive; only a fraction of applications from the entire nation receive awards.  New Rochelle’s win is, therefore, a powerful vote of confidence in the project and in our community.  I am deeply grateful for the leadership of President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg and for the exceptional advocacy of our federal delegation, led by Senator Schumer, who championed New Rochelle’s grant application, with strong support from Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Bowman.

Thank you also to the City’s planning and development team.  Their persistence and hard work were instrumental in New Rochelle putting forward a compelling application and making the best possible case to federal officials.

There’s more about this announcement in the Journal News, and here’s additional information about the LINC.

Build Back Better – New Ro

Through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), New Rochelle has been awarded nearly $37 million over two years to address the impacts of the COVID pandemic and “build back better.”  Last night, the City Administration presented a proposed plan of action for utilizing our ARPA allocation.  In addition to complying with the ARPA’s guidelines and restrictions, this plan is also designed to “(1) avoid duplication with Federal, State, and County programming; (2) achieve a whole-of-community, not just governmental, recovery; (3) prioritize one-time expenditures with sustained, long-term impact; and (4) reach for transformative opportunities that might be unattainable without the ARPA’s unique infusion of resources.”  Read the whole plan here, as well as backup documentation related to green infrastructure, social infrastructure, and economic infrastructure.  The City Council will consider this proposal in the context of our 2022 budget.