Topping the list of contested village elections in Westchester County on Tuesday is a challenge to two-term incumbent Port Chester Mayor Dennis Pilla from Republican challenger Neil Pagano in a race framed around economic growth and development.
Pilla, a 52-year-old Democrat, gave up a lucrative job as a financial operations and technology executive for companies such as Citigroup and PepsiCo to enter politics. He donates his $12,000 annual salary as mayor to local charities and school groups and said he wants one last term to finish the projects he started six years ago.
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Pagano, 69, contends that Pilla has lost the trust of the village's Republican-controlled board of trustees and argues he could do a better job expanding the city's tax base and attracting new business owners to blighted, vacant properties.
"I believe they lost respect for leadership. They don't see the village moving forward, and they're frustrated," Pagano said recently.
Pilla brushes aside such criticism and points to his accomplishments during his two terms: the reopening of the Capitol Theatre, a revitalized business district that includes Mario Batali's small empire of shops on Main Street, spots like bartaco and dozens of newly opened ethnic restaurants ranging from Peruvian fare to sidewalk Brazilian bakeries.
The Justice Department says it will be assigning federal observers to monitor polling activities in the village to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act.
In 2008, a federal court found that Port Chester's method of electing its board of trustees violated the Voting Rights Act and prevented Hispanics from participating equally in the electoral process.
The finding led to an agreement with the Justice Department and a 2009 election that produced the village's first Hispanic trustee.
As a result of the federally imposed "cumulative voting" system, for the first time since 1868 all six trustee positions and the mayor's seat are up for grabs in Port Chester. Although residents can "stack" their votes in the trustee race, with each casting six ballots, the mayoral election follows the old rules of one vote per person.
The federal observers will make sure that bilingual poll officials are present at every polling place and that all election-related materials are translated into Spanish.
The Port Chester mayoral race is one of nearly a dozen village elections set for Tuesday in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, where voters are expected to cast ballots in a handful of races for mayor, trustee and justice.
In Briarcliff Manor, independent candidate Laura Morris is seeking to unseat four-term incumbent Mayor William Vescio. The mayor is running with the endorsement of the village's nonpartisan political organization, the People's Caucus of Briarcliff Manor.
Also on the ballot are trustee Lori Sullivan seeking re-election and candidate Mark Wilson running for another open trustee position. Howard Code is making a bid for village justice. All candidates are unopposed and were nominated through the People's Caucus.
Contested races also will take place in the Westchester County villages of Buchanan, Pelham and Tuckahoe. Races in Bronxville, Elmsford, Hastings-on-Hudson, Larchmont, Pelham Manor, Rye Brook, Scarsdale, Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown are uncontested.
In Rockland County -- where eight villages will vote -- Republican Elections Commissioner Louis Babcock predicts a turnout of about 20 percent, which could drop even lower depending on how much bad weather a predicted snowstorm brings.
"Most people don't associate elections with March, so basically it's just the faithful who come out to vote," he said. "And on top of that we're expecting 2 to 3 inches of snow overnight, so that's going to cut turnout even more."
In Rockland County, five villages will have contested elections, including Airmont, Chestnut Ridge, Hillburn, South Nyack and Upper Nyack. Elections are uncontested in the villages of Pomona, Montebello and Grand View-on-Hudson.
In Putnam County, Cold Spring will stage contested races, while Nelsonville will vote in several uncontested races.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
With The Associated Press