To the editor,
My wife and I moved to Peekskill in 2014. Before doing so, we wanted to relocate to upper Westchester to be closer to my son, Jacob, who lives in Mohegan Lake. But before we settled on a new town to call “home” from New Rochelle, we got out a stack of index cards and made a priority list of what we wanted from a community. Our list included: vibrant arts community; good food; racially and ethnically diverse; friendly atmosphere; great coffee; liberal bent; near music venues… the stack was pretty sizable. But it gave us a way we could consider where our next move would take us.

So, we started exploring Mohegan Lake and surrounding neighborhoods. One of our ventures took us through Peekskill on the way to Mohegan Lake and, on that particular summer weekend, Division Street was closed to vehicular traffic so that restaurants could put out tables and musicians could entertain the diners. This was our vibe. After enjoying an afternoon of good food and music, we started to explore Peekskill as an option. What we found was a city that was checking many—if not all—of our index cards!

On top of all the offerings Peekskill had to offer in hospitality, culture, and more, it also was a city in which we could invest: my wife and I invest and develop historic properties. Peekskill is still one of the few cities in Westchester where the numbers work well for investors. The taxes are still relatively lower than other parts of the County and the demand for commercial and residential real estate is great.

And so, we found our new home.

Within a matter of weeks of moving here, we also learned quickly why Peekskill is called “A Friendly Town.” In previous communities in which we lived, suburbia caused us to have many more acquaintances than friends. In contrast, Peekskill—the smallest city in New York State, is a community in which you’d have to try pretty hard not to make friends. In a matter of months, we felt as if our new adopted city was truly a home and its residents our extended family.

Now, families are not without their quibbles and differences, and Peekskill is no different. The City’s leaders have their own blend of perspectives and values, some of which we share, and some we don’t. My wife and I have seen this on a regular basis perhaps more than most, since as property developers, we visit City Hall pretty often: permits, taxes, planning… so much of what we do involves building a good, strong relationship with the city. And, over the time we’ve been here, we have done our best to get to know our city’s governing bodies and cooperate.

I’m a registered Democrat—have been my entire voting life. My wife, Monica, is a fierce independent, but finds herself allying with progressive values more often than not. Both of us agree that local politics really don’t need national party affiliations: local issues aren’t really Republican or Democrat in nature. They’re more about city infrastructure, local taxes, clean streets, cooperation with local businesses and so on. None of these issues are really “left” or “right.” But since our city’s election processes demand party affiliation, we have found more resonance with the Peekskill Democratic Party than with any other since moving here.

Since we care deeply about our community and neighborhood, we have been involved with the party, advocating for them, donating to them and even doing leg work on their behalf to get their nominees elected.

This past 2017 election year was, to us, fascinating to say the least: On one side—the Republican side—was a two-term mayor (an experienced lawyer) who, on face, appeared to be overstepping his role as counsel leader into more executive areas, and has had a record of bullying residents, along with a slate of gentlemen who all seemed relatively qualified but not ones with whom we agreed with philosophically; and on the other—the Democratic side—was a young black man (a community organizer) who was already serving on the Common Council, a Latina woman, a Latino businessman, and a biracial attorney.

If one were to look at the two slates and their two value propositions, you would be hard pressed to tell the differences. Both sides wanted relatively the same things: lower taxes, safer neighborhood, friendlier atmosphere towards business. That’s the thing about local governing bodies—the issues that face our towns, cities, and villages are nowhere near the same ones that face our states or country. Our local governments are the bodies that deal with our day-to-day lives the most—whether where and how one parks a car, to what businesses go where—it’s the local governments that have the greatest impact to our daily lives. So why muddy that up with national parties?

I mention this because I got very involved in this last election. I helped design many of the posters, mailings and social media posts, along with a talented and dedicated team; I helped organize and meet with like-minded voters who wanted to see more positivity in our local government from the top down. But it’s what I saw on election day that affected me the most and gives me hope for the future of our country.

In most “off year elections,” voter turnout tends to be significantly lower than if a governor, senator, or president were running. But the phone banking, mailing, online engagement, and other efforts were masterfully handled by the local Democrats this year. There was great cooperation, strategic action, and physical effort put into the campaign. It was really wonderful to see in action.

But more than the effort, the phone calls, or the canvasing, the most hope-inspiring thing about the events leading up to and including election day was the make-up of the folks involved in the Democratic effort. There were people of every age group, every ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, race… all working together in harmony and common purpose. The energy amongst supporters and campaign workers was effusive, upbeat, and cheerful—quite the opposite of our feelings of the previous few months, given the national political climate.

And the Democrats won. Handily. Peekskill elected their youngest mayor—a gifted and charismatic black man whose positivity and optimism won out over the experienced and polished politician. The diversity ticket won over a slate of slightly-older-than-middle-aged men who were mostly white. The message of hope and a more friendly, welcoming future won out over fear-mongering and veiled racism.

There are those on the other side who have opined that this was simply a referendum on President Trump and his gross unpopularity—especially in New York. I believe there is a kernel of truth in that assessment. But Peekskill has always seemed to me to be about knowing our local politicians and voting them in or out based on the names and faces right before us. Anti-Trump sentiment might have been a catalyst, but had the Democrats run weaker candidates, they would not have won in the decisive manner in which they did, with a four to five point spread among Common Council candidates, and the mayorship being won 51 percent to 49 percent.

The path for the future of our country was just laid out last night. In many significant races in several states, the winners were even more diverse: Trans people, a Sikh, people of color, women… This wasn’t simply a Peekskill thing. Peekskill is just a microcosm and an example of what I anticipate is yet to come.

Trump actually did the Democrats a favor. By the time Clinton was the national general candidate for President, the Democrats had become complacent and somewhat disaffected, despite Clinton’s simple majority win in 2016. Democratic activism and political ownership felt almost asleep in that last general election. Obama’s campaign felt electric, while Clinton’s felt lethargic, and from national to local elections, I was personally feeling like the Democratic heart was in need of several cups of very strong coffee. But after almost a year of Trump’s White House, the frustration felt by progressives and liberals has now turned into action. The numbers are there; the will and the drive are catching up.

For several decades now, the Right and the Republicans in our country have been more motivated, dedicated and action orientated, getting their candidates elected, districts gerrymandered and their will carried out. The Left needs to follow suit, and I anticipate 2017 will be a beacon, heralding their rising to the cause, taking responsibility and taking action.

We did it in Peekskill. We’ll do it in D.C.

Erik Contzius
Peekskill

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