by Barrett Seaman –
Uncontested village trustee elections have become commonplace in Irvington. The last time an incumbent running for office was challenged was in 2012. That was when newcomer Democrat Mark Gilliland beat out Republican Rocco (Rick) Rasulo, who had been appointed to fill a vacated seat. Also winning that year was Walter Montgomery, another Republican. Since then, it has been all Democrats.
Rasulo went on to head the local Republican Party, which has been unable to field a slate of candidates since. Rasulo recently resigned that position, and when asked to identify his successor allowed that he did not know of one and referred the question to Mayor Brian C. Smith, an erstwhile Republican. But Smith said that he has since re-filed as “unaffiliated,” meaning that by next term no member of the GOP holds elected office in the village.
It seems unlikely that everything done by the predominantly Democratic board has won unvarnished public approval. Smith offers a more plausible explanation: “I don’t think there have been issues that the Board of Trustees has dealt with recently that have created passion in people [needed to drive them] to run.”
The downside, as Gilliland, now a third term incumbent, is the loss of feedback from the public. “It’s weird running unopposed,” he said, “because there’s not a lot of conversation around issues facing the village.”
And issues there are—or will be in the coming years. The recently completed update of Irvington’s Comprehensive Plan laid out a series of long-term goals, but as the board is finding out, there are a lot of thorny details lurking in among the weeds.
Take a couple of relatively small bore proposals: legalizing beekeeping by residents and allowing homeowners to rent out rooms, either as Airbnb’s or outright bed and breakfast establishments. Some residents have raised concerns about adverse reactions from bee stings; others worry about bee flight patterns. As for room and home rentals, opposition to the use of historic homes for commercial gain was particularly fierce, causing the board to strike that category altogether. Said Gilliland, “Even when we try to go for the low-hanging fruit, issues come up.”
The tougher challenges are to come with the promise to re-zone North Broadway in order to attract maximal use of the land there in ways that are consistent with the character of the village—easily articulated, but as Gilliland says, “figuring out exactly how is not going to be easy.”
Two other major challenges: finding new homes for the fire department, which has outgrown its current Main Street quarters, and the Department of Public Works (DPW), which is situated on valuable property better suited for other uses.
A third major challenge the board faces, as has every board in recent years, is parking—the proverbial third rail of village politics. That is a project that Irvington’s second unopposed candidate, Dr. Larry Lonky, an optometrist looking toward his second term, wants to focus on. “Personally, I’d like to see us get a comprehensive parking plan in place,” he said. He recognizes the multiple competing interests surrounding parking, as well as the overarching restriction, which is the lack of space.