It’s been just over six months since Ilan Gilbert took over the reins of leading the Town of Yorktown from Michael Grace, and the Democrat is enthusiastic about the changes he feels he’s made so far.
“I love it. I feel like I’m making a difference,” said Gilbert, whose only prior elected position was serving five years as a Yorktown Town Justice. “I promised to be a full-time supervisor and that’s what I’ve been doing. I believe I have an enormous amount of positive support. I have changed the tone of meetings and changed the tone of Town Hall. Town Hall is a welcoming place.”
“This job I care very much about. I have a passion to do the work of the town,” Gilbert continued from his second-floor office at Town Hall. “I’m not doing this as a career. This isn’t a stepping stone for me. I hate the political aspect of it, but I’ll deal with it. People used to watch the meetings and they were embarrassed this was our town government. People now say they can watch and be comfortable.”
Gilbert, who retired from his 35-year career as a court attorney/referee, admitted tensions sometimes run high on the Democratic majority Town Board but he’s hopeful of improving relations with Republican councilmen Thomas Diana and Ed Lachterman.
“It’s edgy at times. I think we’re all trying to make it work,” Gilbert said. “I was hoping at least the first year there would be a honeymoon period where politics would be removed and we would roll up our sleeves and work together. I can only hope that I set the tone and we move in that direction. I don’t intend to ram things through. I would like to reach consensus.”
Councilman Vishnu Patel is happy with the way the board has been functioning.
“I think we’re doing good. People like it. People are optimistic,” he said. “We have the majority and we want to do the right thing for the people.”
However, Lachterman said there has been a lack of communication from Gilbert at times, citing a few examples where he had to send multiple emails and follow-up with a phone call while seeking information.
“I think he’s trying hard and we’re trying to work with him but he’s behind a learning curve,” Lachterman said. “I think certain projects and certain ideas have not been up for discussion. Inactivity is worse to me than making the wrong decision. There’s an expectation that we get things done by the public. You can’t have a year of honeymoon and a year of work. You really to have to hit the ground running and control things on your desk.”
Gilbert has made no secret of his resistance to a plan championed by Grace that would relocate the highway garage on Front Street and construct a mixed-use building in its place, known as Depot Square, as a way to spur development in the downtown. He said he would soon by addressing the issue in detail in an Op-Ed piece but revealed the possibility exists of putting the project to a public referendum.
“I’m being criticized in a way for keeping an open mind,” Gilbert said. “I did get voted in by a majority of people I believe did not want that project to go forward. It’s not an area I think lends itself to be the center of town.”
Lachterman said the revitalization of the Charles Point area in Peekskill is one example of how an industrial/commercial section can be transformed for the betterment of a region.
“If there’s no reason to attract people to the area they’re not going to come,” Lachterman said. “I think there’s been a blocking on this because of where the genesis of it is from (Grace).”
After dealing with utilities and issues created by storms when he first took office, Gilbert said he’s been “cleaning up some of the loose ends” left by the previous administration on certain projects, including the Granite Knolls sports complex off Stoney Street in Shrub Oak, which is expected to be completed in September.
Gilbert said the project was started at the wrong time of year and could have been scaled back, leaving available funds for necessary infrastructure and road improvements. He noted the board saved about $500,000 by selecting a different lighting company at Granite Knolls.
Meanwhile, he said the board moved forward with purchasing new generators for Town Hall, the highway garage and sewers. He’s also excited about the board choosing members for a newly established Citizens Advisory Business Revitalization Committee.
“I’m just doing the best job I can and I’m comfortable in my skin,” he said. “I knew it wasn’t just a 9 to 5 job but a 24/7 job. The demand for your time is greater than I thought. Your weekends and appearances, although they’re probably the nicest parts of the job. You want to almost be able to clone yourself.”