Tonight’s public forum for the Port Chester mayoral candidates brought out some stark differences between the two: the decision on whether to appeal the voting rights decision, their perception of the village finances and the prospects for sharing more services with neighboring municipalities to save money. Overall, incumbent Mayor Dennis Pilla claimed progress on everything from code enforcement to corruption-fighting within the ranks, while Republican nominee and Trustee Bart Didden repeatedly accused him of “mismanagement.”
Pilla noted the recent upgrade of Port Chester’s bond rating to its highest ever, coming despite declining sales and mortgage taxes. Didden said the rating agency was wrong on AIG and Lehman Brothers: “I’m not putting a lot of weight into Moody’s, Mr. Mayor.”
Didden also characterized Pilla’s view of the voting-rights appeal as a “doomsday” decision that would cost well over the $225,000 authorized fee for appellate counsel. He described his support of the appeal as one of principle, saying, “Our Constitution and our Bill of Rights says one man, one vote.” He accused the information of “information overflow” about the legal case that yielded the unusual cumulative voting method for trustees.
Pilla said “one man, one vote” – actually stemming from a Supreme Court decision – ensures each voter the same number of votes apiece. (For the trustee elections, voters all get one vote for each open seat.) He gave an encapsulated version of why Port Chester was found in violation of the voting rights act.
“This case is not a stigma against any one of you,” he told the 100-or-so audience members at Port Chester High School. “It’s not about one person, one vote, as Mr. Didden thinks it is. It’s about whether the Hispanic community is large enough, compact enough, votes cohesively enough so that according to the Supreme Court – laws that we are highly unlikely to get changed – they say they should be in districts. Look at other places that have a large minority population. Nine out of 10 have districts, whether they’re villages, cities, towns or states.”
A couple times, the candidates were asked what they would do to foster more unity and tolerance among village residents.
Didden said, “Everybody wants the best, and everybody wants to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors…. The divide is between government and the people.”
Pilla said the community is mainly tolerant but that the board itself had to set a more civil tone, rather than fan the flames.
“If you watch the meetings on TV, and I don’t mean to disparage, but it’s as though they’re throwing lighter fluid on a fire that’s already partially lit,” the mayor said.
One specific policy difference that I hadn’t heard before was on the potential for sharing services with Rye and Rye Brook. Pilla said he and the village manager met recently with Rye about sharing code-enforcement functions and fire services. He noted that Rye Brook already pays a fee in return for service from volunteer firefighters. Didden dismissed the notion that the wealthy, less-racially-diverse neighboring communities wanted any deals with Port Chester.
“You think Rye Brook wants a lot to do with Port Chester? They’re willing to take their affordable housing and dump it on our borders and put it into our school district…. The City of Rye, they don’t want us over there. They don’t want us in their park, they don’t want us on their beach, and we have to maintain our rights and our ability.” He criticized a recent fee increase for senior citizens at Rye Town Park – which is located in Rye City and run by an intermunicipal commission on which the mayor serves.
More to come on these issues large and small. The candidates meet again Thursday at 1 p.m. in an interview with the Journal News Editorial Board. Check LoHud.com for the streaming video, or look for it on demand.
A video on the League’s forum will be available on its website.