UPDATE: Assembly hopefuls Castelli and Harckham visit New Castle

Castelli, left; Harckham, right
UPDATE: February 8, 2010

by John Ehrlich

With the Special Election for the 89th State Assembly seat coming up tomorrow, February 9, New Castle has been much more than a mere whistle stop on the New York State Assembly main line.  Not only did it host the League of Women Voter’s Candidates’ Night last Thursday, but the two candidates, Bob Castelli and Peter Harckham, and sitting Assemblymen like George Latimer have been visiting town with pleasing regularity.

To keep Chappaqua, Millwood and the West End up to date we chatted with Bob Castelli (Republican, Independence, Conservative) last Tuesday night at Crabtree’s Kittle House and with Pete Harckham (Democrat, Working Families) last Thursday night at the conclusion of the League of Women Voters’ Candidates’ Night at the Chappaqua Library.

About the candidates

Pete Harckham is president of Harckham Media Group, an advertising and communications firm and is beginning his third year on the Westchester County Board of Legislators (District 2) representing Somers, Bedford, Mount Kisco, North Salem, Lewisboro and Pound Ridge.  He is a member of the Budget & Appropriations, Legislation, Government Operations, Environment & Energy, Public Safety & Security, Septic, Hispanic Affairs, Internal Controls and Procedures committees.  He grew up in Rockland County (New City) and moved to Katonah in 1991.

Bob Castelli is president of Robert J. Castelli Associates and has dedicated his life to public service. He is a decorated Vietnam veteran who, after a distinguished 21-year career in the New York State Police and Organized Crime Task Force, went on to receive his graduate degree in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.  He served on County Executive Rob Astorino’s transition team and for many years as a Lewisboro Councilman.  A professor and department chair at Iona and John Jay Colleges, he left teaching to run for the 89th A.D. seat.

Why are you running?

“Because the bravest guy I ever knew lost his life to save mine,” stated Castelli, by way of explaining why he is running for the Assembly seat.  He was referring to Corporal Michael Ransbottom, who saved the 18-year-old Castelli just after the Tet offensive of the Vietnam War, but lost his own life in the process.  Castelli believes that experience changed him, giving him a unique drive to help and to serve.  “I devoted my life to making a difference,” he said.

Getting more specific, Castelli noted, “The winds of change are blowing.  Approximately 10,000 pieces of legislation were introduced in Albany in 2008, just 450 or so were released out of committee, only 250 made it to a floor vote. The time for a change at the state level is here.” 

Pete Harckham agreed with Castelli’s assessment of the state of Albany. “I’m running because of the challenges and the opportunities. Albany is broken and needs to be fixed.”

What is the first thing you would change?

The first thing Harckham would work to address in Albany, if elected, is the need for “a truly balanced budget with an open process.” For Castelli, “the conversation begins and ends with taxes.” 

What are the first three legislative actions you’ll try to take?

Peter Harckham plans to focus first on the budget, then on campaign and ethics reform, and third on funding mandates with general state revenue such as income and sales taxes.  Citing Medicaid, which will cost Westchester residents $207 million in property taxes this year, Harckham explained, “We could reduce the county portion of property taxes tomorrow by a third if New York funded Medicaid like 48 other states do. Only New York and North Carolina pass these costs on to property tax payers.”

Bob Castelli stated that he would reduce the tax burden in Westchester by reducing reliance on property taxes to fund education and fight to bring a fair share of state aid back to our local school districts. He also insisted that the practice of unfunded mandates from Albany, new requirements with no funding attached, must stop. 

Castelli stated that he would work to repeal the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law that, he believes, prevents effective collective bargaining by prohibiting a public employer from altering the provisions of a contract that has expired until a new agreement is reached. He explained that under the current law, public employees working without a contract receive all the benefits included in their prior contract. Consequently, unions have no incentive, he believes, to offer concessions or to bargain in good faith. Not only is New York the only state in the nation known to have such a requirement for public employees, he noted, there is no similar obligation imposed upon private employers.

Third, Castelli has his sights on the Wicks Law, which requires local governments, including schools, to use multiple contractors to build most public works projects.  In his opinion, the Wicks law practically ensures a lack of coordination between contractors working with public entities, who often lack project management experience. He believes that this often results in extra expense for multiple bid packages, costly delays and expensive legal disputes. The private sector doesn’t do things this way, he noted. Studies show, he added, that the law adds between 15% and 25% to the cost of public projects.

What do you think about the Westchester settlement regarding affordable housing?

This fall, the Westchester Board of Legislators approved a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the federal government that requires the county to build affordable housing in Westchester. At the time of the settlement, the options open to the county were settle or continue to pursue expensive litigation.

“I am adamantly opposed to this settlement,” Castelli declared unequivocally.  “It diminishes the value of houses.”  In his opinion,  “we might have won in litigation if we challenged the settlement. 
Castelli takes a bleak view of the settlement’s likely consequences. “The settlement will result in disastrous legal and environmental costs to local communities as they fight to prevent developers from using the terms of the agreement to circumvent our land-use regulations to build federally controlled housing that does not meet the clearly identified need of the region for workforce affordable housing.”

Pete Harckham totally disagreed.  Before the settlement was reached, Harckham explained, “The County lost six different motions [in court] and faced a $300 “million liability.”  At the League of Women Voters’ Candidates’ Night, Harckham, the former president of A-Home, declared, “I am the only one sitting here who actively built affordable housing.” A-HOME rehabilitates, builds and manages affordable rental housing in northern Westchester County, NY for older adults, disabled individuals and single parent families who, because of age, disability, or family status, cannot afford market rates.

To view the 30-minute League of Women Voters’ Candidates’ Night, click HERE and choose thumbnail on far left.

Contents of the Video of Candidates’ Night, and Questions Asked


Candidates’ Opening Statements

Starting League Question:

What are the candidates’ positions on proposed drilling for natural gas upstate and its effect on NYC’s water supply?

Question by email from a resident of New Castle:

Should the theory of intelligent design be taught in classrooms?

Question from a resident of South Salem, a local Tea Party founder:

Would you be willing to work with Tea Party members?

Question from a resident of White Plains:

On the county’s Affordable Housing Settlement and subsidized housing

Question from a resident of Valhalla, a Republican district leader for Mt. Pleasant:

Why was the Affordable Housing settlement pushed through with virtually no debate?

Question from a resident of Pound Ridge, where a recreation center project is stalled:

Would you support reform/repeal of the Wick’s Law?

Question from a member of the White Plains Tea Party:

Would you stand up against Sheldon Silver in Albany?

Question from a resident of New Castle:

What will you do to assure abortion remains safe, affordable, accessible to all women?

Candidates’ Closing Statements

TO FIND IT ON TV: Candidates’ Night is now running on Verizon Channel 45 and Cablevision Channel 75 at these hours:

Friday - 2/5/10 7pm, 10:30pm
Saturday - 2/6/10 1am, 7am, 11am, 7pm, 11:30pm
Sunday - 2/7/10 9am, 3pm. 9am
Monday - 2/8/10 2am, 8am, 1pm, 7pm, 10:30pm
Tuesday - 2/9/10 1am, 7am, 11am

To find Letters to the Editor in support of Harckham, click HERE; and in support of Castelli, click HERE.

For an inside view of the workings in Albany, see NCNOW’s article, State Assemblyman Latimer shares views on state budget, ethics and local taxes with Chappaqua Rotary, January 29, 2010.

We encourage civil, civic discourse. All comments are reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.

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