The Peekskill Democratic Committee Thursday night selected its slate for the November citywide election, with Deputy Mayor Vivian McKenzie heading the ticket for mayor.
McKenzie, who has been on the Common Council since 2013 when she was appointed to replace Don Bennett, will be joined by incumbent councilmen Ramon Fernandez and Dwight Douglas, along with Steve Kollias, vice chairman of the committee.
“I do have high faith in Deputy Mayor McKenzie,” said current Mayor Andre Rainey, who decided not to seek a third term. “She’s been fearless. I think she will be great.”
McKenzie was born and raised in Peekskill and is owner of Kathleen’s Tea Room downtown. She said she will continue to work “to build a 21st Century city.”
Fernandez is seeking a second four-year term, while Douglas, who was appointed last year to fill a vacancy, is running for his first full term. Kollias has never run for elected office.
“We represent the Democratic community. We are not just a small segment,” said former Councilwoman Drew Claxton. “I do hope we will unify behind this ticket.”
However, that doesn’t appear to be the case as a team called “Progress 4 Peekskill” has stepped forward to challenge the committee’s choices in a June primary.
Progress 4 Peekskill includes current Councilwoman Vanessa Agudelo, who failed to earn the committee’s support to run for a second term after being nominated by a district leader.
Agudelo made history as the youngest person to be elected to the council in 2017 and received a lot of publicity for her controversial stance not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at meetings.
Agudelo, who is employed as New York Immigration Coalition’s Hudson Valley Member Engagement Manager and is co-chair of the national committee for Local Progress on Reimagining our Economy, maintained since she differed with her council colleagues on several policy issues her opinions were ignored.
“I was dismissed, disrespected, marginalized and, in many ways, blacklisted,” she remarked. “That is not what our democracy should look like. I would like to see Peekskill elections slowly move away from whether you are just a Republican or a Democrat.”
At the top of the Progress 4 Peekskill ticket for mayor is Conor Greene, co-founder and board chair of Peekskill Walks, a resident-led nonprofit advocating for safer streets and healthier neighborhoods.
“I’m humbled that so many neighbors have asked me to step up on their behalf, and I would be honored to represent Peekskill at City Hall,” Greene said. “We have a wonderful city with an amazing community, but we’re at an important moment that demands new ideas and a vision for our shared future. I am running to improve city services and the government’s response to resident’s needs; for green, healthy and sustainable neighborhoods; to promote a vibrant, thriving downtown and to bring residents together to create an even stronger city.”
Running with Agudelo for three available council seats are Amy Vele and Amy Perlow.
Vele currently serves as a Legislative Aide for Westchester County Legislator Colin Smith and served as Campaign Manager for the Democratic Party in 2019. 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.
“Working on issues like education and housing has increased my awareness of the systemic inequities that sadly still exist in our society, but it’s also given me hope for what local government can accomplish. There’s so much we can do to advocate for equitable funding, quality housing, and safer and cleaner streets — and residents deserve a seat at the table in the process. Improvement comes from harnessing community relationships and expertise, and creating spaces for all to be seen and heard,” said Perlow.
I’m running for City Council because we are at a crucial moment,” Vele said. “We have the chance to rebuild, create policies that truly benefit everyone and find ways to connect City Hall to the community in ways we haven’t seen before. We need to bridge the gap between the English and non-English speaking communities and create a space where residents feel safe to come forward when they need help, know where to go to find resources and have the same accessibility to information as everyone else.”
It’s unclear when the Peekskill Republican Committee will announce its slate of candidates.