HARRISON, N.Y. -- Downtown development and possible changes to the mayor/supervisor's role in town government were the major topics of a forum between mayoral candidates Ron Belmont and Joan Walsh.
Incumbent Belmont (R) is running for re-election against Walsh (D), the former mayor that Belmont defeated in the election two years. In a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Harrison, audience members got a chance to ask the candidates questions about issues they felt are important to the town.
Belmont said that downtown development has improved since he took office 21 months ago. He said that he has attended ribbon-cutting ceremonies for 16 new businesses in his time as mayor.
"The face of Harrison is changing. We're on an upward trend. Four years prior to that, we spent absolutely no money on our downtown area at all," he said. He said that the downtown revitalization committee has been recreated, and that he has worked to bring businesses like DeCicco Family Market to town. He said that he has also focused more on clean sidewalks and awnings so that the downtown area looks attractive.
Walsh said that Harrison used to have a lot more variety in its stores that isn't seen anymore.
"There was a clothing store, there were two shoe stores, there were two hardware stores. There were places to come and reasons to be there," she said.
She said the answer to solving Harrison's downtown problem is the MTA project that would include retail space and housing to the train station parking lot.
"You need a catalyst, and the catalyst would be the MTA. And across the street, it would upgrade, and then it would go up and down the avenue and pretty soon the entire area would be upgraded. But there has to be a catalyst."
Belmont said that announcements regarding the MTA project would be coming soon, but right now he can't talk about it.
"I'd love to brag to each and every one of you about how far we've come with the MTA in our development. But I can't, because we're under a confidentiality agreement," he said. "But I will say we're working on it."
One of the major things Walsh has said she would do if elected is reduce the mayor/supervisor to a part-time role and hire a town manager. The mayor's salary would be reduced, and that money would be used to hire a professional administrator to handle the day-to-day running of the town.
"It would be so much more efficient than having someone come in like me, who has never managed a $58 million dollar business, and have to rely on different department heads for information. You would have someone who would know the ins and outs of it," she said. She added that she would not do it unless she had the support of the majority of the board.
Belmont said that he was in favor of exploring the idea when he came to office, as long as he had bipartisan support. He said that he met with the head of the Harrison Democratic Committee and discussed it back in January, but never heard back on the issue.