Elections in Greenburgh create Representation challenges for the unincorporated area
Over the course of the Edgemont Incorporation Committee (EIC)’s effort to disseminate clear information about incorporation, we’ve been asked “Why is incorporation the answer for Edgemont? Why not just run a candidate against Paul Feiner or try and get a seat on the Town Board?” These are fair questions, but incorporation is the better choice for Edgemont for many reasons.
First, some background on how elections work in Greenburgh: The Town Supervisor and Town Council (collectively, the “Town Board”) are elected Town-wide, which means that voters within the incorporated villages (Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, Tarrytown, Irvington, Ardsley, and Elmsford) have the same voting influence as residents of the unincorporated areas (Edgemont, Hartsdale, Fairview, etc.). That is relevant because the Town Board has no legal authority over zoning, planning, service/tax levels, or capital expenditures in the villages, as those functions are the responsibility of the villages’ own mayors and boards of trustees, and major municipal services are almost exclusively provided by the villages. As a result, the villages pay minimal taxes to the Town, and elected Town officials’ decisions have minimal impact on village voters.
Additionally, the villages have no liability for judgments such as Fortress Bible, which are charged to the unincorporated area.
In summary, the incorporated villages have:
- A negligible Town tax burden;
- Self-determination (e.g. no Town involvement in their budgeting or land-use decisions); and
- Virtually no liability for land-use judgments against the Town, since the villages are responsible for their own governance.
Yet, village residents still have an equal vote for Town Board, as affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
How does this play out in elections? In November 2016, more voters came from the incorporated area than the unincorporated area. Previous contested Supervisor primary elections have the villages voting 77% in favor of Feiner. Why? Because when a voting decision is basically inconsequential with respect to day-to-day life, one likely goes with the recognized name of an incumbent who promises more of the same (as is often the case in Greenburgh).
When Feiner has been challenged in the Democratic primary, he has warned village voters that opponents will shift the Town’s tax burden from the unincorporated areas (which shoulder about 98% of Town taxes) to the villages, which he says only he alone can prevent.
These voting trends create a steep uphill climb for the Town’s Supervisor position, and, accordingly, Edgemont’s influence (at 8% of the Town-wide voting population) over its own destiny. Why would a village resident veer from the tried-and-true and vote against the Town incumbent since everything is generally AOK in the villages? After all, Town taxes are a mere fraction of the village tax bill, the Supervisor stops by often enough to ensure no one forgets him, and those expensive budget problems (settlements, duplicative parks and recreation departments) are for the unincorporated residents (48.5% of the population) to worry about.
Greenburgh Town Supervisor elections are effectively two simultaneous elections – one in the villages, and the other in the unincorporated areas. Incumbency is typically advantageous in any election, but in Greenburgh’s interesting election structure, the historical numbers show it has a huge impact on outcome.
Even electing an Edgemont resident to the Town Board is not as simple as it sounds. It requires raising substantial funds to buy Town-wide name recognition in order to oust better-known long-time incumbents while appealing to village voters who generally have no interest in such down-ballot races. Regardless, as history has shown, villagers seem to reflexively vote for the names they know.
Another approach is for an Edgemont resident to run on slate with Feiner. But even that scenario only gets Edgemont one vote out of five, and a Feiner-led town board likely won’t be any more aligned with Edgemont’s residents than is the current board.
By becoming Greenburgh’s seventh village, we can elect our own mayor and board of trustees who will be 100% focused on Edgemont residents’ priorities and completely accountable only to us. We can manage our own zoning and planning process, consider more efficient ways of providing better services, and determine the best long-term capital plans for our community—just like all of the existing villages.