The four candidates that formed Progress 4 Peekskill to challenge the slate selected by the city’s Democratic Committee officially launched their campaign Friday evening.
More than 90 people tuned in on Zoom to listen to the ideas of mayoral candidate Conor Greene, current Peekskill Councilwoman Vanessa Agudelo and trustee hopefuls Amy Vele and Amy Perlow.
The foursome is gearing up for a June 22 primary against a majority of the Democratic district leader’s choices: Councilwoman Vivian McKenzie for mayor, incumbent councilmen Ramon Fernandez and Dwight Douglas, and political newcomer Rob Scott, who owns a downtown juice bar.
“My loyalty is not to a party, it’s to the people,” said Agudelo, who in 2017 made history as the youngest person to be elected to the council and has often clashed with her Democratic colleagues on policy issues.
“Right now, the way City Hall is operating only a few people have the information and everyone else is in the dark,” Agudelo asserted. “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.”
Greene, co-founder and board chair of Peekskill Walks, a resident-led nonprofit advocating for safer streets and healthier neighborhoods, stressed government needs to be responsive to the residents it serves.
“I really believe that local government can make people’s lives better,” said Greene, who was born in Dublin, Ireland. “A lot of people really feel disconnected from City Hall and their elected officials. A lot of people out there don’t know how to access services.”
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.
“People deserve to be heard and to be seen,” said Vele, a lifelong city resident. “Our campaign will bring a lot of young energy. Leadership is having the political courage to step up when necessary. Taking the unconventional route is often necessary to make change.”
“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.”
Greene emphasized housing was “at the core” of the Progress 4 Peekskill agenda, along with equitable growth.
“We need to develop on our own terms,” said Greene, who vowed his slate would be putting forth a “bold, aggressive housing policy.”
“We’re not scared to talk about the housing crisis,” said Agudelo, who maintained Peekskill was in the worst shape of any municipalities in northern Westchester with a high rate of foreclosures and rent-burdened tenants.
It was announced during the kickoff that Progress 4 Peekskill had received the Working Families Party endorsement.
However, in an email to the slate Monday, Peekskill Democratic Committee Chairperson Drew Claxton urged the candidates not to run as a third-party ticket if they were defeated in the primary.
“My first and foremost priority is to ensure the Democrats win general elections. That means, regardless of the outcome of the June 22 primary election, Democrats need to be united in November,” Claxton wrote. “I note with the concern the repeated statements made at your campaign launch that you intend to give voters ‘a second bite at the apple’ using a third-party line should you lose the primary. A third-party bid to protest the outcome of the Democratic primary made do irreparable harm to our collective effort to advance progressive, forward-looking policy in Peekskill.”
“Look no further than the national election of 2016 to understand the damage that could be done if Democrats fail to unite,” Claxton added.