After coming up short in two bids to join the Town Board, Warren Smith is setting his sights on capturing Cortlandt’s top managerial position.
To do so, Smith, 60, a lifelong Verplanck resident and Director of Operations for a commercial printer in New York City, will have to defeat Supervisor Dr. Richard Becker, who is running for a second term following a 14-year stint as a councilman.
“I think I can help the future of our town,” Smith said. “I don’t think we’re giving the people what they want.”
Becker, 70, a cardiologist who still sees patients half a day on Thursdays, said he is proud of the accomplishments of the all-Democratic board the last two years.
“It’s one of the best things I have ever done,” Becker said. “I like being supervisor and I want to continue being supervisor. I know all the issues inside and out. I think we have a lot more to do.”
The two-year term supervisor position carries an annual salary of $167,028.
Dr. Richard Becker
Becker’s involvement in the Cortlandt community began when he established the Dickerson Mountain Preservation Association, a group that resisted development on wetlands adjacent to the tallest mountain in Westchester. Having attended Planning Board meetings for almost 20 years, his group succeeded in preserving 120 acres. Concurrently, he served on the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals for three years. In 2007, he was elected to his first four-year term on the Town Board.
Having followed in the daunting footsteps of Linda Puglisi, who served 30 years before retiring in 2021, Becker said he has a different managerial style than his predecessor.
“I have a much more open-door policy. Everyone comes into this office,” he said. “Every two weeks we have a department head meeting where the department heads are required to file a report on what they accomplished. I inherited a team from Linda that is terrific. This job is seven days a week. I don’t think people realize how much time it is.”
Becker said he supports “appropriate development in appropriate areas” and touted the board’s handling of the Medical Oriented District (MOD), stressing what is being proposed is in line with the town’s 2016 Master Plan.
He also defended his policy of accepting campaign contributions from companies and individuals that do business in Cortlandt, including Val Santucci and David Steinmetz, key figures in the Evergreen Manor project in the MOD.
“It’s all open and above board. I want them to stay busy and active in the town,” Becker said. “It doesn’t influence anything.”
A new $5 project Becker is excited about is turning an abandoned 30-acre quarry in Verplanck that is 350 feet deep in some places into a town swimming facility. Becker said the town will be designing and building it and hopes it will be completed in 2025.
“I think this will be the biggest thing this community has seen,” Becker said.
When asked about term limits, Becker agrees, but stressed that’s what Election Day is for.
“I will not stay (as supervisor) more than eight years,” he said. “It’s up to the public to decide.”
Smith, who will be running on the Republican and Concerned Taxpayers lines, is a 1981 graduate of Hendrick Hudson High School, President of the Verplanck Residents Association and a longtime Boy Scouts leader.
He was involved in the effort to stop the Port Cortlandt industrial project, has been a regular attendee at town meetings in recent years and is a member of the town’s Verplanck Quarry Committee. He lost to Councilman Robert Mayes last November in a race to serve the final year of Becker’s unexpired council term.
“I have lived my entire life as a leader. I think my scouting career prepared me for this (job),” Smith said. “I’m a creative problem solver, sort of like a MacGyver. I like to have different voices. If I don’t have the answers, I get the right people to answer. I think we can make our town better by getting better people in office and having more transparency.”
A strong proponent of term limits for town officials, Smith maintained being in office too long can breed complacency and ineffective governing.
“It’s been the same voices for the last 30 years. With one party rule, you get very bad outcomes,” he said. “I think I have a lot to fix, and I think I can do a great job.”
Smith said he was puzzled how Becker and the board could argue traffic won’t increase on Route 202 with the projects proposed in the MOD.
“I don’t know how they can say traffic won’t get worse with 100 townhomes. Route 202 is not handling the traffic we have now,” he said. “The Town Board continually points to the Master Plan of 2016. The world is different. We need to update that. That’s why we need term limits.”
Meanwhile, Smith criticized Becker for accepting campaign contributions from developers.
“It gets to be a very poisonous marriage when you’re in there too long,” he said. “It doesn’t look good. It has the appearance of impropriety.”
Smith said he would explore the possibility of creating a community police force with Cortlandt, Buchanan and Croton-on-Hudson to provide more police coverage.
“Right now, they don’t have preventive policing, they have reactive policing,” he said. “People speed at will, they break laws at will because they have no expectations that anybody (police) will be coming by.”
Smith also vowed to be a full-time supervisor.
“I would devote all of my time to the town. I don’t see having a day I could burn during the week,” he said. “I want to be ethical. I want to have a clean government. I think we should be available to the taxpayers. That will be my focus.”
Rick has more than 40 years’ experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, running the gamut from politics and crime to sports and human interest. He has been an editor at Examiner Media since 2012. Read more from Rick’s editor-author bio here. Read Rick’s work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/pezzullo_rick-writer/