Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Smith/Torres in rematch for county legislator seat

Dems run unopposed in Common Council election
Democrats, from left, Brian Fassett, Vivian McKenzie, Patricia Riley and Kathie Talbot are running unopposed.

Voters in Peekskill have a choice to make for their next District 1 county legislator, on whether two state propositions pass or fail, and an up or down on the city’s library budget when they go to the polls on Tuesday. Early voting continues. See locations and times here.

In the race for mayor and three open Common Council seats, however, the results are in before the ballots are counted. It’s a clean sweep for the Democratic ticket of incumbents Mayor Vivian McKenzie, Deputy Mayor Patricia Riley, Kathie Talbot and Brian Fassett as the Republican Party offered no candidates.

In the county legislator race, incumbent Democrat Colin Smith has served in the seat since January 2020. He is the chairman of the board’s Committee on Public Safety.

Colin Smith, left, was born and raised in Peekskill as the son of a nurse and a cab driver.

Smith served on the Peekskill Common Council for one term before winning the county legislature seat. He was a member of the school board for five and a half years from June 2012 to December 2017. His private law practice in Peekskill opened in January 2015.

His Republican opponent in the race is Joe Torres, who served on the Common Council from 2014 to 2018. Torres has owned and managed Reliable Sewer & Drain for the past 39 years.

Joe Torres is a former commodore of the Peekskill Yacht Club and is a member of Peekskill’s Office of Emergency Management.

The race between Smith and Torres is a rematch of their 2021 contest where Smith won with 6,284 votes vs. 5,799 for Torres. The district includes voters in Peekskill, Cortlandt and Yorktown and Smith won overwhelmingly in the Peekskill vote, 2,399 vs. 1,116 for Torres. Torres scored narrower victories in Cortlandt (2,420-2,227) and Yorktown (2,263-1,658).

State proposal that impacts Peekskill schools

There are two state proposals on the ballot that will make changes to the state constitution to lift caps on government debt.

The first is a proposed amendment to Article 8, section 4 of the Constitution to remove the special constitutional debt limitation now placed on small city school districts, so they will be treated the same as all other school districts. [see related story here]. The second is a proposed amendment to Article 8, section 5 of the Constitution that extends for ten years the authority of counties, cities, towns, and villages to remove from their constitutional debt limits debt for the construction of sewage facilities.

Also up for vote is a proposal to increase the city’s contribution to the Field Library by $240,000 to $1.698 million for 2024.

Democrats continue to win Peekskill elections

The Democratic Party in Peekskill, and throughout Westchester and New York state, have taken complete control of elective office in the past decade. Democrats hold all statewide elective offices and overwhelming majorities both the state assembly and senate.

Democrats hold a 16-1 hold on the county legislature, where George Latimer has served as county executive since 2018.

In Peekskill, Democrats hold an overwhelming lead in registered voters, even wider than historically. Nearly 7,000 of Peekskill’s 12,500 voters are Democrats, compared to 1,867 Republicans.

This year’s sweep of the Common Council races continues the Dems control of Peekskill elective office. The last Republican mayor was Frank Catalina who beat Ken Martin 2015. He was defeated two years later by Andre Rainey.

Marina Ciotti-Hodges, chair of the Peekskill Democratic City Committee, attributes the party’s success to its candidates and their achievements.

“The Peekskill Democrats have been successful due to our commitment to getting good, highly qualified Democratic candidates elected year after year. The success is evidenced by all the positive things the City government has accomplished since Democrats took the majority in 2007.

Hodges said the Democratic majorities have delivered progress to move the city forward.

“Peekskill always seemed on the verge of greatness, but it was the Democrats who pushed essential initiatives forward when they achieved the majority. This is certainly demonstrated by the influx of new residents, who are attracted to everything Peekskill now has to offer, from the many downtown establishments to our beautiful waterfront and Riverwalk, our welcoming parks, our diversity, and our can-do spirit.

“Many impressive projects have recently been completed or are underway: hundreds of additional units of housing starting with the newly opened 645 Main St., the rebuilding of Fleischmann’s Pier and Charles Point Park, the re-design of Pugsley Park, and other streetscape improvements made possible by the DRI grant, the restoration of the Depew Park field, and more,” Ciotti-Hodges said.

GOP looking to the future after years of defeat

Long-time GOP figure Vinny Vesce Sr., involved in local politics as mayor and party leader for decades, played a major role in a 20-plus era of Republican rule beginning in the 1980s.

“These things run in cycles sometimes,” Vesce said. “We had little or token opposition for 25 years when George Pataki was first elected mayor.”

Vesce cited a couple of reasons that local Republicans have failed in recent elections. “Besides a change in demographics, a large part of that is the quote Republican brand unquote in certain areas of the country,” he said, pointing to the damage that Donald Trump has wrought in heavily Democratic parts of the country.

“In circumstances like that the other side can run a hamster and the hamster would win. That’s the way it is sometimes.”

Former Peekskill Mayor and county legislator John Testa said the city’s residents are ill-served when only one party controls all the levers of government.

“The Republicans are in a rebuilding process,” Testa said. “There are a core of individuals tired of a one-party system where things are not challenged and brought to light because there’s no one there to ask the right questions. You need someone on the board to keep everyone transparent.”

Testa said the party can build on winning over new arrivals to the city. “Luckily, Peekskill has a large Hispanic population who are learning that Republican ideals are more suited to their beliefs. I think the future of the Republican party is with the Hispanic community.”

Other candidates on the Nov. 7 ballot include four open seats for Supreme Court Justice in the Ninth Judicial District and a County Court Judge position.

Editor’s Note:  This story was updated at 4:15 p.m. to reflect that the new County Legislative map is effective Jan 1, 2024 and references to the new district have been omitted.



About the Contributor
Jim Roberts
Jim Roberts has been in this business for more than 35 years (hard to believe) and still learning every day. A third-generation Peekskill resident, he started as a lowly researcher at the Westchester Business Journal in 1986 and learned how to be a reporter from many veterans in the field. He’s worked in private companies, Connecticut state government and wrote for the Co-op City Times for 10 years before retiring from full-time work in 2019. Roberts wants to contribute to building the Herald into a news website for residents who care about what’s happening in Peekskill.