And a few say goodbye
By Brian PJ Cronin and Jeff Simms
A pair of “meet the candidates” forums on Oct. 17 and 18 at the Howland Cultural Center gave voters a chance to hear from the multitude of residents who would like to serve on the Beacon City Council.
At the same time, two incumbents — Omar Harper and Ali Muhammad — are no longer in the race.
Harper, the Ward 2 Democrat who was running for re-election on the Republican slate, has withdrawn for what he said are personal reasons. Muhammad, the Ward 4 representative, was running for one of the council’s two at-large posts, but he lost the Democratic primary and his subsequent nominating petition to run as an independent was thrown out.
That all but guarantees that on Nov. 7 voters will elect a City Council with at least four newcomers, or relative newcomers (Chris Bopp, the Republican candidate for Ward 4, served on the council in the late 1970s).
Harper, who was elected in 2015, announced his withdrawal at the Oct. 17 forum for Republican candidates. The decision had weighed on him for some time, he said, but he determined that “with my personal stuff, I can’t keep up right now.”
Although Harper’s name will appear on the ballot, he endorsed his opponent, Democrat John Rembert, saying he “couldn’t think of a better person” for the seat.
Muhammad off ballot
Besides Harper, the only incumbents on the Nov. 7 ballot will be Lee Kyriacou and George Mansfield, both Democratic at-large council members.
The independent campaign of a fourth incumbent, Muhammad, was upended after a member of the Beacon Democratic Committee filed an objection with the Dutchess County Board of Elections to his nominating petition.
Members of the committee had earlier challenged Muhammad’s petition to run as a Democrat, but a Dutchess County judge overruled the findings of the Board of Elections and put him on the ballot for the Sept. 12 primary. That vote was won by Kyriacou and Mansfield.
As many candidates do if they lose a party primary, Muhammad also filed to run as an independent. But Mary Gault, the corresponding secretary for the Democratic Committee, objected, citing unregistered voters, illegible signatures and signatures that had already appeared on Muhammad’s Democratic petition.
The Board of Election commissioners agreed and tossed Muhammad’s petition for having too few valid signatures. Kyriacou and Mansfield will now face Republican challenger Amando Downer on Nov. 7 for the two at-large seats.
In Ward 4, Darrell Williams, whose Democratic petition was disqualified in August, did not collect enough signatures to run as an independent. With Harper withdrawing, the only candidate from the “Stand with Ali” slate who remains is Paul Yeaple, who is running on the Green Party line for the Ward 1 seat.
At both forums this week — one for Republican candidates and the other for Democrats — the main topic of discussion was the scale and pace of development in Beacon.
Wayne Theiss, an HVAC business owner and volunteer firefighter who is running as a Republican for the Ward 1 seat, said of the city’s comprehensive plan, which was updated this year: “Some of the numbers I don’t think really add up. The average rent is listed around $1,061 [per month], and I don’t know where we’re finding those rates. I’d like to look back into those numbers.
“It’s important to start incorporating light commercial, job-oriented [development] into the mix,” he added. Solely focusing on residential development “isn’t feeding back into the economy.”
Andrew Gauzza, the Republican candidate in Ward 3 and a Manhattan College student, said the city should cut back on residential zoning and add commercial and office space. It also should add provisions in the comprehensive plan to update the water and sewer systems, he said, with a “sensible plan” that doesn’t “burden the taxpayer.”
Gauzza argued that the city needs a more diversified tax base: “The more jobs, the more sustainable the tax base,” he said. About 10 percent of Beacon’s residents work in the city, Gauzza said, but he would rather see that figure at 20 to 25 percent.
Bopp, a real estate agent and accountant who is the Republican candidate for Ward 4, also advocated more light industry, such as plants that employ machinists and carpenters. “Light industry doesn’t mean stuffing little bean bags with stuff,” he said. “It’s got to be something that generates real jobs. We may actually have to spend some money to get these businesses to Beacon.”
Downer, the at-large candidate, was ill and could not attend the forum.
The Democratic candidates at the Oct. 18 forum also addressed numerous concerns about the direction of development in Beacon. Rembert, a minister at the Star of Bethlehem Baptist church, summed up the thoughts of many of the candidates when he remarked that “Beacon used to be underdeveloped, but now it’s becoming overdeveloped.
“We can keep developing, but we’ve got to take it slow, watch where we’re doing it, and we need to bring jobs into Beacon,” he said.
With Kyriacou and Mansfield in attendance, questions were also posed about unpopular council decisions, such as the scale of the building under construction at 344 Main St. Mansfield referred to the project as “a mistake,” but noted that it was approved during a time when the city was desperately trying to attract developers to that part of Main Street.
“Visitors would come to either the east or west end of Main Street, then look down the street and think, ‘Well there’s nothing down that way, better turn around,’ ” Mansfield said. The additional story on the four-story building was presented as a way to make the project financially viable, he said, “but we’ve learned a lot from that.”
Jodi McCredo, who co-owns a printing business and is running as the Democratic candidate for Ward 3, said that lowering the allowed height of buildings in that zone is only part of the solution.
“We also need to make very specific requirements on the height allowances of those stories, so that you don’t have a 20-foot-tall vaulted ceiling on the top floor and end up with a huge building anyway,” she said. “But we’re the place to be now, and if developers want to be there, they have to give us what we demand of them.”
Kyriacou suggested that the issue isn’t so much the zoning as what developers do within the city’s requirements, noting that the Inn and Spa at Beacon at 155 Main St. is in the same district as 344 Main and also includes a fourth floor. “But they did such a beautiful job with it that you don’t even notice it,” he said.
Mansfield and Kyriacou both added that the volunteer Zoning Board of Appeals now has an attorney at its meetings and that its members are required to undergo continuous training.
“We need people who know how to say ‘No,’ ” said Kyriacou. The incumbents also pointed to a new development near City Hall in which 75 percent of the units will qualify as affordable housing, and a recently enacted law that requires new residential projects to include at least 10 percent affordable housing.
Paul Yeaple, the former owner of Poppy’s Burgers and the Green Party candidate for Ward 1, said that 10 percent isn’t enough.
“Any economist will tell you, the No. 1 person you want in your town is a middle-class homeowner,” he said. “They spend money in the community, they live in the community, and they participate. We’re distributing the wealth of the poor into a silo because the only development right now is for high-end people. But middle-class people created Beacon. They didn’t go away. They’ve always been here. Rich people came in because they saw the gem, and now they’re here to take it. But they don’t participate like you do.”
Terry Nelson, founder of the Beacon Independent Film Festival and the Democratic candidate for Ward 1, and Amber Grant, a senior vice president at Bank of America and the Democratic candidate for Ward 4, addressed environmental concerns throughout the evening by outlining a plan to achieve Climate Smart Community certification for the city.
“There’s a false claim out there that green is expensive,” Nelson said. “If we all chip in and get the business community to chip in, you’ll see energy rates lowered.”
Grant explained that taking part in the program provides a framework for tackling several challenges. “It means things like figuring out how much greenhouse gases the city is emitting and coming up with a plan to address that,” she said. “What gets attended to, gets done. If we just sit around talking about how great it would be to have solar panels and green roofs, it’s never going to happen. And the financial benefits of green energy are well-proven at this point.”
“Beacon should lead the way on this,” Nelson added, “because climate change is real and if we don’t address it, we’re going to be in trouble.”