For most first-time elected officials, there is a certain honeymoon period given for them to get their feet wet and learn the political landscape.
Yorktown Supervisor Matt Slater, who was elected in November 2019, was not given that luxury, as a few days after he took office on January 1, 2020, there was a vandalism spree on certain buildings and churches in town that was labeled a hate crime by law enforcement investigators. No arrests have been made.
A few months later, the COVID-19 pandemic invaded the United States, forcing local governments to function like never before.
“When looking at Matt’s first year in charge, my first thought is that I am relieved that I am not a first term supervisor dealing with 2020,” said Yorktown Councilman Ed Lachterman. “It was trying enough as a sitting councilman, so it is staggering to think of trying to learn the job and deal with the rapidly changing landscape. That being said, I am extremely impressed with how Supervisor Slater has risen to the occasion.”
Instead of being overwhelmed by the daunting challenges, Slater, 34, said he has embraced his leadership role and worked tirelessly to move the town forward.
“I don’t think anyone takes office expecting these things to happen,” he said during a recent interview. “I firmly believe we get put in places we are meant to be. We have managed it very well. We have been very cutting edge in things we have done. It’s been an absolute honor of a lifetime to serve the community I was raised in. It’s a privilege to do what I do. I take pride in it.”
A graduate of Yorktown High School and former chief of staff for State Senator Terrence Murphy, Slater stressed his job has been made easier by the cooperation of a diverse Town Board, that features three Republicans and two Democrats.
“The Town Board has focused on what is good for the town,” Slater said. “If it’s good for the town, I’m in. That’s the approach I’ve taken. It’s been a real pleasure to work with all of them. Actions speak louder than words. We’ve proven an ability to do so and a willingness to do so. I think the town is definitely benefitting from it.”
Councilman Vishnu Patel agreed, saying, “We have been elected to serve the town. In the spirit of cooperation, I will continue to do the right thing.”
Lachterman praised Slater for his efforts in championing the “smart reopening” of local businesses and serving as a liaison for merchants and county and state governments.
“I also think that the supervisor has excelled in an understanding of the needs of the people in Yorktown,” Lachterman said. “In a year where we have all been affected by COVID-19, he has found ways to help the taxpayers of our town.”
Lachterman added, “On the business side, we were hailed as leaders in the county on our efforts to streamline outdoor dining. On the residential side he has held the line in taxes, over the objection of two former supervisors who think the town should raise taxes to build a war chest. While it is essential to have money for the town, we have people that are hurting. Yorktown is an expensive town to live in and there are many people that have taken a hit due to closures and lost business. It takes a lot of maturity to recognize this and make the appropriate decisions.”
One of those former supervisors, Susan Siegel, who keeps a close eye on town affairs, maintained Slater can improve in what he chooses to communicate to residents.
“While I give Supervisor Slater high marks on some issues, I’m concerned about his lack of transparency on other issues, like the announcement about the new senior center,” she said. “There should have been an open town board discussion about the plan before an agreement was made with the unidentified “new owner” of the Soundview parcel who agreed to have the center’s parking on his site.”
“I also question Supervisor Slater’s decision to spend $85,000 of taxpayer dollars on a PR firm to promote Destination Yorktown when he has publicly stated that Yorktown doesn’t have the office space for the types of firms the PR campaign is targeting,” Siegel added.
Lachterman disagreed with Siegel’s assessment, saying, “I cannot recall a time that the communication to the citizens of Yorktown has been better than it is now. Not only the COVID updates, but the new and improved website, the use of social media and his accessibility are all improvements he has made over the year.”
Slater said one of his goals for 2021 is “enhancing outreach to residents,” noting, “There’s more we can do there.”
On the much-anticipated Trader Joe’s that appears to be headed to the Lowe’s site on Route 202, Slater remarked, “We’re being led to believe it’s all on the execution of the lease.”
As for the Jefferson Valley Mall, Slater said the owners are looking to transition it from totally retail to having come entertainment components.
“They need to try to find reasons to drive traffic to the building,” he said. “They are still fully committed to the mall.”
Slater said he is proud the town has been recognized as a regional leader against climate change with the passage of solar and battery storage laws.
“Despite the challenges of COVID, we really have taken some bold steps,” he said. “I thank the residents of Yorktown. They have been so supportive and inspirational. It’s a great community. It’s a position you make what you want of it. I don’t sleep at night. I take naps.”