When Toni Pergola Ryan first ran for Village of Mamaroneck trustee back in the late 1980s, she said it was "to protect the character of the village in light of potential [over]development." As we sat on a bench in Harbor Island Park to conduct this interview, she reflected upon our surroundings.
"For people who can't belong to a private beach club, they can still sit over there on a bench, see the water and the boats and dream, and there is nothing to block their view, nothing to stop them from looking out there," she said, as she gestured toward the harbor. "I can't imagine that ever changing. We are very blessed to be living here."
Mrs. Ryan is now running for her fourth term. "I served a single term in the '80s, but chose not to run again because I worked full-time in a very busy job then and wanted more time for my family," she explained. "I am now running for my third consecutive term, having decided in 2006 to run again because I felt the Village of Mamaroneck was at a crossroads – costly lawsuits, run-away development, lack of ethical accountability – and I wanted to be a decision-maker in the direction the village would take."
Here's what else Ryan had to say as she considers her current term and the potential for a fourth.
Q: What inspires/motivates you to run for reelection?
A: We need to continue to have laws that protect who we are and what we want to become. I want to continue to work on issues facing the village – such as development along the water – and have my views brought to the table. I truly do a lot of research on the issues, take my time deciding what I think is best, and I vote my mind. If you look at the voting record, you will see that is true for me.
Q: Do you think that partisanship of the board has been a problem? If so, how do you hope to rectify that going forward?
A: I consider myself to be a great believer in the process – the people are served if the process is followed; if not, we're not doing a great job. Even when one party has a majority, there always needs to be discussion and it is best to include everyone.
I think I bring a balance to the board. I stand back, really listen and try to bring back to the table what it is we're really looking at. I tend not to get involved in the middle of a fight, and try not to get off course. I want a collaborative effort, and we need to work as a team. I am a firm believer that politics ends at the door after the campaign and elections are over.
(Ryan is officially registered as an independent, but will run on the Democratic ticket.)
Q: What do you see as being the most pressing issues facing the village today and in the near future?
A: Flooding is always going to be an issue. I am the liaison to the Committee for the Environment. Tons of debris was taken out of the rivers in April '09, and it was done again this year in conjunction with the Flood Mitigation Committee, and it is amazing how much had accumulated again in one year. We need to educate people on the proper ways to dispose of garbage and recycle. We need to figure out what actions we can take on our own, and enact laws that will help us do that.
Q: If reelected, what would your priorities be?
A: We need to put away money every year in a special fund to be used specifically for flood mitigation. We need to be active in planning everyday so that, when the Army Corps of Engineers is done with its study, we will know what direction it is taking and we can make wise choices. We need to be vigilant in what is happening in neighboring communities, as well as development within our own boundaries.
Also, we need to continue to have an open dialogue with the residents of the village so that we can understand their needs.
Q: What particular skill sets/ideas do you bring to the table?
A: I think I bring people together. I just work well with them and like to build a consensus. I can listen to people's concerns and really hear what they're trying to say.
I went back to school at night and got my bachelor's degree, with honors, at 60. I really learned how to do research, and I love all that. In this position, when making decisions, you really need to have all the facts.
Q: As the incumbent, what advantages do you have over those looking to unseat you?
A: I want to continue to work on what we have already started. We need to continue to support the Ethics Committee and we need to stand firm on the initiatives that have already been taken to this point – there needs to be stability on the board. Without all that working together, there will be no progress, or progress will at least be slowed down.
Q: What accomplishments are you most proud of achieving during your term as trustee?
A: What I wanted, and what we worked so hard to achieve, was the hiring of a full-time attorney with land-use and municipal-law expertise, and it's a shame that we don't have that now.
I still live in the house I grew up in, and I bring a great love for and knowledge of this community. We have very distinct neighborhoods with distinct needs, yet we are one community, and I want to continue to help build on that.
Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of profiles that ran this summer. We are featuring them again one week before Election Day in case you missed them. If you have questions for the candidates, ask them in our comments section.