A crowd of about seven dozen people listened Thursday night as White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach and Cass Cibelli, the candidates in next month’s mayoral race, outlined their plans for the city.
For Roach, the plan is to hold course and continue encouraging development in the city while navigating through the rough economic waters that lie ahead.
“I do believe that I have taken a lot of strong steps and a lot of innovative ways in a short two-and-a-half years and I think that I’ve earned the right to another term,” Roach, a Democrat, said. “I’ve worked hard to keep our budgets under control—the bottom line is that I’m going to run a conservative fiscal budget. When I leave, the city is going to be in better fiscal condition than it was when I got here.”
Cibelli, the Republican candidate, said that he wanted to break up the partisanship in the city’s government and bring a unifying voice to the government.
“Tom is an honest person, he has integrity, but there’s a political problem and I don’t want to see someone like Mr. Roach get thrown into it,” Cibelli said. “That’s why I value the ideals of this political process and this political organization. I have experience in the Bronx, watching the Bronx burn as a child and the watching it come back because of good decisions made by leaders who did not have to be responsible to partisan politics...That’s what’s happening in White Plains. There is so much talent out there that does not come forward because they cannot get through the process.”
The White Plains League of Women and the White Plains Council of Neighborhood Associations sponsored the forum, which was moderated by Lindsay Feinberg of the League of Women Voters of the Rivertowns. Prior the mayor’s forum, a forum was held for the candidates in this year's city Common Council race.
Both candidates answered questions from the League before taking questions from the audience.
Roach was elected to the White Plains Common Council in 2001. He was appointed mayor in Feb. 2011, after his predecessor's resignation. He went on to win the mayor's seat in a special election later that year.
Roach said he thinks the biggest issue facing the city is keeping the downtown viable. He said the way to accomplish that is by playing to its strengths.
“We are a transportation hub and society is shifting,” Roach said. “People want to live in downtowns again, want to have access to transportation and that is what we need to highlight here by improving pedestrian and bicycle access to the city and by ensuring that new businesses come in...I get calls from developers all the time and work with them because we need to get more development into the city where development belongs, which is the core.”
Cibelli, who works as a school support specialist with the NYC Department of Education Office of Safety and Youth Development and is chairman of the Westchester County Youth Bureau, said property taxes are the biggest issue facing the city.
“Property taxes imply that we have to continue to fund the city’s request for taxes and holding back our quality of life,” Cibelli said. “There’s a duplicity in the city and it’s going to catch up with all of us. We have to govern the entire city, with the entire city in mind, and not worry about where the support is coming from politically, so that people can remain in office and become re-elected.”
The League of Women voters asked the candidates what steps are being taken to make sure the city is safe with the current reduction of staff in the Department of Public Safety.
Roach said White Plains remains safe and the crime rate remains low when the city’s population is taken into account .
“Remember, we’re 57,000 at night, but up 200,000 to 250,000 during the day,” Roach said. “Our police patrols are the same as they’ve ever been. We’ve instituted new management policies to ensure that we can meet our budgets in a time of fiscal difficulty, but give our police and fire a full number. We’ve just authorized five new hires for the police department in the next academy.”
Cibelli said residents in the city still don’t feel safe.
“If you ask my perspective, yes, I feel safe because it’s very difficult to get by me,” Cibelli said. “If you ask a senior citizen at night if they would walk downtown, I've heard no, because I don’t feel safe down there. I asked someone from Battle Hill and they said that they don’t come out at night. Now, that’s not a reflection of the police department. It’s a reflection of the government and the administration not directing the police department in controlling quality of life issues.”
An audience member asked the candidates how they would make sure downtown remains vibrant and strong.
Roach said one of the big issues the city faces is attracting young professionals with a fun vibrant downtown. If young professionals come to the city, that will attract more corporations, Roach said.
Roach also said it is important to work with landlords to ensure they can make changes that fit in with the existing neighborhoods.
“From now on, under my administration, any project that’s coming into the downtown area is going to have to work for the adjoining area,beyond what they provide to the city” Roach said. “For example, if anything happens at the Pavillion...[it]will have a connector between Hale, up to Post Road.”
Cibelli said downtown businesses are hurting and that more effort is needed to make the business district friendlier.
“I would reduce parking fines...I would have holiday free parking, I would reduce the staff that is responsible for driving around and handing out tickets. The downtown is suffering because we are not garnishing the sales tax that we could...shoppers are very prudent. They are not going to come to you if they know it’s going to cost them another $25 to park their car.”
Another resident referenced an engineering report that was submitted by TRC, an engineering firm based in Hawthorne that was hired by the city, on the French American School’s proposal to the build a campus at the old Ridgeway Country Club site.
Citing the concerns that the report had regarding FASNY’s potential impact on noise, traffic and air quality, the resident asked how long it will take before the Common Council rejects the application.
Roach said the Common Council is simply following the process set forth by state law. He also added that he put TRC’s report on the city Web site as soon as it was available so the public could review it.
“That’s a permitted use in that zone, they made an application, we are following the law and we are reviewing it,” Roach said. “So, where we are right now, and even if you don’t like it, I have to follow it. So if you want a mayor that will ignore because it’s expedient politically, then I’m not your guy. But if you want a mayor that’s going to give everyone a fair hearing...that’s what you have and that’s what you’re getting.”
Cibelli said he is against the FASNY proposal
“Transportation is very difficult operation, because it’s a very legal operation,” Cibelli said. “It’s a process that involves the safety of children, safety of staff, the safety of citizens. Whatever is happening in that report, which I was not privy to, is a give and take. It’s play on words and it’s what happens in these processes , because they are going to exhaust the issue until they put a shovel in the ground. What needs to be done is to raise the discussion, beyond that report and look at the radical changes in our city, in a very beautiful part of the city.”