Photo above, left to right: Bronxville Mayor Mary C. Marvin, Village of Pelham Manor Mayor Jennifer Monachino-Lapey, Larchmont Mayor Sarah Bauer, and New Rochelle Mayor-Elect Yadira Ramos-Herbert
By Lauren Hurwitz
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Behind every great government . . . is a woman?” Likely not, but it rings true right here in lower Westchester especially if you take a look at Bronxville, Pelham Manor, New Rochelle, and Larchmont. As we enter new terms for our local leaders, it’s a perfect time to look behind the doors of these local cities and villages to see who is really running the show, and what SHE is all about.
For nearly 20 years, Mary Marvin has served as the mayor of Bronxville after a successful career as an attorney in Manhattan. Having lived in the village for 35 years, her initial draw to the community was the short commute for her and her husband and access to New York City’s theater and nightlife. But Bronxville has become so much more than just a “simple commute” to Mayor Marvin. As the longest-serving mayor in the history of Bronxville, she has seen many ups and downs. She loves adding value to the residents of all ages saying, “I can help a 3rd grader with a paper about municipal government, and then the other day I helped a woman in her 90s who forgot to pay her Con Edison bill. I got them [Con Ed] to help her and keep her power on. The most rewarding times are those little things when you come home at the end of the day and can say ‘I did something good.’ It’s not going to change the world, but it was good for someone, and it was good for me!” On the flip side, she claims the most challenging issue she’s dealt with thus far was reassessing the village properties after having not had such a project in 70 years. “It was also rewarding because, in the end, people felt the village became much fairer and our cases of tax grievances went down from the hundreds to a dozen,” she says. Marvin also finds it challenging to say “no” to someone who has a truly worthy project or idea, but the budget simply can’t handle taking it on.
With the 125th Anniversary of Bronxville having just passed, there is much pride being felt within the village especially as the residents look ahead to the next 125 years. “We are pretty much built out and likely not going to build more because we need to keep a permeable surface. We did a comprehensive plan and asked residents what they would like to see changed. People wrote they’d like to keep fixing up what we have in place and keep things as is. We like our community but just want to make sure the infrastructure is good, and the parks are taken care of. Like Pelham and other places, it’s a little self-selected here. Bronxville is full of people who live on relatively small plots of land. You have to want to live in a communal setting and know your neighbors and I think Bronxville is going to keep that same spirit – and I don’t see that changing I just think improve what we have already.”
But when it comes to the future of women in politics, Mayor Marvin has a lot to say! “I think in the country, women make up more than half the population but we sure aren’t more than half the elected officials, so I’d like to see a bigger universe of women. I feel a duty that we need to encourage, assist, and support our fellow female mayors. In particular, we need to nurture folks because I think it’s the noblest of professions and I’d like to see more women step into the arena.” In regard to advice for women who are considering entering local politics, her advice is, “Sometimes don’t wait to be asked –offer your services! Men tend to do that more than women. Don’t sit back and wait for someone to tap you, offer what your expertise is and offer it nicely and humbly but step up. And then I think when you get into the arena, just don’t be afraid. A little backbone goes a long way!”
THE VILLAGE OF PELHAM MANOR
Mayor Jennifer Lapey says that while she’s been serving Pelham Manor for 8 years, she actually isn’t a political person. “I was serving as the Chair of the Pelham Preservation and Garden Society and became engaged in a lot of local issues. There was an election coming up and some people I work with said, ‘Hey, you’re so involved anyway and up to speed on all of the issues, you might as well throw your hat in the ring.” That was in 2015, and Mayor Lapey hasn’t looked back since!
Since serving as mayor is a volunteer position in the village, she still maintains her role as a full-time attorney for a local family-owned and operated manufacturing company with past careers including fashion buyer in Manhattan, an assistant district attorney in the Bronx, and past chairs of not-for-profits, but mayor is her favorite title to date. “My goal with Pelham Manor is to maintain and improve the condition of the municipality and to continue to deliver high-level municipal services in a fiscally responsible manner. We are very fortunate to have very dedicated first responders. We have police and fire departments, and then we have a Department of Public Works which doubles as our street crew, so when our DPW workers aren’t collecting garbage and recycling, they’re doing park maintenance and painting the streets. One of our greatest challenges that we’ve navigated well is to stay tax cap compliant but keep the services at the level that Pelham Manor residents expect . . . which is not easy,” she says.
Like any job, the role of mayor comes with pros and cons. “The best part is spending time with residents. I get to recognize good work from the next generation like Eagle Scouts or Girls Scouts. And I have a unique opportunity to meet with senior citizens and discuss their issues and just love connecting with our residents when they have a question, concern or comment,” she says. But the most challenging thing is “when you want to help but you physically don’t have the power.” Mayor Lapey says she is an action and goal-oriented person and, for instance, in the fall, “We had an act of God with a storm that dumped seven inches of rain on our already waterlogged area. And there was a tropical storm earlier in the season, so it was really hard when people experienced water damage and their streets flooded. It’s something the entire universe is contending with, but at a certain point, when Mother Nature unleashes her power, the rest of us are pretty powerless.”
For those women hoping to rise in power, Mayor Lapey says, “Give it a try. If you had told me 20 years ago that I would be General Counsel at a manufacturing firm and the mayor of my village, I would have laughed out loud. I can’t even tell you how far both concepts were from my field of vision back in the day, but I’m so happy that I landed in both places. Like the New York State Lottery, you gotta be in it to win it.”
Often times people run for office when they’re unhappy with the way things are running. Enter Larchmont mayor, Sarah Bauer. In 2015, the historic home next to hers was bought by someone who wanted to tear it down. She immediately got together with a neighbor to prevent this action and quickly realized Larchmont didn’t have any zoning laws to protect the historic home. In fact, the laws hadn’t been updated since the 1960s. Taking matters into her own hands, Bauer helped push forth the creation of seventeen new zoning laws. In 2018, she ran for the town board, won, and served as village trustee until last year when she was elected mayor – all while maintaining her full-time position as a corporate attorney.
One of Mayor Bauer’s biggest charges is working to make ways for fellow residents to get involved in local government through volunteering. “Larchmont is so tiny. We have a lot of opportunities for residents to serve on commissions and committees. Our village is really run through a lot of volunteer power,” she says. Mayor Bauer feels the more involvement from residents, the better and easier it is to live in Larchmont. “A lot of times people come with complaints and once they get engaged with whatever is happening on the local level, they see the other side. We might not be able to change everything, but we can certainly make some improvements together.” Mayor Bauer says she really loves the village staff and trustees and always finds a new project to work on and learn new things.
Looking ahead, she says “I’m really excited for the beginning of the process for a commercial area plan which is really a study of the downtown. We have two district downtowns that are commercially zoned. We did the full overhaul of the residential areas but now it’s time to look at the business district. The last time we did something like this was probably in the 1950s or 1960s and there are currently limited opportunities for residential development in the downtown so we want to take a holistic look at everything and see what our infrastructure and safety can handle. We want to consider how we are sensitive to the environment and do it in a very smart and thoughtful way. I’m excited about engaging in that process. In the future, residents may see a mix of residential and commercial use downtown. She adds, “We want to be involved in responsible development. Centro was a toe in the water and was a fantastic addition to the downtown. It would be fantastic if we could allow more of that kind of development.”
Yadira Ramos Herbert continues the theme of mayors-with-backgrounds-in-law. Just elected to her new role in New Rochelle, Herbert was a practicing lawyer for almost a decade when she decided she wanted to work with students, but not be in a classroom. For ten years, she worked in administration at Columbia Law School where she managed teams related to student affairs, and eventually sat on the city council for New Rochelle where she worked on a variety of task forces related to youth and safer streets and the board for the public library. “Politics was definitely not what I saw for myself, however as I became a bit more involved in neighborhood activities, people I really respected encouraged me to become more involved politically. It still feels a bit surreal to have shifted my career and professional identity to that of a politician,” says the newly elected mayor.
Herbert says she is “most excited about being able to connect with the entire city. While on city council I represented one area but through the campaign trail, I really appreciated how diverse our city is and I’m excited to roll up my sleeves and improve all areas of New Rochelle. I want to make people even more excited and proud to live in New Rochelle!”
A longtime New Rochelle resident, Herbert loves the diversity you can find within the city stating that with diversity comes a real opportunity to grow. “Diversity allows you to get out of your comfort cell but still remain united as our identity as New Rochellians. Diversity in race, gender, ethnicity, income, culture even just downtown versus the more suburban areas, the waterfront versus the more urban part all make New Rochelle amazing. There is so much here, and we can meet anyone’s needs, and that’s super exciting to think about,” Herbert says.
Along with diversity is a set of unique challenges Herbert says she is ready to tackle. “New Rochelle is incredibly diverse by any metric you can think about representing. I need to be mindful of that diversity and make sure I’m listening and learning, and that I’m humble enough to apologize when I make mistakes. Hopefully, the entire city feels represented when they see me as their mayor,” she says.
On her list of long-term projects, Herbert is hoping to pave the way for downtown development. “We’re in the middle of seeing buildings come up and residents come. We are seeing the ground floors all activated with businesses. The downtown is alive with community buildings and opportunities to go out and eat. But we are also being confronted with climate change and having the opportunity to think about how to make sure we are being proactive and using the proper infrastructure is important, so people aren’t scared when it rains. We have New Rochelle being put on the map for getting development in a smart, sustainable, and inclusive way. New Rochelle is experiencing its golden hour and I’m excited to represent it in the new chapter,” she added.