Two-term incumbent Mayor Victoria Gearity and Trustee Omar Herrera will be squaring off Thursday, September 13 in a critical Democratic primary for mayor.
The following are the candidate’s answers to questions posed by The Northern Westchester Examiner:
1) How confident are you going into the primary and when and why did you decide to take on the incumbent mayor this year?
I decided to take on the incumbent mayor because my time as both a Village Trustee and as a Village resident has shown me that Ossining is a fractured community that needs to be unified. We can’t say we are united until we realize and discuss what divides us. Not everyone in the village is being heard or respected, and I’m uncomfortable with that. Just because I belong to the same political party as the incumbent, that doesn’t mean that we have the same goals or vision.
As for my confidence going into the Democratic primary, that’s a more difficult question to answer. I’ve been blown away by the support I’ve received from so much of the Ossining community. But as a grassroots candidate, I certainly don’t have the money to conduct polling of any sort, so I can’t speak to how likely I am to win the Democratic primary. What I can say for certain is that every registered Democrat in Ossining should be sure to vote on the 13th, even if it’s not for me. It’s very important that everyone has a say in our candidates and elected officials, no matter what level of government.
2) If unsuccessful in the primary, will you continue your campaign for mayor? If so, on what line (s)?
I believe it is incredibly important for Ossining voters to have a choice at the polls. Because of this, I will absolutely continue my campaign should I not win the Democratic primary. I am honored to have received the endorsement of the Working Families Party, and will be on the November ballot on this party line regardless of the outcome in the Democratic primary next week. To those who might be unfamiliar, the Working Families Party is a progressive group that focuses on fighting the social, economic, racial, and educational inequalities that rob the working- and middle-class of true opportunity. I’m honored that Working Families sees in me the same ideals that they hold dear, and I’m proud of that endorsement, regardless of what happens in the next week’s primary.
3) With ETPA a hot issue right now in the village, what is your position on it?
It’s certainly a complicated issue, but I am absolutely in favor of ETPA. In fact, I was one of the three Ossining Village Trustees to vote in favor of enacting it at Wednesday’s Village Board of Trustees meeting, after the closure of the public hearing. It should be noted that Ossining’s incumbent mayor voted against ETPA, and was in the minority at this meeting as the measure passed 3-2 with fellow trustees Deputy Mayor John Codman III and Quantel Bazemore also supporting it. It should also be noted that this is the 2nd attempt to bring this measure for a vote, which was not done in 2016 despite going through studies and public hearings. There has been a lot of misinformation about what ETPA will accomplish and what more needs to be done. I freely admit that ETPA is not a perfect solution by any means. We need to do more, much more, to ensure that Ossining remains a great and affordable place to live. But I know that ETPA is one important step in the path to creating the stable Ossining that we will all benefit from. ETPA will give some of our current residents the freedom to stay here in the community that they love. That’s never a bad thing. I hope we can now move on to the many other pressing issues Ossining faces, as I have been trying to highlight.
4) Do you agree with the recent study that suggested Ossining should declare a housing emergency?
I don’t think this is a matter of agreeing versus disagreeing. Whether or not we should declare a housing emergency should come down to facts, and nothing short of that. The facts are that a recent study put Ossining’s vacancy rate at just a hair over three percent. When we talk about a housing emergency, we generally mean that there is less than five percent vacancy rate. In that context, Ossining already has a housing emergency, and the question that remains is simply what we are willing to do to fix the problem. We can argue all we like about the ways to address the problem, but objectively, there can’t be any argument that the problem exists. Low vacancy rates can be dangerous to the community because they can dramatically drive up the cost of renting, thereby forcing residents to move to more affordable areas. I see this happening now, and if it continues, we will lose part of what we love about Ossining.
The debate about ETPA has energized our community. I encourage voters to direct that energy to the voting booth on September 13 for the Democratic Primary Election. Primary elections in an off-year have notoriously low turnout. Off-year General Elections fair only marginally better. Perhaps this year can be different. Elections have consequences. I ask Ossining residents to get out and vote, and I hope you vote for me.
Last Wednesday I voted against ETPA. The intentions of this program are good for Ossining—keeping the village affordable and protecting tenants. Unfortunately, in practice, ETPA has too many unintended consequences that will be detrimental for the majority of Ossining residents—homeowners, small businesses and tenants alike. It also undermines the progress we’ve been making on upgrading substandard housing—which is one of our greatest housing challenges.
The best thing I can say about the ETPA vote is that at least now we can direct Village time and resources to important initiatives like reopening the Comprehensive Plan to envision the community we hope to be for the next decade and beyond. ETPA has demanded a lot of bandwidth this year, and I’m eager to focus our efforts on initiatives that are forward-thinking, and driven by and for Ossining.
ETPA is only one policy. If we have learned anything with our recent focus on housing, we know there are a lot of strategies for improving our local economy, keeping taxes low, and providing safe affordable housing. With the right leadership, Ossining has a brilliant future.
Our village is in a better position than we have been for many years. Under my leadership, we are experiencing thriving new businesses and progressive policies, while holding the line on taxes. The next step for Ossining is smart mixed-income development that feeds our local economy and balances the needs of our crowded schools.
Like any important decision, I thoroughly researched the pros and cons of ETPA, and the impact it would have on our whole community. It is unfortunate that ETPA supporters often resorted to simplified rhetoric suggesting that if you support ETPA you care about tenants, and if you don’t support this policy, you don’t care about tenants. Understanding the comprehensive implications of tax assessment and heavily bureaucracy-laden state programs demands more than politically charged sound bites.
I fought hard for the position I believed in. The votes were cast. We’ll see if there are legal challenges or implementation hiccups, but that’s unlikely. Now it’s time to look ahead.