Rye’s longest-serving mayor reflects on 12 eventful years

JOURNAL NEWS – January 3, 2010

RYE — From rehabilitated firehouses and new places in which to play to a battle over a pond and island, the last 12 years have been anything but dull for the city’s longest-serving mayor.

“I would say that the focus for today is on a 12-year body of work. That is what is going to stand up, not distractions of a smaller proportion,” former Mayor Steve Otis, a Democrat, said last week.

Republican Doug French was sworn in as the new mayor on Friday.

Newcomers Suzanna Keith, Richard Filippi and Peter Jovanovich will join him on the City Council. Otis’ last year in office had its challenges. There was relentless 86-year-old Bob Schubert, who fought with the City Council over city-permitted work that he claimed dried up his natural pond. And there was Ray Tartaglione, who attended City Council meetings with a giant human waste mascot, alleging environmental problems on Hen Island.

Still, Otis, 53, said he chooses to focus on the city’s progress during his tenure, such as creating three more athletic fields, expanding the duck pond at Rye Town Park, making traffic improvements on Boston Post Road and revamping the Milton Point firehouse.

“What I know I did bring to the city was innovation, productivity and an ability to keep the city in strong financial shape in good economic times and bad,” Otis said, adding he helped secure county, state and federal grants for many projects. That included $695,000 for Safe Routes to Schools, a program that will improve crosswalks and sidewalks for children walking to school.

But there were snags along the way. In 2003, outgoing City Manager Julia Novak claimed that Otis interfered with her job, leading to her sudden departure.

And in November’s election, Otis was criticized for the four city manager changes in the past eight years. This year, the City Council removed Paul Shew from his duties after five years.

“I think the challenge is always to have a person in the manager’s position that is following the policies of the elected officials and of the community,” Otis said. “Where we needed to make changes, we made changes.”

Otis said he also doesn’t regret how he handled the cases of Schubert and Tartaglione. “I think I fulfilled the task of maintaining the dignity of the community and the dignity of the City Council, despite the times when people who came before us would seek to diminish those standards,” he said.

Otis, who lives on Linden Street with his wife and two Labrador retrievers, said he will stay busy out of public office. He works as head counsel and chief of staff for state Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer and is an active member of groups such as the New York State Conservation Commission and the Westchester County Flood Action Committee.

“I care deeply about what happens to the future of Rye, and I wish the new council to do well,” he said.


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