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Four candidates for Bedford Town Board share hopes and views

Four candidates for Bedford Town Board share hopes and views

Voters in Bedford will be choosing from four candidates to fill two four-year terms on the town board, on Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Incumbent Democrats Bobbi Bittker and Thomas Catoliato are running for reelection, and being challenged by Republicans Mike Palladino and Don Scott.

The Record-Review asked all the candidates five questions via email, with two of the questions tailored to their current status as challengers or incumbents. Their answers are presented below as a virtual roundtable. Responses may have been edited for space and clarity.

The four candidates also appeared in a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters on Oct. 12. A summary of that program will appear in The Record-Review next week.


The Record-Review: What do you see as the biggest issue facing the town right now?

Bobbi Bittker: Affordability is a pressing issue that we have been addressing in various ways. Bedford was challenged by increased costs and lower revenues because of the COVID pandemic. With strong financial management, we maintained the coveted AAA bond rating, a bellwether of the town’s financial health, while holding the line on taxes. Despite these challenges, we have been improving both the quality and quantity of services. We focused on cutting waste, and investing in infrastructure, services and facilities that improve resident’s quality of life. By upgrading roads, sewers and cell service, we are enhancing public safety and bolstering resilience. The town board has also been working to boost hamlet vitality. We established a Bedford Economic Alliance to connect the three hamlet business communities, and are supporting the creation of a Bedford Hills Chamber of Commerce. New businesses have been opening all over town. We adopted tax exemptions for veterans, first responders and senior citizens, and with Habitat for Humanity are providing grants to moderate income residents who want to develop accessory dwelling units on their property. Despite economic challenges, we consistently stayed under the tax cap.

Thomas Catoliato: The most important issue facing our community is our town’s budget/taxes. With the cost of not only personnel but goods purchased rising, we have to look at how we are spending taxpayer money. Coupled with inflation, that is still not at a rate we are accustomed to; it has added another layer of challenge to a town board’s task. I feel as though I am the most qualified to address these issues because this is exactly what I do in my work life every day. Whether it is combing through local union CBAs [collective bargaining agreements] and sitting in their negotiation sessions, or it is looking at commodity pricing daily/weekly/monthly, my job is to bring projects in under budget. It is to look for the most efficient way to execute a contract and deliver the best product, goods and services to the end user.

Mike Palladino: Bedford is at a critical juncture, shaped by the profound impacts of a global pandemic. Remote work has evolved into a semi-permanent fixture for some, reducing the need for daily commutes via road or rail. It has also sparked a surging demand for home office spaces and the enhancement of broadband connectivity. We’ve welcomed a wave of new residents, drawn in by that undeniable Bedford charm. However, this influx has driven up home prices and intensified competition in the housing market, effectively creating a formidable barrier for low- to moderate-income individuals striving for homeownership. And local businesses have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s impact, with some forced to close their doors, leaving behind vacant storefronts throughout the town. This has resulted in reduced foot traffic in our hamlets, adversely affecting both the surviving businesses as well as the vibrancy of our community. Now more than ever, the call for our elected officials to be fully engaged has never been more critical. We need to be focused on strategic planning, goal setting and comprehensive engagement with all aspects of the town.

Don Scott: There is no single issue. There are many. As a town board member, I’d like to change the way the board works. Ideally, our board should have four individuals, each pulling an oar, to help move a shared vision forward in support of our town supervisor. I don’t see that now and want to help change that. I bring a unique set of skills and will help build a cohesive board representing a range of perspectives. Ironically, our opponents’ campaign asks voters to support them because they are Democrats. I ask for support based on the skills and ideas I bring to the job. They misleadingly imply through letters and signage that the supervisor has a contested race to gin up turnout when she is running unopposed. We look forward to working with the supervisor to support her objective to get things done. They curiously suggest that electing a more balanced board will move Bedford backwards when the opposite is true. It’s our current board, which is standing still, that is in danger of slipping backwards. I want to help build a cohesive, balanced town board with energy, focus and a plan to preserve what makes Bedford, Bedford, while addressing a new set of challenges.

The Record-Review: What three accomplishments can you point to from your tenure on the town board (incumbents) or what three things would you like to accomplish by serving on the town board (challengers)?

Thomas Catoliato: No. 1, we were able to keep the budget under the tax cap for 2023 while the average inflation rate in 2022 was approximately 8%. No. 2, 425 Cherry St. is undergoing major HVAC renovations. The initial bids were over budget before my time on the board. While working with our engineering design consultant, I was able to save the town approximately $200,000 on that single project alone, while maintaining the town’s goal of a carbon neutral heating and cooling system. This was achieved by the use of air-source heat pumps and eliminating gas heating. No. 3, eliminating the impediments and working through challenges with respect to the Old Post Road wireless facility in Bedford Village. This paved the way for a much-needed future installation of a wireless facility in Bedford Village for which construction should commence in the near future.

Mike Palladino: My primary focus from the outset is Bedford Hills — a hamlet in dire need of a comprehensive, data-driven action plan, one that will encompass crucial elements including the development of metrics to effectively assess and quantify our progress in addressing issues like business recruitment and retention. And I would be deeply committed to establishing open and direct communication channels with the key stake-holders in the hamlet, including both current and potential tenants, landlords and residents alike. Secondly, we need to maintain a firm stance on taxes as modest increases over the past decade have surpassed those in some neighboring towns. This requires a thorough examination of our budget, a rigorous evaluation of every expenditure to determine its necessity, and a proactive exploration of alternative options whenever feasible. Thirdly, I will leverage my marketing expertise to enhance communication with our residents, ensuring they are not only well informed but also provided with effective channels for soliciting valuable feedback. Initiatives such as mobile office hours, a digital suggestion box, and regular feedback surveys are some other things I would be enthusiastic about championing.

Don Scott: We actually have 101 things — and counting — to accomplish. My top priorities in the coming year, working with our town board, would focus on three critical areas. First, we must address the pressing issue of vacant spaces in our hamlets, especially in Bedford Hills. While it’s encouraging that the county has allocated funds to help us develop a plan, we can’t afford to wait. Immediate, actionable steps are needed to revitalize our hamlets. Second, we must get our board back on track with planning. Substantial resources were invested in updating our master plan in 2020, but progress has stalled without adequate explanation. It is a shame that the work product of scores of community members is withering on the vine. I am committed to reigniting this process and infusing it with a sense of urgency. Third, let’s create a culture on our town board of asking questions and setting goals and objectives. I watch every board meeting and I am frequently disappointed by a lack of curiosity by our board members, or a specific direction. If you don’t have a destination, any road will take you there. We need a destination.

Bobbi Bittker: First, we secured two major grants, the Downtown Improvement Grant and the New York State Municipal Facilities Grant. I worked closely with our director of planning on the DIG Grant, which is providing major economic revitalization support for the Bedford Hills hamlet. With Assemblymember Chris Burdick, we secured the Municipal Facilities Grant to fund Bedford’s first accessible playground. These opportunities make Bedford more welcoming for residents and visitors, while helping businesses to thrive. Next, I focused on senior citizens, a growing demographic who was overlooked by prior leadership. We hired a full-time senior advocate whose services are in high demand, and are continuously upgrading the town’s senior programming, adopted tax exemptions for residents who are typically on fixed incomes, and recently won a Senior Wellness Grant from the Field Hall Foundation. And third, we adopted an aggressive climate action plan which is integral to improving the quality of life, as well as our future adaptability, resilience, flood mitigation and storm management goals.

The Record-Review: Why should voters support you and not your opponents?

Mike Palladino: Voters should back candidates who exhibit a genuine eagerness to invest their time and energy in service to their constituents. I hope that my campaign can serve as a blueprint for the kind of representation voters can expect from me. I’ve been dedicated to engaging with our community, conducting thoughtful conversations with hundreds of residents. I’ve actively sought your feedback and diligently documented it, leading to the creation of “101 Ideas For Bedford.” I’ve also initiated and promoted a series of mobile office hours, providing opportunities to connect with residents over a coffee or beer, showcasing the accessibility I believe this role demands. With consistency, I’ve attended nearly every town board meeting over the past two-plus years, voicing my concerns and sharing important insights on issues that I believe residents should be informed about. And throughout this journey, I’ve maintained transparent communication, disseminating information through newspaper articles, blog posts, social media updates and newsletters. My unwavering dedication stems from my deep-seated passion for our community and my belief in the exceptional nature of Bedford — a place I am determined to preserve for generations to come.

Don Scott: A vote for me is a vote for someone not against someone else. I commend the other candidates for their willingness to serve. One problem in our politics these days —which sadly filters down from our national political process — is negative partisanship. Negative partisanship asks people to vote against a particular candidate. I ask for the opposite. That approach also breeds division and conflict. We need to come together. Voters should support me for the unique set of skills I bring to our town board. As the only Medicare-eligible candidate, in addition to a few gray hairs, I bring valuable life experience and wisdom to the board in addition to a deep and diverse background in community leadership and service. My previous roles include five years of service on the town board, presidency of the KLSD School Board, and tenure as Katonah Fire Commissioner, among others. I’ve been actively involved in multiple town committees, including wetlands, communications, Todd’s Pond, and currently chair the traffic safety committee. Additionally, I serve as an officer of KVIS and on the Friends of Stepping Stones Committee. I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and business administration from Vanderbilt University, and professionally, I run my own legal marketing firm based in Katonah.

Bobbi Bittker: As a proven, dedicated public servant with experience in budgeting, financial management, creative problem solving, and community-building, I have a record of accomplishments. We plan to build upon these to make Bedford an even more attractive place to live and visit. My enthusiasm for this town and my work on behalf of our residents are well known. My colleagues and I have provided effective leadership. We are not afraid to tackle the difficult issues that face the town and have been successful in resolving issues we inherited from past boards who dragged their feet. This resulted in securing long-awaited cell service for Bedford Village, restoring library funding which puts these three core institutions on a path to stability, and prioritizing economic vitality across all three hamlets, by investing in dedicated expertise to partner with the town board and winning major grant funding to propel these efforts forward after past neglect, particularly in Bedford Hills.

Thomas Catoliato: My passion for the town and its well-being is unwavering. Continuing to improve aspects of Bedford while maintaining its natural beauty, charm and character is paramount. I bring to the table my analytical, practical, reasonable and data-driven approach as a professional engineer. Coupled with a tactical business sense to town challenges as a business owner, I bring a unique multi-dimensional, problem-solving skill set.

The Record-Review: Do you think the town board should take a more proactive role in the siting of cell towers?

Don Scott: Better cell coverage is vital. Clearly the town should take an active role in finding acceptable sites to extend cell coverage. Between town land and right-of-way property, we have many options that don’t involve private land. The town is doing a better job thanks to an active cell tower committee. The board learned some expensive lessons with Verizon litigation spending tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, on lawyers to defend siting decisions. A more proactive approach that involves all stake-holders is essential. When I was on the board previously, we were meeting with surrounding towns to collaborate on solutions and to search for locations. Hopefully, that multi-town committee is still active.

Bobbi Bittker: Applications by wireless service providers to construct cell towers are governed by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and municipalities are bound by federal law, with little authority, to respond to cell tower applications in a timely manner. We recently resolved an application that will bring long-awaited cell service to Bedford Village, filling a major gap in service. Our Wireless Facilities Working Group, overseen by the town board, developed a proactive wireless master plan that established the town’s gaps in coverage. Now, we look forward to implementing the plan with the intention of placing towers in the least intrusive locations, to maximize coverage, while limiting the number of towers required to provide adequate service.

Thomas Catoliato: I actually do not think the town board should be doing this work. Supervisor Burdick established the Bedford Wireless Facility Working Group in 2019. I was appointed to this working group as a representative of the planning board at the time. I wrote the RFP for the bid to be sent out to obtain consultants both for emergency services and wireless service, to achieve minimizing the number of wireless facilities while maximizing coverage. The WFWG has and continues to work on a comprehensive emergency service townwide site plan and wireless facility townwide site plan. When items are presented to the town board we analyze, debate and address anything needed to move the facilities along.

Mike Palladino: It’s undeniable that the issue of cell service in Bedford is a pressing concern, one that necessitates the active involvement of the town board to enhance coverage. The problem isn’t just an inconvenience for those attempting to make a call on Bedford Center Road, it’s also a critical liability for our emergency services. Siting cell towers has indeed been a contentious subject in our community. However, with thoughtful planning and consideration, we can arrive at resolutions that are not only harmonious, but also less financially burdensome for taxpayers, unlike recent litigation with Verizon. What’s needed: No.1, community engagement from the onset to include town hall meetings, surveys and/or focus groups to gather input and concerns; No. 2, transparency all throughout the process; No. 3, aesthetic considerations that make the tower less visually intrusive through height and design restrictions; No. 4, sensitive siting that have the least visual impact on residential areas including town land, right-of-way property, and industrial or commercial zones; and No. 5, zoning considerations that require cell tower installations to go through a conditional use permitting process, allowing for public input and additional conditions.

The Record-Review: Are you running on any other line besides Democrat (incumbents) or Republican (challengers)? Why or why not?

Bobbi Bittker: I’m running on the Democratic line only. People sometimes think there’s an advantage to taking up as much space on the ballot as possible, or from signaling different things to different people by running on multiple lines. I don’t think elections are about that kind of gamesmanship. They’re simply about what you’ve done and what you intend to do. I only need one space on the ballot to make that case.

Thomas Catoliato: No, I am not. At this time, I felt this was the right thing to do. I cannot speak for the future, however.

Mike Palladino: My name will appear just once on the ballot, and I am honored to have secured the endorsement of the Bedford Republican Committee. I also sought a cross-endorsement from the Bedford Democratic Committee and briefly considered running on a third-party line. I’ve been a registered Republican since my 18th birthday, drawn to the party’s emphasis on fiscal responsibility and limited government. But my candidacy is not born out of the belief that one party’s approach surpasses another’s. It is firmly rooted in the core principle of reintroducing balance to Bedford’s leadership, a fundamental element that drives our community forward and ensures fair representation for all. It creates an environment for fresh and constructive approaches, characterized by diverse perspectives and robust, cross-aisle conversations, which are essential when addressing the complex and pressing issues that currently confront us.

Don Scott: I am running on just the Republican line. As many may be aware, I formed an independent party previously. In New York, political parties make that difficult, requiring 1,000 signatures each election cycle and in our case many hours at the Board of Elections responding to challenges from our opponents and their mischaracterization of our reason for a nonpartisan line in a local election. As they say, that juice just wasn’t worth the squeeze. I registered Republican when I first registered to vote. I’m proud to have the endorsement of the local party since we share a belief in local government and fiscal responsibility. The party gives me access to the ballot. Once there, it is important to build a coalition of thoughtful Democrats, Republicans and Independents that will look at a person first, not the party. I could have never been elected in the past without broad-based support across the political spectrum. Local government is about local things. It should not be sidetracked by national partisanship.

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