One City, One Book Encourages Community-Wide Reading

If you’re like me, finding time to read a book can be a challenge. On a good night, I might make it through a few pages before falling asleep. But as Catie and I try to set a good example for the kids, we’re more aware than ever of the importance of reading. And, really, all the clichés do apply: nothing beats reading when it comes to expanding minds and encouraging imagination.

So, if you have fallen out of the habit of reading, what better way to get back into it than through the New Rochelle Big Read – One City, One Book. Sponsored by the New Rochelle Public Library, the Big Read aims to encourage conversation and understanding by asking all people in the city to share the experience of reading a particular book.

This year’s selection is Sun, Stone, and Shadows a collection of Mexican short stories from the first half of the 20th century.

The Big Read will kick off on September 16th, from noon to 5:00pm on Library Green, with a Fiesta Grande to celebrate Mexican Independence Day. Copies of Sun, Stone, and Shadows in English and Spanish, as well as dual language children’s books, will be available at a discounted cost.

Throughout the months of September, October, and November readers may take part in read-a-thons, book discussions, lectures, movie screenings and performing arts events, all free of charge thanks to a grant received by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Let’s get reading!

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Tappan Zee Discussion Coming to New Rochelle

On Thursday, August 16th, representatives from Governor Cuomo’s office will come to New Rochelle to share information, take questions, and engage in dialogue with our community about the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge. The meeting will be held in the Romita Auditorium at Iona College’s Ryan Library from 6:00pm to 8:00pm. I’ll be there myself, and the public is invited to attend.

For years the Tappan Zee Bridge has been plagued by over-congestion. 138,000 vehicles cross it daily — that’s thousands more than it was built to handle. And because the bridge doesn’t have shoulder lanes, accident rates are unacceptably high. Repairing the Tappan Zee would cost billions, while only extending its life about twenty years. That is why most people who have studied the issue carefully have concluded that the time has come to replace the bridge entirely.

A related question concerns the incorporation of mass transit — either rail or bus rapid transit — into the new Tappan Zee’s design. Keeping in mind that any mass transit component would have to be integrated into an overall system beyond the bridge, it is probably not realistic to expect the new Tappan Zee to feature mass transit from day one. In my opinion, however, it is vital for the bridge to be designed and engineered so that mass transit can be introduced easily in the future.

Although New Rochelle is not situated on the Hudson River, the link between Westchester and Rockland affects every community in our region. The Tappan Zee is a keystone of a larger transportation network that sustains our local economy and upon which hundreds of thousands of people depend for their livelihoods. So, as New Rochelleans, we have a stake in the outcome of this debate. As Governor Cuomo has stated: “it’s time to invest in a new better bridge that will create jobs, reduce congestion and give the region a real transit option.”

If you are interested in this subject, then I hope to see you on August 16th.

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Armory Plans Presented to Council

Back in May, the City issued a request for proposals for the adaptive reuse of the former Naval Armory on East Main Street. Last month, two teams submitted plans in response, and this week, the Council received public presentations from each of them.

One proposal is focused primarily on the performing arts, and the other is centered around restaurants, food distribution, and sustainable agriculture. But those very brief descriptions don’t really do justice to the plans, as both include a variety of additional features. So if you are interested in this subject, I strongly encourage you to examine the proposals in their entirety. You can also view the presentations to the Council here.

At this stage, the Council should not and cannot make a firm and final decision about the Armory’s reuse. As with all significant developments, additional study must be undertaken, and the Armory must be incorporated into the general environmental review governing the entire Echo Bay site. But we do need to make a preliminary judgment about our prefered concept and about the team with which we want to partner. While there are many factors to consider, I think the three most important are:

Vision: Does the proposal offer a compelling vision that could activate the site, complement the waterfront, catalyze other positive investment, provide services or facilities that would improve our quality of life, or otherwise generate meaningful public benefits?

Realism: Is the proposal grounded in reasonable assumptions? Can it actually be accomplished under foreseeable circumstances and without excessive reliance on public subsidies — considering physical, financial and other obstacles? While no development can guarantee success at such an early stage, there should be a clear and plausible pathway to the end goal.

Ability: Does the team offering the proposal have the experience, professionalism, competence, and access to resources necessary to execute its plans and to maintain a constructive, business-like relationship with the City and community?

The Council has not yet made a selection, and we have asked the teams to answer several follow-up questions. Once we do make a decision, it is likely that a due diligence period will follow, during which the opportunities and pitfalls of this project can be explored in much greater depth.

Anyhow, I encourage you to look over the proposals yourself, applying the tests I have outlined (along with any others you’d like to add). And I welcome your feedback.

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New Rochelle Wins!

Tuesday’s celebrity softball game at the brand new City Park field was a huge success, with hundreds turning out to watch our hometown team take on the WFAN All-Stars, including Bernie Williams, Howard Johnson, Boomer Esiason, Anthony Mason, and other well-known athletes. In addition to being a ton of fun, the game also raised lots of money for the park.

As reported previously, this event was made possible by Craig Carton, the top-rated WFAN sports radio host and New Rochelle native. It was great to welcome Craig back to our community, and I had the pleasure of presenting both him and his co-host Esiason with keys to the city. Big thanks also to Commissioner of Parks & Rec Bill Zimmermann and former New Rochelle High football coach Harold Crocker for their terrific organizational work.

The game itself had a dramatic conclusion, with the New Rochelle team winning a come-from-behind victory in the bottom of the ninth. My personal contribution to this happy outcome was precisely zero; I threw out the ceremonial first pitch (which, fortunately, did not scrape the dirt), and then had the good sense to get off the field and let the real athletes play.

You can see plenty of photos in the media links from this post.

City Park promises to be one of the premier athletic facilities in the county, and it will be enjoyed by thousands of people for many years to come. What a great way to celebrate the opening of the field.

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Will Slow Pitch Still Be Too Fast for Me?

Faithful readers are well aware that, despite my near-total lack of athletic ability, I am sometimes willing to risk embarrassment for the sake of a good cause.

So it is that you will find me this Tuesday, July 31, at the beautifully renovated Flowers (City) Park on Fifth Avenue participating in the WFAN All-Stars Celebrity Softball Game. The event will help to celebrate the completion of the City Park reconstruction, a multi-phase project to transform this well-used public space into one of the finest recreational facilities in the county.

The game will feature a few other city officials and locals, as well as players from the New Rochelle Parks & Recreation Adult Softball League Program, who will undoubtedly raise the level of play significantly. Some well-known sports figures are likely to be part of the action.

This is all made possible by Craig Carton, the co-host of the top-rated “Boomer and Carton” morning show on WFAN. Craig is a former New Rochelle resident, a graduate of NRHS, and — little known fact — classmate and friend of mine all the way back through kindergarten. Coach Harold Crocker is taking a key lead role in organizing the event, alongside Commissioner Bill Zimmermann.

First pitch is at 6:00 pm. Food and beverages will be available throughout the game. Please join us!

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Intermunicipal Agreement Would Lower Rate of Street Repairs

New Rochelle’s fiscal challenges — driven primarily by State-imposed mandates and recession-induced revenue stagnation — are not likely to go away anytime soon. Despite reducing the City’s municipal workforce to its smallest level in our modern history and scaling back, deferring, or cancelling a variety of important programs, the financial burden on taxpayers and residents continues to escalate. Cities throughout the country find themselves in a similar situation, but it is our responsibility to find creative solutions that will best reflect our local priorities.

While the Citizens’ Panel on Sustainable Budgets is undertaking a comprehensive and in-depth look at local service levels and options, the City Administration continues to search out meaningful efficiencies to save taxpayer dollars.

This month the City Council approved a resolution to partner with Pelham Manor in seeking bids for repaving streets in both municipalities. The intermunicipal agreement would allow us to bid out a larger overall contract for repaving, resulting in a lower rate for the work. In this particular case, the amount of money New Rochelle is set to spend on repaving is already fixed in our budget based on the receipt of a formula-based State grant called CHIPS, but a lower rate would mean that the community could pave more roadway.

I hope this agreement can work as a model for other partnerships with nearby municipalities. We all share common challenges, and may be better able to meet them together.

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