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.

Calcification. Parity. Cultural Backlash.

The best explanation I have seen of the current political era from the always excellent @ezraklein.  Summary: “The parties are so different that even seismic events don’t change many Americans minds. The parties are so closely matched that even minuscule shifts in the electoral winds can blow the country onto a wildly different course. And even in a time of profound economic dislocation, American politics has become . . . about whether the cultural changes of the past 50 years delight or dismay you.”

I am relieved by the outcome of the midterms, but the conditions Klein describes aren’t going to disappear any time soon.  Add three other factors — the anti-majoritarian flaws of our Constitution, the polarizing effects of social media, and the growing right-wing flirtation with authoritarianism — and you have a prescription for ongoing political turmoil, with enormous risks for liberal democracy, and no end in sight.

Bramson vs. Astorino (2022 Edition)

Nine years ago, Rob Astorino and I were locked in a heated contest for County Executive, during which we got along personally, but disagreed on pretty much everything.  Last week, Iona University hosted the two of us for a pre-election debate/conversation, and we picked up right where we left off.  The threats to our democracy are real and urgent . . . and need to be called out in the clearest, strongest terms.  Please watch, share, and VOTE.

Biden Rallies for Hochul in Westchester

A big, fired-up crowd welcomed President Biden to Westchester this evening as he rallied at Sarah Lawrence College for Governor Hochul and the Democratic ticket.  Two days left.  Make your plan to vote.

Politics and Representation in NY-3

I joined Andrew Whitman @3onNy3 for an-depth look at the newly-redrawn 3rd congressional district of New York, which includes southern New Rochelle and the Westchester Sound shore.  An interesting discussion about politics and representation.  You can watch here.

 

Congratulations to George, Tim, and Damon

Congratulations to George Latimer, Tim Idoni, and Damon Maher on their victories in yesterday’s Westchester County election.  And congratulations also to all the candidates around our region who prevailed in their contests, including Terry Clements and Catherine Parker, who represent portions of New Rochelle and ran unopposed.  I am grateful for the opportunity to continue working with these outstanding public servants.  Full results here.