By JASON CHIREVAS
In the last seven months, the Village of Mamaroneck Democratic Committee chair has changed hands twice at a time when the party’s majority on the Board of Trustees is at stake.
Stuart Tiekert replaced Randi Robinowitz as party chair in March. Then, at a party reorganization meeting on Sept. 20, Tiekert stepped down and Elizabeth Saenger was named party chair, overcoming a challenge from Nora Lucas, who was the vice-chair under Tiekert.
Saenger told The Sound and Town Report that there was some instability after Robinowitz stepped down.
“It wasn’t working out very well [with Tiekert]. He reluctantly agreed to be chair. He had not been part of the Democratic executive committee before, so I don’t think he realized what a hard job it is,” Saenger said. “There were some disagreements between members of the executive committee and [Tiekert] just felt more comfortable no longer being chair. I don’t think he had any idea of what he was getting into.”
Outgoing village Trustee Toni Pergola Ryan, a Democrat, seemed to agree.
“It’s kind of hard to find people who want to run things. Maybe it wasn’t what [Tiekert] thought it would be. People don’t realize how much time [running the party] requires,” Ryan said. “You need somebody who knows what they’re doing. The majority is up for grabs. I really think the party is in good hands with Elizabeth.”
When asked about Saenger and Ryan’s assessment of his tenure as party chair, Tiekert told The Sound and Town Report he sees things differently.
“I took the job with the idea that I would give up the next six or seven months of my life, that it would be a lot of work,” Tiekert said. “I didn’t come to it lightly. I don’t normally do things reluctantly in my life. Maybe I came to it cautiously.”
Tiekert said he agreed to take the village Democratic chair because he saw a vacuum in the party and a lack of definition between Democrats and Republicans in the 2011 village elections, in which Ryan was unsuccessful in a bid to unseat Mayor Norman Rosenblum.
Tiekert said his tenure as village Democratic Party chair was “eye-opening” and he accomplished what he set out to do, but he doesn’t think Saenger was the best choice to succeed him. “I would have preferred Ms. Lucas [for party chair],” he said. “I think she brings a fresher set of ideas to the table.”
The revolving door comes at an inopportune time for a party that has lost all three incumbents on this year’s ticket in which control of the village Board of Trustees is up for grabs with six candidates–three Republicans and three Democrats–vying for the open seats.
The seats of Mayor Rosenblum and Deputy Mayor Louis Santoro, both Republicans, are not in play this election. That means if just one of the three Republican trustee nominees wins, the board’s power base will shift to the right.
Trustee Sid Albert, who told The Sound and Town Report it was always his intention to only serve one term, said the party instability didn’t alter his intentions.
“I know it puts the majority in jeopardy, but it’s a decision that each [trustee] made individually, not as a group,” Albert said. “I think [the party administrators] have their act together right now.”
Ryan, cited long-term family concerns as her reason for leaving the board, but said she still plans to be an active participant in village affairs.
“If the board turns out different from what I feel is in the best interest of myself as a resident, I would have to become more involved in the meetings and in making my feelings known,” Ryan said.
For Trustee John Hofstetter, the decision to leave the board was fueled by fatigue and frustration.
“[Serving on the board] is a grind in the sense that people expect leadership from the trustees, and having responsibility for what amounts to a $30 million budget is challenging,” Hofstetter said. “I didn’t see much movement on the land development issues that I think are going to be challenging the village in the next 10 years. In fact, I saw [those issues] stepping backwards, and quite a bit backwards. That to me was troubling, and it’s not something I want to be associated with.”
However, like his fellow trustees, Hofstetter also has personal reasons for stepping aside.
“I had to make a decision that was good for me and my family and good for my sanity,” he said.
Like Ryan, Hofstetter said he intends to remain active in village politics, but “it will be on my schedule instead of someone else’s.”
None of the incumbent trustees said the changing party chairs had anything to do with their decision to leave the board. Hofstetter crystallized that sentiment in no uncertain terms. “I get along with everybody, including Stuart and Elizabeth,” he said.
In lieu of the incumbents, village Democrats have tapped Andres Jose Bermudez Hallstrom, 27, a lawyer from Washingtonville, Ilissa Miller, 40, CEO of iMiller Public Relations and Leon Potok, 61, current chairman of the Village Budget Committee to run in their stead.
The Republicans countered with George Belisto, 60, a former Westchester Joint Water Works supervisor, Dennis Cuchinella, 66, a Scarsdale Engineering Department code enforcement officer and Mike Sudano, 67, a retired teacher and former village trustee from 1997 to 2000.
Tiekert is particularly proud of the Democratic nominees for trustee, who were chosen during his tenure as party chair.
“I would take the responsibility for them,” he said. “And the credit.”
Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.