Be The Change You Want To See

Range of voices critical to inclusive governing


On the winds of early November comes the mid time between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Ancient Celtic cultures called this period of time Samhain and created rituals to mark the safe passage of the ‘world’ amid changes the earth was experiencing as it shifted from the season of harvest to a period of dormancy.  Letting go of the old and looking to the new is a key practice of this period. 

We Americans use the first Tuesday in November to select individuals to represent us in making decisions that will impact our lives communally. Tuesday’s election in Peekskill had a historical dimension with the victory of Vivian McKenzie as she became the city’s first African American woman to hold the top office. In accepting the results of voters, victors speak of their goals and dreams for their tenure. McKenzie did that to a house full of supporters after learning that she collected nearly 65 percent of the 3,700 votes cast in a low turnout non-presidential election year. Last year, 75 percent of registered voters went to the polls in Peekskill versus 28 percent of registered voters this year. 

The rituals surrounding our practice of electing leaders involves speeches with grandiose words regarding change. McKenzie’s campaign touted the economic development underway here and referenced Peekskill as a city on the rise that has made tremendous progress in recent years, a ‘harvest’ of sorts. Yes, there has been rapid growth in the past few years but with that growth comes pains as we labor into a new ‘world’.  We are shifting from a community with a small town ‘village’ feel  to one where we can’t know everyone’s name and those attendant challenges require fresh vision and creative solutions.   

McKenzie spoke of the values guiding her eight years in public office and said they will continue to play a role in how she governs. She referenced experience, serious deliberation and collaboration as the way to move the city forward. She describes herself as a determined and focused public servant who places value on data and facts.  Citing inclusion, equity and professionalism as characteristics of her administration, she has an opportunity to make those more than promises in the heat of an election night victory.  Her administration will select someone to fill her vacant council seat.  

Tuesday’s victory ended an unusually long campaign season for Democrats that began in January when the Peekskill City Democratic Committee selected McKenzie’s team over a progressive wing of the party (Progress for Peekskill), forcing a rare-for-Peekskill June primary. The issues and ideas raised by the Progress for Peekskill slate aren’t going to disappear along with windblown campaign signs. In fact, the issues will become more pressing as Peekskill continues to grow.  

An integral component of shepherding the ‘safe passage’ of the world we know (Peekskill) to its dormancy is the ability to receive feedback and constructive criticism which, in the end, benefits the Peekskill we value so strongly. Being truly inclusive means being willing to give a seat at the table to others who have differing viewpoints, trusting that from such openness new paths will emerge. 

We urge McKenzie and the council  to appoint outgoing councilperson Vanessa Agudelo to the open position. Agudelo has shown in her four years on the council to be a committed public servant who brings a fresh perspective to the issues. She is tireless in championing those who are being squeezed out of Peekskill as it changes and grows. 

In returning Agudelo to her seat in the council chambers,  McKenzie would show a willingness to let go of the ‘old’ entrenched way of partisan politics and embrace a new way of collaboration that would truly cement her election as historic on more than just the surface.