MOUNT VERNON, NY — June 9, 2018 — The road to road to Memorial Field’s rebirth has been met with forces who want an abortion over its new life.
There is a line in the sand and on one side are the people of Mount Vernon who want Memorial Field back. On the other, are members of the City Council, who continue to show that their allegiance is to the political elite who are aligned with dirty politics, protecting pollution, and providing no solutions to problems we face. They simply want to turn the clock back to back room deals and looking the other way on dumping on Mount Vernon.
Our parks and waterways are vital resources that are meant to be protected. Our parkland ought to be a place, packed with purpose for families to gather, kids to learn life lessons, and a destination where all ages can play together. Yet the situation at Memorial Field affirms that Mount Vernon remains under attack. Divided by those who profited off from its plight. Held back by those who sympathize with failed policies of past.
My role as Mayor is to drive change. The challenge is to get those that feel they are losing to see how Mount Vernon can win and become better, faster with their support. The problem is not enough people are listening nor valuing what the taxpayers of Mount Vernon decided when they elected me as Mayor to fix the broken system and bring back Memorial Field
Since I entered Office as Mayor in 2016, I have put structure around the issues and set clear priorities for us to get Memorial Field back on track toward producing both revenue for our city and memories for our families. Through transparency, we revealed that $1.2 million was spent on demolition that never occurred and millions more were misspent building a tennis court in the middle of the track, inches away from the end zone of the football field.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation was clear in their decree that we must clean up the mess left behind by past administrations or face hefty fines, as much as $37,000 a day per violation. We already paid a steep price for our field being shut for a decade. There is no need to waste any more time, energy, or treasure debating with climate deniers. We thought this volley was over after the City Council begrudgingly acknowledged the illegal dumping at our park and authorized its clean up in 2017.
Accordingly, the situation with Kela Tennis is not just about them not paying approximately $500,000 in back-rent, it is also about removing illegal debris below the tennis courts. The matter devolved when Comptroller Deborah Reynolds and I held them in breach of contract and ultimately revoked their privilege to operate in Mount Vernon. In 2016, my administration built the bubble at Memorial Field. In 2017, we shared that the DEC included the tennis courts as part of the area for environmental mitigation. We vigorously worked to convince the DEC to allow for one summer of tennis while we addressed other compliance issues at the site. We delivered. Kela Tennis and the City Council reneged. Despite this, as another sign of good faith, we made clear that once work commenced in 2018 we would remain committed to building back the tennis courts with a bubble in the same year along with an 8-lane track and field for all sports. Now these possibilities are in jeopardy because of petty politics.
Perhaps, there are more problems buried that the old guard cannot afford to be unearthed? The DEC was very clear in their requirement for the dirty dirt below the tennis courts and the 30-foot mountain of rubble to be tested to determine what was illegally dumped on us and then take swift action mitigating the environmental damage.
Perhaps we were not clear enough in our communications with the public and our partners? If so, we will correct any mistakes by learning from them and not repeating them. We will not make an excuse nor complain about 80 positions within my administration being unfunded, we will work harder and smarter to make limited resources more effective for our taxpayers. Like our new Comptroller Deborah Reynolds, I understand that something must be done about these crushing property taxes. Also, Reynolds and I are the only two in local office who personally understand the importance of Memorial Field to our collective identity since we both played sports there growing up.
Like many of you, I have been chased out of other communities when I brought my friends or families to their park, including
adjacent to Target. That feeling of being asked to leave a public place brings us back to discriminatory times. Maybe Mount Vernon should have asked more politely to share Glover Field over the past decade? Perhaps, County Executive George Latimer will assist in asking Pelham Manor and their Board of Education to work with Mount Vernon so we too can have sports and recreation in our community? Though it is hard to imagine that we will be embraced after years of racial tension and sheer exclusion, even on Mount Vernon land inside the Ice Hutch and Sports Underdome, I will hold onto hope for our better nature to prevail.
These raw observations observations are real. And there are thousands of people in Mount Vernon who deal with living a second-class status every day. These are the people that I work for, because I am one of them – displaced from Memorial Field and disinherited by the political elite.
The simple truth is Mount Vernon has never negotiated for fair value or fair treatment in business, politics, or policy since Ronald Blackwood was Mayor. The bright flight of businesses and families with means show the down spiral and unnecessary rise in taxes until 2016.
The refutable truth is Mount Vernon is safer today than before. Crime is down by 32 percent since 2011 and Sue’s Rendezvous was shut under my watch. The fact is property values are rising and homes are being sold in Mount Vernon over the $2 million mark. Roads are being repaved and the Metro-North committed $60 million to replace all bridges separating the north and south sides of the city. Schools are on the up along with progressive housing policies providing opportunities for the middle class to seize value and create generational wealth. Last, quality of life is getting stronger. Authentic cultural events are driving tourism and offer new quality entertainment for all ages, ethnicities, and income levels. Advancing social and economic diversity is the right recipe for long term success and sustainability.
While the Judge granted the City Council their temporary restraining order to stop all work at Memorial Field, they will not stop us from moving Mount Vernon forward. Should the Judge review our answer prior to mid-July, we pray that he too will see we are complying with the State of New York’s environmental laws and following the spirit of the “Council’s own legislation” to clean up a real mess. While we impatiently wait for an opportunity to speak in Court, I am directing my administration to focus on other problems like potholes, street lights, and fixing Brush Park, Hutch Field and the waterfront until further notice.
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Richard Thomas is mayor of the City of Mount Vernon.