Mount Vernon Politics: A Referendum on Our Future

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“Crabs In a Bucket”

Mount Vernon City School District President Lesly Zamor.

I compare the metaphor “crabs in a bucket” to the mentality of those in the political arena in Mount Vernon. “Individually, the crabs in the story could easily escape from the bucket, but instead they are described as grabbing at each other in a useless “king of the hill” competition which prevents any from escaping and ensures their collective demise. The analogy in human behavior is claimed to be that members of a group will attempt to negate or diminish the importance of any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envyspiteconspiracy, self-interest or competitive feelings, to halt their progress”.*( Wikipedia)

I moved to Mount Vernon just about 12 years ago with my wife and two daughters from Manhattan.  We were looking for a home in the New Rochelle area, however, one day our broker said something came up in Mount Vernon.  We thought the neighborhood was amazing, and found that my best friend’s sister, from when I was 9-years-old, lived right across the street. For me, that was a sign that I belonged here.  Soon afterwards, friends from New York City who knew of Mount Vernon thought we were crazy to buy here. At the time, we didn’t know why they were saying that… but soon enough, we came to realize what they had meant.

Instead of cutting and running, my wife and I decided to stay.  We love the diversity here, we love our home, and we love our friends and neighbors. I quickly realized what Mount Vernon was missing… it was vision for what the city can be and the trust and confidence in its leaders.  It appeared that after decades of mistrust in its political and civic leaders, residents became reluctant to engage with any aspect of the city government for fear that they would just be wasting their time because all of the candidates for office were the same- self-serving opportunists.  We had three neighbors that actually moved because of the stigma of living in Mount Vernon. It became apparent that this was unsustainable.  Mount Vernon was actually losing its brain trust at an alarming rate.

Having made the decision to stay, my wife and I decided that we could not complain about what was happening to the city if we were not going to actively participate and be part of the solution.  I soon joined the planning board as one of its commissioners and thereafter sought a seat on the school board.  We knew that as long as public education in Mount Vernon was sub-par, it would be difficult for the city to attract new families looking for homes and good schools.  This would cause the local housing market to continue to soften, creating a large inventory of homes with very few buyers, which would cause home values to collapse. Every other community in Westchester has seen rising home values since the 2008 recession and new buyers competing for homes while Mount Vernon home prices continue to fall.  New home buyers send their children to private schools and shop and work outside of the city, never becoming part of the community. The dysfunction at our highest levels of government has created an image of Mount Vernon as a city in a state of steady decline.

A change in the trajectory of the city has been the clear improvements within the school district.  While serving on the Board of Trustees, I have been ‘hands on’.  I challenge every member of the administration, faculty, staff and the board to push and work harder to bring about the positive improvements in academics and facilities that the district so desperately needs.   Some may interpret my style as brash and arrogant, however most can agree that this has been the best and most positive change that they have seen for decades.  Those that get a chance to know me, know that I am genuine and passionate about this city and the desire to see it reach its full potential.  Some don’t understand why I work so hard at a job that pays nothing.  Those that understand Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” will understand better why I do what I do.  I have fulfilled my basic needs and now, at a higher level, I have the ability to think of others and community. This is a cause that gives a person great satisfaction and you can only know that when you begin to give back and do for others, without the expectation of monetary gains.

The “crabs in a bucket” mentality has caused good and competent people to stay away from serving in our city.  There are still some very capable people who live here and who desperately want to see this city become the great city that it once was.  The notion that someone born and raised here in Mount Vernon gives them the right to self-enrichment through school and city government jobs, does harm to the greater good of the citizens of this community.  We need the most capable and honest leaders and workers at every level in order to steer this great ship from away from eminent demise.  We must all reach a higher level of consciousness to help this great city reach its full potential.

Last, there is a very important election on the horizon.  There are three seats for a new City Council and one seat for a new Comptroller.  There are very competent new people to choose from.  While I will not be supporting any of the incumbents in those seats, I will not write anonymous smear articles or slanderous blogs. Anonymity is a refuge for someone who is too spineless to take a stand, it is armor for the those whose actions cannot be put forth in the light.  When I write articles about candidates, I state myself as the author because I stand by what I say.  I challenge them on their proficiency and their record. This is the only way to move this town forward. Let’s make the upcoming elections a referendum on the vision for the future of this great city.

Thank you Mount Vernon!

Lesly Zamor is Mount Vernon Public School District President.

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