New Rochelle Reflects On Year Of Fiscal Improvement, Public Dissent

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Photo Credit: Suzanne Samin

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- Between Mayor Noam Bramson's unsuccessful run for county executive, the defunct Forest City proposal for Echo Bay and making cuts to meet the tax cap, 2013 has been quite a year for New Rochelle.

However, as the year comes to a close, New Rochelle officials look back on the year as one of civic involvement and financial improvement. 

Mayor Noam Bramson, who was defeated in November in his run for county executive by incumbent Rob Astorino, called the year one of "significant fiscal progress," in part because of ongoing improvements and implementing recommendations from the Citizens' Budget Panel.

He said, "Our efforts enabled us to approve a unanimous budget within the tax cap. We've also navigated fire hydrant costs which were a big problem for some time. Our fiscal footing strengthened during the year."

According to Bramson, the city has launched efforts to move towards its next wave of economic development, including the design competition for armory.

"We also have funding we've received to complete our local waterfront revitalization plan, and we've grown our sustainability plan, including flood mitigation and energy saving improvements," he said.

Jim Maisano (R, D11) has served New Rochelle as a county legislator for 16 years. According to him, while some things have improved, many similar issues arise year to year.

"Theres an interesting symmetry in how often people have the same concerns in New Rochelle," he said, "The two things I get the most from my door to door surveys and community groups is that, one, people are always concerned about property taxes. Two, in New Rochelle, people always talk to me about how they have nowhere to shop."

According to Maisano, the lack of retail has continued to be major concern across the city.

"Those of us that grew up here know that New Rochelle used to be a strong downtown area shopping like White Plains. That's all gone. People are talking about it all the time," he said.

The Echo Bay project was and continues to be a controversial issue - in terms of how best to bring retail to New Rochelle. Forest City's proposal for the development was voted out by the City Council after a long, vicious fight between citizens and council members.

Maisano did not count himself among the supporters for the now defunct proposal.

"People don't want apartments, they want stores," he said, "They want to invest money in their own community: buy things, go out for meals in their own community. That's a big issue going forward, because people are continually frustrated by it."

Bramson, however, was an outspoken, avid supporter. Though now, he seems willing to let it go.

"It's no secret that I was a supporter of Forest City's proposal," he said, "I am disappointed by the choice the council made, but I am committed now to looking forward."

He added, "Hopefully we'll have the opportunity to look at new options. I will be happiest person if we can achieve better improvements on the waterfront."

What both men can agree on is the positivity of the tremendous outpouring of public involvement surrounding the controversial project.

Maisano said, "What I found interesting is that there was no question the grassroots movement growing across City was getting ever stronger as the month went by. I don't think the City Council, at first, appreciated the depth of the opposition."

Maisano, who lives in the East end, an area that will feel biggest impact from Echo Bay, said people have been concerned for a few years.

"When they rolled out the bait and switch, and took an interesting proposal and gutted it, from the minute they did that," he said, "The opposition was tremendous in my neighborhood. You couldn't find one person that said they were for it. It was a pretty powerful opposition, and it all worked out well in the end." 

Bramson said the opposition showed people in New Rochelle care deeply about their community, but was not representative of the whole.

"It is certainly positive when people come to City Council," he said, "Though I don't believe that is the core of civic involvement. There are so many different volunteer organizations in New Rochelle that are far away from the cameras. That, to me, is a much better reflection of the spirit of the city."

Though he was reluctant to reflect on the lessons learned this year, Bramson said he felt the City is in a better position now as result of actions and progress over the last year.

"Now there is a chance to raise the bar," he said. 

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Mr. Gradgrind:

Mr. Maisano for our next mayor. He appears to have the right priorities. Restore New Rochelle to what it used to be. More taxpayers (not renters) will re-make the "Queen City of the Sound."