Beacon Democrats face off in June 25 primary
By Jeff Simms
Democrats who live in Beacon’s Ward 4 will decide in a primary on Tuesday, June 25, whether Dan Aymar-Blair or Kelly Ellenwood will appear on the ballot in the November election for a seat on the City Council. Both are running for the seat held by Amber Grant, who is running for an at-large seat.
Regardless of who wins the Democratic line for Ward 4, Ellenwood will appear on the November ballot as the Independence Party candidate and Aymar-Blair on the Working Families Party line. There are no Republican candidates for the seat. Voters can vote for any candidate on the general election ballot, no matter what party they are registered with.
Aymar-Blair is an executive with the New York City Department of Education and a co-founder of The Article 20 Network, which defends the right of peaceful assembly. He also worked with Grannies Respond, a group of Beacon activists who traveled to Texas as advocates for refugee rights and, in 2017, was one of the organizers of the People’s Committee on Development.
Ellenwood was the president of BeaconArts from 2014 to 2018 and in 2005 was one of the founders of the WeePlay Community Project, which raises money for children’s facilities at Memorial Park. A former Broadway performer and adjunct faculty member at SUNY New Paltz, she proposed the idea for the Beacon Free Loop bus and coordinated with city officials on its launch last year.
The Current asked each candidate to respond to the same three questions. Ward 4 residents can vote on June 25 at the First Presbyterian Church at 50 Liberty St. from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. If you are unsure of your ward, see bit.ly/beacon-vote.
What makes you the best candidate to represent voters in Ward 4?
Aymar-Blair: To enact real, progressive change, Ward 4 needs a steady, experienced leader who has the public’s interest at heart. That’s what I’m offering.
Ward 4 needs a council member who knows how to get things done. I leave my ego at the door and build coalitions. I can handle the public spotlight, and accept that change may take time.
As a leader in the People’s Committee on Development, I stood for the interests of the public and our school district. Having listened to the concerns of neighbors, I have a vision and a plan to make Beacon’s success work for everyone.
Ellenwood: For 17 years I have been a leader in our small city — creating community, finding solutions and encouraging good ideas. I would rather figure out how to get to “yes” than to organize solely around saying “no.” I have deep knowledge due to many years of hands-on experiences in multiple sectors of our diverse city. I am not afraid to speak out when I see a problem or an inconsistency. But perhaps why I am the best candidate is that I am an economic realist. Both city and school taxes are a big issue. Everything in my platform is geared toward cost-effective or no-cost solutions.
What should the City Council’s top priorities be in 2020?
Aymar-Blair: We have to control development, ensure an affordable quality of life and protect natural resources. All this construction isn’t in keeping with the needs or character of our city. Beacon needs jobs, doctor’s offices, more cultural and community-focused amenities. With so few lots left to build on, we are running out of time to ensure our community is served by development. Beacon is not a success if families are forced out, seniors can’t downsize, and our small businesses close shop. I support raising the affordable housing mandate, enacting new renter protections, and I propose a biannual review of our affordable housing stock.
Beacon’s natural resources, now threatened by overdevelopment, have drawn tourists and new residents. We can protect these resources by preserving conservation easements, buying back lands to protect, and generating more clean local energy, starting with a community-led Strategic Energy Vision.
Ellenwood: Infrastructure should always be the No. 1 priority for the City Council — whether it is upgrading sewers, improving sidewalks and crosswalks, or finally getting that stop sign for a dangerous intersection. Ward 4 is also poised to be the site of 30,000-plus square feet of new office/work space in the coming year. Beacon needs to be in front of that, seeking out and working with potential employers that will bring residents good-paying jobs.
The Planning Board does not have the legal “teeth” to make many crucial development decisions, and each month has an overburdened agenda; the council must appoint or hire more professionals, and perhaps more important, establish a separate or overlapping architectural review board that incorporates skilled and talented individuals from our arts community.
Take your top priority from that list and dive deeper into how the council should address the issue.
Aymar-Blair: The vast majority of voters tell me their biggest concern is all this construction. They feel the process and priorities are all wrong, and the outcomes are worse. As an activist, I pushed for the building moratorium, more office space and historic protections, but we only scratched the surface. We need stricter architectural review, more specific zoning, fewer variances and a comprehensive assessment of the long-term impact on our infrastructure, schools and taxes. What we really need, however, is a shift in the culture. There’s still this old feeling that Beacon should let anyone build who wants to. Beacon can be specific about what we want. There’s a lot for developers to like about reforming the process, too. By giving them clearer direction, we can lower the blood pressure of these conversations.
Ellenwood: Beacon enjoys a rich history; parts of it were built quite some time ago. Rebuilding our bridges, roads and sewer systems are critical to the city’s health. It is important to move quickly to identify the infrastructure needs and the sources of funding. We should: (1) Address the longtime traffic issue to and from the Metro-North station and the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. This effort will require cooperation between Beacon, Fishkill, federal and state authorities, and the MTA. My abilities as a grant writer and as someone who has proven that all levels of government can work cooperatively will help us get the funding we need to move forward; (2) Upgrade our crosswalks, sidewalks and roads. In Ward 4, we should address the intersection of Tioronda/Main/Churchill; the crosswalk at Green Street Park; and “traffic-calming” in a number of neighborhoods; (3) Identify infrastructure issues that new development could take on in order to build in Beacon, including evidence of sustainable building practices. Currently, developers must contribute to the Recreation Fund, and developers along the Fishkill Creek Development Zone in Wards 3 and 4 must help build the Greenway Trail. The University Settlement Camp in Ward 4 should be the next beneficiary of this “legacy project” funding; and, finally, (4) Educate the public on the city’s bond funding. Beacon’s bond rating has upgraded over the last four years, which means the cost of borrowing money will be lower. We should tie capital-expense planning to our wish list of infrastructure improvements, with a 21st-century firehouse near the top of that list.