The three seats opening are currently held by Carolina Johnson (not running for reelection), Lori Fontanes (incumbent, on the ballot but no longer actively campaigning) and Josh Nathan (incumbent, running for reelection). Four candidates are on the ballot – Fontanes, Nathan, Cunningham (challenger) and Jamie Jensen (challenger).
Your Name: Keith Cunningham
Running for: Rye City Council
MyRye.com: Why are you running for Rye City Council?
Cunningham: My wife and I are fortunate to have chosen Rye to raise our family. I want to keep Rye that unique place that drew us here – incredible spirit of community, business district, safe streets, beautiful neighborhoods and outdoor spaces.
Why are you running for Rye City Council now?
Cunningham: I am a challenger and will add a much-needed new voice to the City Council with the following mantra – Doing your best for the public which includes, engaging in civil and respectful discourse, listening to others, and respecting and considering their views.
What is your party affiliation?
Cunningham: I am running as a Republican; however, the Rye City Council rarely is confronted with a partisan issue. Focus should be on who can bring respect and integrity to the City Council.
What are the three biggest opportunities / challenges facing the City of Rye over the next 3-5 years?
- Flood Mitigation – This is an extremely complex issue that requires the cooperation of all the communities along the Beaver and Blind Brooks. The City of Rye has initiated studies and identified projects that can each have an impact. We need strong leadership to execute these projects which will require the partnership of federal, state, and county officials to obtain the funding.
- Community Sustainability– Sustaining the uniqueness and charm of Rye that attracted us while adapting to meet the changes that surround us. Major demographic altering rejuvenation projects in Port Chester and Harrison have the potential to greatly add visitors to our downtown business district and green spaces. We need to be well prepared to address this to maintain the quality of life in our neighborhoods and to keep Rye a safe and crime-free place for our families.
- Fiscal Responsibility – The most important role of city government is keeping taxes low through prudently managing the city finances. Rye has many capital improvement projects that we will be embarking on including renovations to our Courthouse, City Hall and Department of City Works facilities aside from sewer repairs and road resurfacing. We have several costly projects that need to be addressed including downtown parking and major capital expenditures at Rye Golf and Rye Marina and of course flood mitigation. I will bring leadership in prioritizing the most critical projects in the spending of our limited funds.
What is new about these opportunities / challenges since the last election cycle?
Cunningham: What has changed dramatically is the way business is conducted on the Rye City Council. I’m convinced that any challenges we face as a community can be solved if we listen and trust each other and keep the best interests of Rye as our focus.
What are the three flood mitigation measures the City should undertake with the greatest cost/benefit?
Cunningham: This is an extremely complex issue that requires the coordination and cooperation of communities along the Beaver and Blind Brooks. The projects will also require the partnership of federal, state, and county officials to obtain funding. As an example, the Locust Avenue bridge has been a major trouble spot blocking waterflow down Blind Brook, given its small culvert. The bridge will be elevated and widened from 30 feet to 50 feet. The sections of Blind Brook up and downstream will be reconstructed to increase waterflow. This will diminish the flooding of the downtown area. Being entirely within Rye eliminates the need of cooperation with another town, but to secure the $5 million funding, Rye needed the support of Federal, State and County officials. The funding will make the project very cost effective.
The city is working on many fronts in the battle to mitigate the flooding. The following options are the most interesting.
- Enlargement of the culvert for the bridge over Blind Brook (under Metro-North tracks and Interstate 95) – will greatly diminish the flooding of Indian Village.
- Building berms on SUNY Purchase property – which will temporarily store excess water.
- Expanding the upper and lower Bowman ponds to also provide water storage.
Should Rye Recreation’s Nursery Field be considered as a potential location for a turf athletic field, yes or no?
Cunningham: Every location in Rye should be considered including Nursey Field. The Gang of Four, however has already forced a vote to commit to $150,000 for an initial study of Nursey Field. Delaying the vote for 1-2 months of civil discussion should have occurred prior to initiating a commitment to a turf field in a flood plain. A turf field provider has presented a costly workaround of a drainage system design which is not completely proven. Another issue is the optics to the towns upstream along Blind Brook of whom are paramount to our efforts to mitigate the tremendous flood impact on Rye.
Should Rye have more turf athletic fields, yes or no?
Cunningham: Yes. We moved to Rye with our kids entering the 3rd & 5th grades and they are now both in college. They were involved in soccer, lacrosse, baseball, basketball, hockey, and Rye Rec & YMCA camps. I know first-hand that the Rye athletic fields were either poorly constructed or have long been neglected and in need of improvements. The number of kids participating in the Rye Rec sports programs have increased dramatically over the last 10 years as research has shown the social and mental health benefits. Rye is open land constrained prohibiting development of new fields which defaults to upgrading existing fields to support the increase in demand and use. Natural grass fields have a limit on weekly hours of use even under favorably weather conditions. They also, should not be used during rain periods. An artificial turf field can withstand 2-3 times more hours of weekly use than well-constructed and maintained natural grass especially in the early spring. The only option for Rye is artificial turf fields. Most of our neighboring Westchester and Fairfield County towns have experienced a similar demand and added many artificial turf fields at both the recreational level as well as the middle/high school levels.
Field upgrade options to artificial turf locations as follows.
Rye Rec Fields – Rye Recreation issued a study of options of their fields resulting in the rankings: Nursery, Rye Recreation Center and Sterling.
Nursery Field – The City Council with the voting bloc of the Gang of Four just committed to a study addressing the viability to construct an artificial turf field in a floodplain. I would have taken a more pragmatic approach in evaluating this option. I’m skeptical of the effectiveness of the drainage design.
Board of Education Fields (located on school properties) – they seem to be open to private funding.
Behind the Middle School – a full size artificial turf field for football, soccer, lacrosse and field hockey could be located, provided the existing locker room/field house was moved and upgraded. An improvement to this aging building should have occurred 20 years ago. The elevation of this potential field could be well above the seasonally flooded Nugent Field and its use shared with local recreational programs, similar to the relationship with Nugent Field.
Midland – extensive work was just completed on a small natural grass athletic/play space.
Osborn – a seems like a good option to explore.
What are the three biggest areas for cost containment with the City of Rye over the next 3-5 years?
- Fiscal Responsibility in Capital Spending – Prioritizing projects that benefit the most Rye taxpayers combined with the most immediate need. We will be assessing a few major capital spending issues in the future including Flood mitigation, Rye Golf, Rye Municipal Boat Basin, and downtown parking.
- Alternative Financing – Federal, State and County Funding and Grants. Being certain that we are taking advantage of all sources of funding for Capital Spending.
- Financial Oversight – From a comprehensive analysis of the annual budget to monitoring and overseeing all spending throughout the year including personnel and Capital Projects.
Please Answer the following questions Yes or No:
|Issue||Yes or No||More|
|Rye City is prepared for the next “100 year” flood.||No||The solution is incredibly complex encompassing many communities, County, State and Federal Agencies. Rye being the most affected, needs leadership in working towards this goal.|
|Rye City should update its Master Plan.||Yes||I’ve been very familiar most of the issues confronting Rye, but the Master Plan was new to me. A quick search on our primary news sources provides a few articles from 2016 and 2017, questioning if the Rye City Master Plan should be updated as the last update was in 1985 and that most towns update theirs every 10 years. I’ll get this done.|
|Rye City should have additional restrictions on residential development.||Residential development is important to Rye. We need to constantly monitor our practices to adjust to trends to maintain the unique characteristics of our neighborhoods. The oversized development of lots needs to be investigated as this may reduce the permeable space leading to more flooding of neighboring properties.|
|Rye City should be more pedestrian and bike friendly.||Yes||Safety is of extreme importance to Rye residents. Rye has a huge influx of non-Rye residents driving on our roads during the summer months heading to the many private clubs, Playland and Rye Town beach. Just as in New York City and most Westchester cities and towns, the speed limit is 25 mph. All roads in Rye should also have this limit and it should be enforced. We should also investigate constructing additional bike paths and sidewalks throughout Rye. A 2-mile drive would take you less than 1 minute more to arrive.|
|I voted for (or would have voted for) the recently passed tree law.||No||A tree law should have been passed but this was a rushed over-reaching poorly constructed law with no consideration or thoughts on the time and financial effects that would be placed on the City and the Rye residents.|
|The City should either find a way to enforce the leaf blower law or eliminate it.||Yes||The current law appears to be a fair compromise. Let’s see if we can better enforce it before concentrating on changes. With improving no emission electric technology, we soon may be in a position of eliminating loud gas leaf blowers.|
|Landscapers should be registered with the City so practices such as leaf blowers can be more closely controlled.||All options are worth investigating. I would need to speak with communities that have similar requirements in place. My gut is this will be another layer of unnecessary government oversight.|
|Rye Playland will be in good hands with Standard Amusements.||The relationship is set in stone. Managing our relationship with a private enterprise managing a public facility requires competent leadership.|
|Do you support the raising of the Pride flag on City flagpoles?||I support and will always support the inclusion of all groups, races, ethnic and economic backgrounds, religions, views and opinions and condemn discrimination of them. There is a tremendous amount of passion for LGBTQ+ that should be heard, and I respect that. I have some concern with regards to any group raising a flag on a city flagpole.|
|The current road conditions in Rye are acceptable.||Yes||Greg Usry and his team have done an incredible job raising the quality rating of Rye roads to the top of Westchester communities over just a few years. This was accomplished despite the challenge of synchronizing schedules with infrastructure improvements of ConEd, water and septic pipes. There is more work to be done and they have a comprehensive plan in place.|
|Rye City needs to reduce its deer population by active management that might include sharp shooters or bow hunting||Yes||We do have a problem of overpopulation of deer which affects the health of the deer, increase tick population leading to Lyme disease in humans and our pets, near domestication and devastation of landscaping shrubs and plants. The solution is culling the herd through professionals or selecting a small volunteer group extremely experienced bow hunters residing in Rye.|
|Should Rye have its own designated, year-round off-leash dog park (similar to what Port Chester has)?||Yes||I think this is a great idea and worth researching.|
Land use and the control of development has been raised as an issue in Rye, fueled by a variety of concerns including flood control, rock chipping 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?
Cunningham: The government should continuously strive to provide as much transparency as possible for all government matters. Land use and control of development are of most concern to Rye residents.
What benchmarks could the City publish annually or semi-annually that could help residents understand the state of land use in the City?
Cunningham: The city does provide public record of all building plans, permits and variances but incorporating this information into a database may provide a better sense of transparency.
What are your current views on the development plan 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?
Cunningham: In May 2020 Port Chester adopted new zoning laws that will allow for construction of 12 story buildings in the downtown area with 4 upscale projects are already approved. It is projected that Port Chester will add 5,000 new residents to their downtown area within 5 years and this not including the United Hospital project that could add upwards of 2000 new residents. As previously highlighted in “three biggest opportunities / challenges facing the City of Rye over the next 3-5 years”, “Major demographic altering rejuvenation projects in Port Chester and Harrison have the potential to greatly add visitors to our downtown business district and green spaces. We need to be well prepared to address this to maintain the quality of life in our neighborhoods and to keep Rye a safe and crime-free place for our families.”
The United Hospital project will be a large contributor to the challenge as it will be located on our border within a mile of downtown Rye and the train station. The project will have with it roughly 1,000 apartments and 1000 parking spaces. We can voice our opinions and request traffic flow options, but we have no control over the project. Many Rye residents and business are presently concerned about challenging parking and traffic flow. This will be a major problem in the future.
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.
Cunningham: A quick search on our primary news sources provides a few articles from 2016 and 2017, questioning if the Rye City Master Plan should be updated as the last update was in 1985 and that most towns update theirs every 10 years. I’ll get this done.
Tell us about you:
How would your friends and family describe you in one word?
|Select from:||Your Pick:|
|Coke or Pepsi?||Coke|
|Regular or diet?||Regular|
|Action movie or rom com?||Action Movie|
|Cook, order in or eat out?||Cook with family|
|Dog, cat or no pet?||2 Labs, 1 Maine Coon cat|
|Balsamic vinaigrette or ranch?||Balsamic vinaigrette|
|Ruffles Original, Lay’s Barbeque or Funyuns?||Lay’s Barbeque|
|Still, sparkling or tap?||Tap|
What is the kindest thing someone has ever done for you?
Cunningham: Saved my life – it was a group effort. While on vacation in Barbados, a large wave drove me head-first to the bottom breaking my neck rendering me paralyzed from the neck down. Fortunately, my wife saw me floating face-down and alerted a surfer nearby as she rushed to me, and my daughter quickly located an ER doctor from NYC. I was unresponsive with a large abrasion on my forehead. They knew to place me on a board to remove me from the water eliminating the potential of additional spinal cord damage. The doctor accompanied me to the hospital he was my strong advocate until we were medevacked to NYC the next morning.
What is your day job?
Cunningham: I was a partner in a boutique investment bank/ broker dealer that grew to be one of the top distressed debt trading firms. My career took a turn in 2013 when I broke my neck. After nearly 2 months at NYU Langone Medical Center including a few surgeries and a years-long rehab, I tried to return to a career that I loved but was physically unable to. I am still termed an incomplete quadriplegic and highly spastic but plenty capable of enjoying changed life.
My new career is dedicating my life to my family and to others. Aside from my family, I have been very active over the years with NYU Langone Medical Center especially during the development and planning of the Kimmel Center. I’ve been on the Board of The Rye Arts Center as we look towards expansion to provide even more children with a broadened exposure to the arts. The Rye City Council will be the next chapter of my new career.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why, and who would you take with you?
Cunningham: My wife and I had the most incredible experience in Africa visiting Kenya and Tanzania during our honeymoon. The vast open lands, wildlife, and the people with their code of ethics and morals that we experienced in a large village at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro that we also climbed. I want to share that experience with my family.
What is your favorite streaming / TV series ever?
Cunningham: Yellowstone – Love Montana, the show has developed deep characters with a range of values. Some parallels to Rye – change will occur but when it’s done there may not be a road back if the results don’t meet expectations.
What is your favorite movie?
Cunningham: Miracle on Ice – you don’t need to be a sports fan or a Patriot, but you might become one after watching it again.
Where do you live in Rye and how many years have you lived in the City?
Cunningham: Nicole and I met in 1992 while living in NYC and had our children in 2002 & 2003. We moved to Rye in 2012 and have had the opportunity live on Grace Church Street, Rye Gardens and for the last year off Oakland Beach Road near Disbrow Park.
What affiliations do you have with organizations in Rye?
- Rye Arts Center (3yrs) – Board of Directors, Committees – Finance, Building, Nominating
- Rye Presbyterian Church – attend services.
- Rye Resurrection Church – attend services with my daughter.
What are three of your favorite food takeout / delivery restaurants in or around Rye?
- Sunrise Pizza – Best Grandma pizza and side order of meatballs
- Ruby’s – Best Burger, onion soup, fondue
- Longford’s – #2 cone scoop of chocolate chocolate chunk, scoop of coffee chunk
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Cunningham: I have been my kids biggest fan rarely missing one of their sports events. I enjoy adventurous foods with my daughter at the diverse restaurants throughout the NY Metro area. My personal sports activity has been limited since my injury 10 years ago.