By Barrett Seaman–
After 15 years in office and with 14 months before the next local election, Drew Fixell is stepping down as Mayor of Tarrytown. Only a handful of friends, family and colleagues knew as recently as a week before he submitted an official letter of resignation to the Village Clerk Wednesday afternoon. At that time, Deputy Mayor Tom Butler assumes mayoral duties. It is expected that the transfer will be ratified by the full board at its scheduled work session that night. The new Acting Mayor will then appoint an Acting Deputy Mayor as well as a trustee to fill the vacant board seat. Under New York State law, the Board will be asked to vote again by December 1st to select someone to serve out the remaining year in Fixell’s term.
Why, and Why Now?
The “precipitating factor,” Fixell told The Hudson Independent in an exclusive interview, was a simple family matter: “My daughters are going back to work, and my wife and I will become full-time childcare.”
Fixell, 64, also has two aging parents, aged 92 and 88, living in Nyack—currently in good health but increasingly in need of attention and, like all senior citizens, particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
Indeed, the coronavirus lurks behind every aspect of Fixell’s decision to leave office. His two daughters, each of whom had babies during the past two years, have been on maternity leave, which in the case of one was extended because of the economic contraction. Now, they and their husbands are returning to work, leaving Fixell and his wife Vicki to take up the childcare slack. “Vicki and I are now full-time caregivers to our two grandsons,” he explains. One is seven months; the other 21 months old.
Another factor: Fixell himself has an autoimmune issue, which in the current environment makes the public aspects of office that much riskier. Moreover, the job grew more complicated this year—first with the pandemic and its devastating effect on the local economy and village operations, and then with Black Lives Matter and the demands for police reform.
On top of this was his own career. Like all village elected officials, the Mayor has a day job, managing a family-owned financial investment company. “Everything has sort of been accumulating,” he said. “The only optional part of my life was being mayor.”
While newfound family responsibilities are the Mayor’s principal reason for leaving now, friends and colleagues say that he has been deeply troubled by the broader impacts of the pandemic as well as the cultural strife stemming from the clash between the Black Lives Matter movement and the subsequent Back the Blue backlash that has intruded on Tarrytown no less than it has on the rest of the country. In a fraught environment, small irritations tend to loom larger—like conducting village business by Zoom, which inevitably extends the time it takes to accomplish everything. And “everything,” he says, “has sort of been accumulating.”
The Fixell Legacy
Drew Fixell has been a fixture of Tarrytown government for two decades. A trustee for five years before winning the mayoralty in 2006, he has been in the job seamlessly since. Half of his races were uncontested, including the last one, and his margins of victory have always been substantial.
During that time, the village has improved services while holding the budget under the mandated two percent tax cap, and tax increases have been kept to a minimum. On his watch, Tarrytown has restored the waterfront, including construction of the rec center, senior center and pool, built a new village hall and re-built a couple of fire houses. He has overseen a new comprehensive plan, opened three new parks and won grants for waterfront development, the Riverwalk and the installation of solar panels on village buildings. Under his administration, environmental laws have been beefed up, recycling has been expanded to include multi-family dwellings and a food scrap program has been launched. Some vexing problems persist—like the peace-disturbing fire horn on Main Street, the chronic shortage of parking and sclerotic traffic on Broadway—but not for lack of attention. What he has told friends he regrets most is not being able to convince the state to reform its property assessment formula so as to relieve homeowners of what he sees as an unfair burden.
Tom Butler, a village trustee since 2006, has served as Deputy Mayor for the past five. A retired U.S. Army Reserve Colonel and Director of Tishman Corporation/AECOM, he has been closely involved with the village’s Planning Board and Building Department. With 35 years as an officer in the Army Corps of Engineers, he is used to a top-down, chain of command management style but also recognizes that municipal governance is at heart political and consensual. An African-American who grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, he is a big proponent of diversity. Look for a woman and a person of color to fill the two newly opened board positions.
Butler sees Tarrytown’s future as a tourist destination. The village, he believes, is being discovered; Main Street is emerging as a Restaurant Row, anchored by the Music Hall. With both the Washington Irving Boat Club and the Tarrytown Marina coming under new management, the waterfront is getting spiffed up, with the possibility of additional dining establishments nearby. Encouraging all this, at least for the next year, will be an Army Engineer.