Two slates of candidates will be going head-to-head in a June 22 Democratic primary in Peekskill.
The Peekskill Democratic Committee endorsed Councilwoman Vivian McKenzie for mayor, along with incumbent councilmen Ramon Fernandez and Dwight Douglas, and political newcomer Rob Scott, for three available seats on the Common Council.
Unhappy with those choices, a foursome called Progress 4 Peekskill emerged to force a primary. That team is headed by Conor Greene for mayor and Councilwoman Vanessa Agudelo, who is seeking a second four-year term. They are joined by council hopefuls Amy Vele and Amy Perlow.
The Progress 4 Peekskill slate has created some controversy by vowing to continue its campaign through the November election if it falls short in next week’s primary as it has also secured the Working Families Party line.
McKenzie, who owns Kathleen’s Tea Room in downtown Peekskill, has served on the council since 2013 and currently holds the title of deputy mayor. If elected she would be the first black female mayor in the city’s history and only the second black mayor to hold the post.
“Peekskill is one of the most diverse, exciting, and transformative communities in all of Westchester and I couldn’t be prouder to receive the endorsement of the Peekskill Democratic City Committee,” McKenzie stated. “We need leadership that has the experience to guide the city as it grows and ensures that we grow in a way that brings everyone along for the ride. As a mother, business owner and lifelong resident of this city, I know every inch of Peekskill from the families feeling squeezed by affordability, to
the businesses struggling through COVID and the communities who have felt marginalized. I am committed to continuing to build a 21st Century city that represents all of our values.”
Greene is co-founder and board chair of Peekskill Walks, a resident-led nonprofit advocating for safer streets and healthier neighborhoods. Born in Dublin, Ireland, he is also a founding member of the Peekskill Equitable Housing Coalition, which is fighting for housing rights and tenant protections.
“We are at a critical moment in our city’s history,” said Greene, who has stressed city government needs to be more responsive to the residents it serves. “We have a clear vision on how our city can grow. I really believe that local government can make people’s lives better. A lot of people really feel disconnected from City Hall and their elected officials. We need a new approach, so no one is left behind.”
Agudelo made history in 2017 as the youngest person to be elected to the council and has often clashed with her Democratic colleagues on policy issues. A first-generation Colombian American, Agudelo is the New York Immigration Coalition’s Hudson Valley Member Engagement Manager and worked alongside coalition partners to pass the “Greenlight” bill in 2019, giving all residents in New York State access to driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status.
“We need leadership that represents our entire community,” she said. “My colleagues don’t truly understand what their jobs are. My loyalty is not to a party, it’s to the people. Right now, the way City Hall is operating only a few people have the information and everyone else is in the dark. By watching the Common Council, people can see not all Democrats are made the same. When my colleagues begin to sense there is criticism, instead of bringing their (residents) voices in, they close the door and use the pandemic as an excuse for public (input) not to be heard. That is a sad excuse.”
Fernandez, who is Dominican, was elected to the council with Agudelo in 2017. While on the council, Fernandez said he has worked with county officials on public transportation issues, advocated to diversify the city’s workforce and assisted downtown businesses.
“Actions speak louder than words,” he said. “My top priority as a council member has been working to make Peekskill affordable to all residents. If reelected, that would continue to be my main mission in office. On the city council, I introduced the affordable housing ordinance which is currently under discussion, along with a proposal that residential foreclosures be sold at affordable prices as part of a lottery giving preference to low-income Peekskill residents.”
Douglas has served on the council since 2020 after being appointed to fill a vacancy. During his career he worked as a professional city planner and village administrator.
“I am running for reelection because I have the skills and experience that can be helpful to our city, and after the last four years of national chaos, I understand that there are serious threats to our democracy, so serious that I cannot sit on the sidelines and be a spectator,” he said. “I will continue to work to make Peekskill be the best place to live and work, and to welcome those who come to stay whether short or long term.”
Vele currently serves as a Legislative Aide for Westchester County Legislator Colin Smith and served as Campaign Manager for the Democratic Party in 2019. She is a lifelong city resident.
“My main goal has always been to give back to the community,” she said. “People deserve to be heard and to be seen. Leadership is having the political courage to step up when necessary. Taking the unconventional route is often necessary to make change.”
Perlow has been a Peekskill resident since 2013 and has spent her career fighting for school equity, working alongside nonprofits and public schools to increase the percentage of Black, Latinx, and low-income students who graduate from New York City schools prepared for the future.
She is also a founding member of the Peekskill Equitable Housing Coalition, a group committed to halting the gentrification of Peekskill by ensuring the city’s housing policies and agreements are in the best interest of current residents.
“This community is this slate,” Perlow said. “Running for office is not something I thought I would do, but I was dismayed only to hear one person on the council (Agudelo) speaking out.”
Scott has been a resident of Peekskill for more than 20 years and is owner of PK Blendz Juice Bar in downtown Peekskill. He is also a singer/artist who has performed at numerous venues in Peekskill.
“Peekskill is my home. It’s a place where I chose to start a family. It’s a place I chose to start a business,” he said. “Peekskill is a special place and I think anything is possible. But I can’t do it alone. Peekskill is a diverse city. I want to be someone who is listening and open to anyone. Together, we have the power to define and redefine our city.”