Listen for a knock on your door this week. Election season starts in earnest this week, and each political party will start going door-to-door (yes, with some COVID modifications) to collect the voter signatures needed to place their candidates on the ballot.
It is the local political committees that organize all this behind the scenes, with folks called district leaders who are responsible for each of the 14 election districts across Rye.
We spoke with the heads of each political committee to give MyRye.com readers a look behind the curtain. This is real, grassroots block-by-block hyperlocal politics in action.
Today we introduce you to the head of the Rye Democrats. See our article on the head of the Rye City Republican Committee.
Your Name & Title: Shari Punyon, Chair, Rye City Democratic Committee
MyRye.com: What originally attracted you to politics?
Punyon: I was originally attracted to politics based on a recognition of the role, large and small, that government plays in people’s lives. So many of the things that we experience in our daily lives are actually shaped by elected officials and the decisions they make. Government matters, and it is critical that people step up and get involved.
Why are you a Democrat?
Punyon: I believe in people, and that all people matter equally, no matter how much money they were born with, the color of their skin, or who they love. I also believe that everyone deserves clean air to breath, and clean water to drink, and that taking care of our environment is fundamental to our survival. I see the Democratic Party as being the steward of those principles.
How long have you lived in Rye and what do you do / have you done professionally?
Punyon: I’ve lived in Rye for 22 years. I work in IT, currently in the field of Knowledge Management, a growing discipline that helps corporations manage the vast amounts of information required to function in the new digital age.
How long have you been involved with the Rye City Democratic Committee, and how did you originally get involved?
Punyon: I’ve been involved in the Rye City Democratic Committee for over 15 years. I originally got involved because two old-time political rivals tag-teamed me in the swim lanes at Rye Golf Club until I broke down and agreed to go to a few meetings. I am ever grateful to them and their persistence.
What makes local politics different from county, state or national politics?
Punyon: People often don’t realize how much their local government matters in their lives. One of the things that makes Rye such a unique and wonderful place to live is that there are so many people who care about it, and are involved in the local government. On the local level, at least in Rye, politics tends to focus strongly on quality of life. Practical issues, like how well the Fireman’s Circle is working, are mixed in with a dialogue about what kind of community we want to live in and promote, both physically (Green Space, Zoning changes) and how we want to treat the visitors and citizens of our town (pRyde, the Police Task Force). Another way that local politics differ from national or state politics is that people of different political persuasions also tend to know each other well, and working together is not so much across-the-aisle as across-the-street.
Tell us about the candidates you are endorsing in the City of Rye this election cycle – why did your group endorse each one?
Punyon: Our committee uses a Search and Nominating Committee process to choose candidates. A Search and Nominating Committee identifies, interviews and recommends candidates for office to the committee as a whole. At that point, the committee as a whole takes a vote, and the committee voted to support the three incumbents, Mayor Cohn, Councilwoman Julie Souza, Councilman Ben Stacks and new candidate, Lisa Tannenbaum, as our slate.
Explain the role of a district leader, the number of election districts in Rye and how many Democratic district leaders there are across the city.
Punyon: Something that many people don’t realize is that District leaders are actually elected officials. Every two years they collect a number of signatures from active party voters in their district (set by State law) to represent them in party matters. Each local party defines the role of the DL slightly differently based on custom and local needs, but in general District Leaders work to identify or select candidates and get them on the ballot by collecting signatures on petitions.
There are 14 Election Districts in the City of Rye, and two Democratic District Leaders for each. See here for an overall map of the City Election districts and list of District Leaders. See here for a detailed map of each ED.
Who are the district leaders for the Democrats in Rye?
District # / Rye City District Leaders (view election district map)
1 Danielle Tagger-Epstein
1 Sam Weinstock
2 George Berlstein
2 Tom Lavan
3 Catherine Parker
3 Shari Punyon
4 Suki van Dijk
4 Meg Cameron
5 Cheryl Geller
5 Emily Hurd
6 Bill Lawyer
6 Linda Lefkowitz
7 George Latimer
7 Lisa Tannenbaum
8 Christine Min Groves
8 Judy Studebaker
9 Pam Tarlow
9 Tony Castro
10 David Allan Walker
10 Bill Meyers
11 Julie Souza
11 Erica Fritsche
12 Margaret Gavlik
12 Rod Brown
13 Diana Page
13 Vicki Farrington
14 Steve Otis
14 Marion Anderson
Signature gathering starts March 2nd and lasts until March 22nd, part of the process to get your candidates on the ballot. Explain what this process is, why we do this and how you expect it to be different because of COVID-19.
Punyon: We are about to enter the signature gathering phase now, and representatives from all local parties will soon be reaching out to the registered voters in their party to sign petitions for candidates. In order to run on a party line, the candidates need to get a percentage, defined by state law, of the active registered voters in their party.
Normally, the process is handled by a combination of appointments and knocking on doors, and is also a way for District Leaders to get to know members of the community. This year we expect to rely heavily on making appointments, and keeping signature gathering as socially distanced and safe as possible. Fortunately, the state limited the number of signatures required this year to account for the pandemic.
What are three issues Rye will need to keep prioritized over the next four years?
Punyon: I leave that type of question for the candidates!
Thank you Shari!