For more than a decade, Mount Vernon residents have been held hostage to a political battle that has impacted our children and our quality of life. Like all of you, I’ve watched this political theater filled with successive politicians tearing down one another to get a leg up on the “Memorial Field” express. Finishing this field has become the Holy Grail of mayoral politics in Mount Vernon. Through the years, the battle between Mount Vernon’s mayors and other elected officials to be the person who “completes” Memorial Field has been long, embarrassing, and costly. Moreover, the political squabbling and games being played with the project has created a blemish on the city that has deprived its residents and, especially, its children of the use of its own resources.
Many residents have asked me why the City Council filed the restraining order against the Mayor and his administration to stop work at Memorial Field this summer. The answer is simple: Mount Vernon’s taxpayers needed a timeout. We needed time to stop the destructive behavior and path that would potentially cost taxpayers additional tens of millions of dollars. The Mayor’s approach to “renovation” was to ignore all of the City’s processes and procedures and lie to anyone who would listen about what was going on. The entire project became more about assuming his place in the succession of mayors who promised to get something done about Memorial Field instead of protecting the taxpayer from waste, fraud, and abuse.
Secondly, it was time to take the political football out of the hands of the past, present, or future mayors who all have their own ideas on what it should look like – without the follow-through necessary to finish the project. We chastise President Trump for trying to erase President Obama’s legacy, however, each Mount Vernon mayor has done the same to his predecessor. While these politicians are busy throwing rocks at each other just to see how many windows they can break, no one is paying attention to the cost or impact on the taxpayers who must pay for those windows. The City has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in court, arguing over the field being contaminated, just to end up with the same result found in my 74-page report posted back in December 2015. That’s just wasteful.
When things are not working internally, sometimes its best to get someone from outside the system to make progress happen. This is why we sought intervention of the Court and engaged Westchester County in the process. With the temporary restraining order against the Mayor in place, I am happy to report that real progress is happening. A lot of time and effort has gone into working with the Court and the County to keep this project on track, and it’s about to pay off. The Memorial Field project is moving forward, and it is moving forward responsibly.
The City Council’s lawyers met with the judge last week and there were some key developments I want to share with you:
1) The temporary restraining order (TRO) remains in place. The TRO alone has saved the City of Mount Vernon over $500,000 by avoiding potential fines from the DEC due to the Mayor’s inability to complete the remediation work at the Memorial Field site in a timely manner.
2) The agreement with the County to complete the construction of the NEW Memorial Field has been approved by the Court and will be approved by the County Board of Legislators in the coming weeks.
3) The environmental remediation plan will be finalized by the end of this month, and the contractor that demolished the grandstands has been ordered back to work to finish the job, which should take no more than a week. Once that is done, the rest of the work will be turned over to the County.
4) Because of our suit, the State has contributed $5 million towards construction costs, saving the taxpayers from having to bear that expense.
These achievements over the objections and frivolous arguments of the Mayor show we’re on the right track. It’s not that the Mayor doesn’t want to see Memorial Field finished; it’s that he wants to see it finished on his terms and only his terms.
Here’s the fine point: no Mayor, no Council member, and no politician deserve any credit for the renovation of Memorial Field. When this project is completed, the credit should go to the residents of Mount Vernon. It’s their field, paid for with their tax dollars, and at the expense of their children who have been deprived of its use for so long. Everyone seems to have forgotten an important rule of elective politics: you need to put the people’s interest over your own and, sometimes, that means you just need to get out of the way. For politicians who forget that rule, there’s a line from Game of Thrones that applies: “Winter is coming.”
While I know there has been some frustration with the fact that this had to be accomplished through legal action, I want to assure you that it has been a complete success and has saved the Mount Vernon taxpayers far more than it cost them. We have a viable, real, and actionable path forward on Memorial Field – for the first time in decades! On behalf of the whole City Council, we would also like to thank you, Mount Vernon, for your patience and support all along the way. A renovated Memorial Field we can all be proud of is not a pipe dream anymore. It’s about to become a reality!
If you have thoughts or comments about this issue or any other, reach out to me at ADWCMV@gmail.com.