By Louise T. Gantress
North Castle includes the three hamlets of Armonk, Banksville and North White Plains. The first two are residential suburban whereas North White, as it is called, is quasi-urban. Elections are at large, with positions voted on by the entire town. North White often feels it is “apart” rather than a part of North Castle because elected officials tend to live in either in Armonk or Banksville. Not long ago local government in the Town of North Castle was rife with contention. A lack of civility upset most residents.
This year, Supervisor, two Council positions, Clerk, and a Judge are up for election. However, only the Council positions are contested. The unopposed: Supervisor Michael Schiliro, Clerk Alison Simon and Town Justice Elyse Lazansky. There are three candidates for two Councilman positions: Stephen D’Angelo, Guy Mezzancello and Jose Berra. Additionally, the seat for County Board of Legislators (BOL), District 3, which includes North Castle, Mt. Pleasant, Pleasantville and parts of Greenburgh, Ossining and Sleepy Hollow has two candidates vying for the position (left open in July when Legislator Michael Smith unexpectedly withdrew): John Diaconis and Margaret Cunzio.
Michael Schiliro is seeking a second term as Supervisor. He is cross endorsed by the Democratic, Republican, Conservative and Independence parties. Schiliro said, “The real task is to balance development with maintaining the small, quaint town atmosphere with three distinctly different hamlets” and “provide the level of service people expect.” He seems to be successful; a longtime resident said, “Dark clouds have lifted from town politics. Mike’s uncontested status speaks to his results and professionalism.”
Incumbents can point to the restoration of the town’s fund balance and its AAA rating from Moody’s Investors Service, and contracts signed with all four unions include contributions towards health care. Negotiation with Brynwood concluded with a “fee simple” solution to tax the proposed multiunit housing as separate properties, and not a lower condo rate. A new source of revenue will be added in 2016 once Governor Cuomo signs the bill allowing North Castle to levy a hotel tax. State Senator Latimer and Assemblyman David Buchwald shepherded the bill’s passage.
The three Council candidates agree on keeping taxes low, paving roads and saving Miller House, the headquarters of General Washington during the Battle of White Plains.
Stephen D’Angelo is a current Councilman running for a second term. He points to the “revitalization” of the town during his tenure, including Armonk Square, new restaurants, and an accelerated road paving schedule. He said that town taxes were kept under the state cap and resolution of Miller House is ultimately a county responsibility.
D’Angelo is not taking anything for granted in this year’s election. “I will work hard to get their votes, I will work hard for the town,” he said. He is an 11 year resident of the town, a graduate of Manhattan College and CPA who maintains his accounting business in Armonk.
Guy Mezzancello is completing his first year in office, having won a special election, by 22 votes, to fill the council seat vacated when Michael Schiliro became Supervisor. Initially Jose Berra was selected to fill the position. Mezzancello said, “You need time to get things done. I learned a lot this year.” He lists priorities as parking in downtown Armonk and paving roads. He wants to keep seniors in town, but has no specific plan. He would consider a bike lane where feasible.
To fix the roads quickly, he would take advantage of low interest rates currently available and go to a bond issue. He is appalled that Miller House sits in disrepair and would like to see it rebuilt on site as soon as possible. The town has done a “fairly good job” of keeping taxes under control, and coordinating with other towns for equipment or other purchases is helpful.
Mezzancello moved to Armonk in the mid-1980s from Harrison and has been involved in Little League baseball, becoming commissioner. He also served on the Planning Board. “I think you have to listen to everybody,” he said. He operates a contracting business and said he is “unafraid to tackle” the town’s contracts because he “knows the gray areas.”
Jose Berra proposes accelerating the pace of road repair but, even if the town bonds, he would like to remain within the current budget for road maintenance. He wants to start a dialog, including special tax breaks, to keep seniors in town. Parking is a concern, but he rejects meters along Main Street in favor of a satellite lot for shop employees. He would investigate traffic rules for bicycles as slow moving vehicles and educate cyclists.
Berra favors cost sharing with other towns, bulk purchases and using part-time town workers “as appropriate.” He supports efforts to have the county step up to its responsibility to Miller House. A graduate of the University of Chicago Law School and a CPA, he worked for the US Treasury and private business. He wants to bring his “unique background to address issues” to make North Castle “even better.”
Both BOL candidates want to keep taxes low, save Miller House, and support County Executive Astorino for a resolution of Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Settlement which stipulates the construction of 750 units of affordable housing available to non-county residents, including out-of-state.
Romance brought John Diaconis (Democrat, Independence, Working Family) to Armonk when he wed Anne Danzig, long time Armonk resident and a co-founder of the North Castle Citizens Corps Council (NC4).
Diaconis was Treasurer of the Friends of Miller House and co-chaired the Ethics Task Force. He says “the proposed ethics code will be one of the strongest in the state and covers elected, appointed and board volunteers.” Formerly he served on the town board in New Castle and was a town prosecutor.
Diaconis said drawing on reserves and borrowing are short term tactics to keep taxes low, and he would explore cost savings through shared services. As an attorney, he handled housing discrimination cases and has experience with HUD. He agrees with the position of the county executive to keep the Settlement limited to the four points of the Agreement and would work towards a resolution which dissolves the Agreement, not allowing HUD to expand its interpretation. He supports saving Miller House and ethics reform in the county.
Diaconis also stated that his goal is to “bring people together” and that he is a “builder” and “fair minded.” He would assist the District in any capacity, especially to share information for decision making to the benefit of the towns in the District. “Public service is really the highest calling. I want to make a difference and serve the public.” He is a partner of the law firm of Bleakley Platt & Schmidt.
Margaret Cunzio (Republican, Conservative, Reform) was raised in Armonk. Her father, Vincent Masi, was chair of the Conservative Party and she was a district leader. She has years of behind-the-scenes experience, including volunteer activities. “This is not about me,” she said, “it’s your job (as an elected) to listen and come up with a solution.”
Cunzio intends to work with the county executive to fight HUD because she believes the Settlement overrode home rule and says, “We need working class housing for our residents.” She wants no tax increase, and will investigate “creative” solutions, including consolidation among the various towns for shared services.
She will focus on economic development, while keeping the “charm” of the county, to broaden revenue sources so as not draw down fund balance. Cunzio remembers Miller House as a child and would look into the best means to preserve it, including a partnership similar to Playland.
She said, “I want to be present and to listen. We need to find a way to move forward in many different ways.” Cunzio is an adjunct professor at Iona College and at Western Connecticut State University, a former elementary school teacher and a current fitness instructor at Equinox in Armonk.
Cunzio has served on the Mount Pleasant Architectural Review Board, with the Mount Pleasant Recreation Department’s Senior Program and volunteers with the rescue program of the Westchester SPCA.
Louise T. Gantress is a freelance writer and author of Bitter Tea, a novel available at www.amazon.com/Bitter-Tea-Louise-T-Gantress