While the general election is not until the fall, the Democratic Primary on Tuesday, June 22nd may have a bigger impact in the race for Mayor of Rye. Incumbent Mayor Josh Cohn is running for reelection and facing a challenge on the Democratic line from Danielle Tagger-Epstein.
Today we run an extensive and wide ranging interview with Mayor Cohn on the race and the issues impacting our city. Our interview with Tagger-Epstein will follow tomorrow. This way, you will be able to read both interviews before the Rye City Democrat Primary Mayoral Debate on this Tuesday, June 8th at 7:00pm (link here) sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Rye, Rye Brook and Port Chester.
Your Name: Josh Cohn
Running for: Mayor
MyRye.com: Why are you running for Mayor?
Cohn: I have never had even the slightest aspiration for public office, but four years ago the Rye Democratic Party noticed my advocacy on behalf of residents and persuaded me to run for mayor. I have worked much harder than I expected but I enjoy the opportunity to be of service to the community where I raised my daughter and live happily. This time around, the Democratic Party endorsed me and then the Republican Party offered to co-endorse me as well, based on my record of strong, non-partisan leadership, so, well, here I am, running again.
Why are you running for Mayor now?
Cohn: Under my leadership, the City has made tremendous strides, but there is more work to be done – and that I would like to do. Should voters return me to office, the City will continue on its current path: maintaining fiscal discipline; renewing roads and long-neglected, essential infrastructure; improving our environment with green-energy initiatives; reviewing zoning and other local laws; updating the Master Plan; and treating everyone with respect.
What are the three biggest opportunities / challenges facing the City of Rye over the next 3-5 years?
- Overhaul laws that may be failing to achieve their intended purpose (eg, leaf blower law, tree law, blasting law, residential zoning law) and as we learn how the pandemic has changed how we live, restart the Master Plan process to try to resolve the riddle of land use in Rye.
- Implement the capital investment plan to restore City buildings and sewers, and maintain emphasis on road reconditioning.
- Maintain fiscal discipline in the face of ever-rising costs and ever-greater demands for services.
What are the three biggest areas for cost containment within the City over the next 3-5 years?
- Astute cash management with respect to funding the capital investment program, particularly with respect to timing and sizing the necessary bond issuance;
- Cost control within the capital investment program to minimize the spend while preserving the quality needed to sustain our projects through their long useful lives;
- Careful balancing of permanent staffing, use of overtime and use of consultants, so as to be sure our human resources are as effectively deployed as possible.
Please Answer the following questions Yes or No:
|Question||Yes or No||Explanation|
|Do you believe the City has done a responsible and an effective job of navigating the Coronavirus pandemic?||Rye’s City staff, elected officials and Senior Advocacy Committee members did a tremendous job – maintaining great budgetary discipline, providing electronic access to many City services, helping residents get vaccinated, keeping residents informed through periodic “Coronavirus Updates” and working with the Chamber of Commerce to help local businesses survive the pandemic.|
|Have you been, or will you be in the next six weeks, fully vaccinated against COVID-19?||Yes|
|Were you supportive of the various stages of Purchase Plaza during the pandemic?||Guided by the Chamber of Commerce and public comment, we created and repeatedly modified Purchase Plaza to help our downtown businesses survive the pandemic; in a recent survey, the Chamber found that two out of three downtown business owners feel it was worthwhile. Resident feedback was overwhelmingly positive.|
|Would you be supportive of Purchase Plaza after the pandemic?||Post-pandemic closure is a very different matter, and my own support would be contingent upon well-expressed community and business support, including from the Chamber of Commerce and others.|
|Do you support the raising of the Pride flag on City flagpoles this June and every June?||I fully support Rye’s LGBTQ+ residents and the RHS GSA, and I’m happy to say that we have received expert guidance on insulating the City from later First Amendment-based lawsuits as we fly the Pride flag in June.|
|Do you believe there is an issue with racial bias and equality in our community and that the City has a role to play in addressing it?||Hate has no place in Rye, and the City must ensure that our staff hiring and promotion, our policing and the City’s treatment of residents is fair and free from bias.|
|Rye City should have additional restrictions on residential development||In order to preserve Rye’s unique charm and protect our environment, we have instituted a moratorium to allow review of certain sorts of development, including certain subdivisions and steep slope development, and intend to follow this with an expanded review of our zoning code.|
|Are you supportive of the Wainwright House working with Row America Rye?||l very much want to see Wainwright House succeed (and Row America, too), but the neighbors overwhelmingly objected to the noise and traffic that would have resulted from this partnership, so it is now tabled.|
|Do you agree the loss of Wainwright House and its property as a public resource would be a significant detriment to the City?||Absolutely – Wainwright House is a gem and I hope to see a creative solution to help it continue.
|Do you agree the closure of the Durland Scout Center on Milton Point in 2007, and its subsequent sale to a developer for private homes, was a real loss for the City?||
My understanding from those involved at the time is that the City looked for ways to make a purchase financially viable, but found none possible.
|Rye City is prepared for the next “100 year” flood||We haven’t seen such a thing, even with Sandy, so let’s assume there would be great challenge, but: the City is following its Floodplain Management Law, to improve the structures that might be affected; the City is applying its NY Rising flood grant monies; is in talks with the Governor’s office on working jointly to review City emergency capability and in conversation with the Army Corps on a Blind Brook study; is consolidating and renewing its emergency equipment; is secure in the access to mutual aid it utilized in previous extreme storms, and has worked hard with Con Ed to better Con Ed’s power restoration efforts in the City, including by my participation on the Executive Board of the United Westchester government officials group reporting and testifying on Con Ed storm performance.|
|Leaf blowers are a health and quality of life nuisance and should be banned entirely from the City||They are a nuisance and I would love to ban them, but many homeowners in Rye insist on a manicured lawn so we are reviewing our leaf blower regulations to make them tighter.|
|Curbside food scrap recycling should be expanded across the City.||Currently, we have a robust food scrap drop-off program and when we have a well-functioning curbside test program we should consider expansion.|
|Rye City property taxes are too high||All Westchester taxes may be considered high, but ours are substantially lower than many of our comparable nearby municipalities – remember that only 17% of an annual property tax dollar goes to the City, to pay for the services that Rye residents want, and increases have been below the tax cap in each year that I have been Mayor.|
|Rye Playland will be in good hands with Standard Amusements||Early conversations show Standard inclined to be a good neighbor, and we will do all we can to see they do right our City.|
|Rye Town Park should be controlled (or owned) by Rye City||I would like that, but under present law the park is governed by a multi-municipality commission which shares the costs of the park.|
|Rye City needs to reduce its deer population by active management including sharp shooters or bow hunting.||No: we should use only safe and humane means of controlling the deer population.|
|Rye City parking downtown is a serious mess and has a negative impact on local business and residents enjoying downtown.||We were in the process of reviewing parking consultants for a renewed parking study prior to the pandemic, but now as we emerge from the pandemic downtown parking is still plentiful; if and when that changes, the City must resume its search for a solution to our mid-day parking problem.|
|Rye City paid meter parking downtown has a negative impact on local business and on residents enjoying downtown.||No one likes metered parking, but it is nearly everywhere, so it cannot be said to hurt local businesses, and we have made it as convenient as possible with the parking app.|
|Rye City should be more pedestrian and bike friendly.||Absolutely, and I helped make that happen in a small section of Rye by renewing City efforts to secure a grant for the Forest Ave. pathway; of course, more needs to be done.|
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests last year concerning stories about bias in our schools and community came out. Do you acknowledge these stories and believe we should actively address issues of bias? Yes, or No? If Yes, what role should the City have?
Cohn: The stories are heartbreaking and change is necessary. Although the real change can only come about in the heart and mind of each person in our community, local governments must set an example of inclusiveness and fairness in everything we do.
Land use and the control of development has been raised as an issue in Rye, fueled by a variety of concerns including flood control and the development of flag lots. Should more be done to bring transparency and control to land use decisions in Rye? If so, what are three of the top recommendations you would make?
- The Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals meeting notices, agendas and minutes are available on the City’s website, but meeting videos might be a welcome addition.
- The Master Plan review will be a transparent public process and when completed, should reflect public will and make the rationale behind land use decisions clear.
- The zoning review will equally be a transparent public process and should produce a zoning code that better satisfies Rye residents’ expectations.
Further on land use, what benchmarks could the City publish annually or semi-annually that could help residents understand the state of land use in the City?
Cohn: Residents can easily view City Council meetings on the City’s website to see our land use decisions and the process by which we reach them. It would also be helpful to ensure that the website contains extensive and accurate documentation of the decisions by the Planning Commission, the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Building Department.
What are the current plans for the former United Hospital site just over the Rye City line in Port Chester? And what should the City be doing to represent its interests?
Cohn: A new developer has taken over from Starwood and is proposing a mixed use development now under review in Port Chester. Our City Planner and Corporation Counsel are following the proceedings along with our traffic consultant.
The City’s Master Plan was written in 1985, over 35 years ago. Should the City update its Master Plan? If yes, describe the process, timeline, stakeholders, and a few of the issues and policies that might be addressed in this work.
Cohn: The 1985 Master Plan expired by its terms under Mayor Otis and yes, it should be updated. The pandemic interfered with our taking up the Master Plan, and we must consider how long to let a “new normal” establish itself before we begin again. The last Master Plan took several years and we would want to move equally thoughtfully, involving the entire community through extensive public outreach. Issues of land use and zoning, environment, resiliency and sustainability, access to waterfront, traffic, balance of residential and commercial development are just some of what may be covered.
Tell us about you:
What is your day job?
Cohn: I retired from active legal practice five years ago and I now work part-time as an expert witness. I enjoy my work as mayor, where my professional skills and knowledge have proven invaluable. I particularly enjoy the “people side” of being mayor: listening to and understanding residents’ concerns, and whenever possible, helping to find a solution.
If you could travel anywhere in the world (post pandemic!), where would you go and why, and who would you take with you?
Cohn: South America, because I’ve never been there. There are so many places to go, but the Amazon and Patagonia are vying for first. I would take my daughter, who needs a vacation.
What are you watching these days?
Cohn: I aimlessly channel surf and settle sometimes on reruns of the original Law and Order because it’s well acted and because the social problems it presents are so frequently the same problems we are confronting today.
Where do you live in Rye and how many years have you been in the City?
Cohn: I’ve lived on Milton Point for 30 years.
What are three of your favorite food takeout / delivery restaurants in or around Rye?
Cohn: How could I pick just three? I’m a dedicated omnivore and am so grateful for the wonderful choice of food available in Rye.
Please provide links to:
Your LinkedIn: N/A
Your Twitter: N/A
Your Facebook: @reelectmayorcohn