With the election just around the corner, I want to take a moment to share a few thoughts about the team that can best lead our city for the next four years.
Barry Fertel lives and breathes New Rochelle. He served for many years on the Board of Education, including two years as its President. With little fanfare, he contributes time and energy to numerous not-for-profits and volunteer organizations that support our schools, libraries, the arts, and more. He practices law out of his offices in our downtown. He even collects New Rochelle memorabilia, amassing an impressive array of historic maps, booklets and postcards, all of which attest to his real passion for our city.
District 5 map. Click for larger image.
When I become mayor six years ago, Barry succeeded me as the representative for Council District 5. And, frankly, he is better than I ever was in his determined advocacy for neighborhood priorities and in his follow-through on the many individual concerns that constitute a big part of any Council Member’s responsibilities.
Just as important — and maybe more so — Barry has been an essential partner on all of the big challenges confronting New Rochelle. We share a common view of the the City’s history and a common faith in its future. We share a value system that respects public action as an instrument for improving lives and communities. We share a — perhaps impolitic — tendency to eschew empty pleasantries and offer candid truths. In short, Barry and I trust and rely on each other, and my ability to govern well is greatly enhanced by his presence on the Council.
If Barry has a flaw, it is that he’s a much better government official than politician. Let’s face it: politics is a field in which many people under-perform their duties and then oversell themselves. Barry does the reverse — he gets the job done, but too often neglects to tell anyone about it. So as someone who has been his friend and admirer for close to twenty years, I am happy to do the selling for him. Barry is a terrific Council Member and deserves to be reelected.
The relationship between a college and its surrounding community is almost always a complicated one, with points of friction and discontent balanced against opportunities for mutual assistance and progress.
The relationship between Iona and the City of New Rochelle is no exception. Iona is among New Rochelle’s largest employers, a planning and economic anchor for the North Avenue corridor, an attractor that draws thousands of people, and an engine of upward mobility for its students, many of whom become permanent residents after graduating. At the same time, the neighborhoods near Iona are often impacted by student behavior (or misbehavior), traffic volume, and parking demands, as well as by growth patterns that can dramatically reshape the physical character of an entire block.
Most people recognize that college and community interests are ultimately bound together, and that we can benefit most fully by working side by side in a climate of mutual respect and understanding. But too often we become trapped instead in rigid, reactive debates, as in the battle surrounding Iona’s plans for a new 10-story dormitory on Mayflower Avenue. What should ideally be a common effort to achieve common solutions becomes a zero-sum fight.
That is why the news I share today is so positive and significant.
Yesterday morning, Iona’s new President, Dr. Joseph Nyre, and I, joined by several neighborhood leaders, launched a collaborative planning process aimed at taking a fresh look at the College’s development. With resident input and participation, the City and Iona will examine options for addressing student housing objectives and other priorities, while also improving the economy and quality of life of the larger community. I am personally hopeful that the North Avenue corridor will be a major focus of examination, but our analysis will commence without prejudgment.
Until at least the conclusion of this joint planning process, Iona will voluntarily withdraw its application for the Mayflower dormitory. Meanwhile, the City will raise the local occupancy standards for Iona’s existing dormitories for the next two academic years to make them consistent with those of the Fire Code and the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York. (Although a change in local law, this will not produce a change in facts on the ground, because we have learned in recent days that occupancy levels in the dorms have exceeded local limits for several years — a condition Iona’s new leadership had been prepared to correct.)
If our planning efforts succeed, then one or both of these actions might be made permanent. If our efforts do not succeed, then circumstances would simply revert to the status quo. In other words, for all parties, there’s a big potential upside, but no real downside. And what had been a big, messy fight becomes a classic win-win.
As we move forward, all sides will have to demonstrate an open mind, appreciation for different points of view, and a spirit of compromise. I do not underestimate the scope of the challenge, but based on the strong support and enthusiasm of College and neighborhood representatives — individuals who just days ago were locked in a contentious struggle — I am optimistic about our prospects.
This new way forward began coming together over an informal breakfast that Dr. Nyre and I shared last month, just a few days after he took office, and it continued taking shape through many conversations in the days since. In the short span of his presidency, Dr. Nyre has impressed me as a leader of great skill, sensitivity, and strategic vision, and I look forward to working with him as a partner for the common good of Iona and our community.
New Rochelle is continually exploring means of improving critical services, especially through cost-effective regional partnerships. In this spirit, we were pleased to reach an agreement with the Scarsdale Volunteer Ambulance Corps (SVAC) that should improve the speed of emergency medical response in New Rochelle’s far north end.
Because New Rochelle is long and thin, and because most of our public safety facilities are located in the central or southern portions of the city, average ambulance response time in the far north end has been longer than that for the city as a whole. To help address this challenge, Council Member Marianne Sussman spearheaded a successful effort several years ago to bring on a third New Rochelle ambulance that is assigned to the north end, when not called into service elsewhere. This step, layered on top of the rapid response of Fire Department EMTs from the Stratton Road fire station, has improved conditions. Even so, many residents have pointed out that SVAC’s ambulance is literally stationed on the New Rochelle border and is often the closest option for homes in the north end.
Our new agreement with SVAC — which comes at no expense to New Rochelle taxpayers — will greatly reduce the threshold for triggering mutual aid with Scarsdale and increase the probability of an SVAC ambulance responding to a New Rochelle call. To greatly simplify a somewhat complicated arrangement: when the closest New Rochelle ambulance is in the south end, SVAC will be activated for calls originating north of Quaker Ridge Road.
Ideally, emergency response would be organized on a regional basis, with each hospital serving as the nucleus of its own service area, but, for now, we are required to organize services on a municipal basis. This mutual aid agreement represents our best effort to work effectively with the available tools.
One additional note that emerged in the conversations surrounding this issue. When making a 911 call, if you have the option of using a land line or a cell phone, choose the land line. Emergency calls from local land lines are sent directly to the Westchester regional response center, while cell phone calls are first routed to State authorities. This additional layer can lengthen response time.