The Democratic and Republican nominees for Mayor of Yonkers met on Thursday night to debate the issues facing our city in an event hosted by the League of Women Voters. Incumbent Mayor Mike Spano relied on his rosy view of Yonkers’ progress while challenger Anthony Merante said more needed to be done to fix the ills faced by residents.
Scroll to the bottom to watch the full debate video.
The League of Women Voters Rivertowns has a history of community engagement and nonpartisan advocacy. Early leagues, such as Yonkers, Hastings, and Ardsley, were established in the 1920s and 1930s, each focusing on local issues. These leagues thrived and in 2000, merged to create the Rivertowns League spanning nine villages and one city. It now operates at national, state, and local levels, with strict nonpartisanship and a focus on issues, not candidates or parties.
Mike Spano is the three-term incumbent Mayor of Yonkers. From the vast Spano family; both his father, Leonard, and older brother, Nick, served as Republican politicians at the County and State level. Mike Spano served as a Republican Assemblyman before becoming a Democrat for his initial campaign for Mayor of Yonkers in 2011.
Mike Spano touts his achievements leading the city for over the last decade in few areas. Firstly, increasing commercial investment from the TV and Film industry as well as building high-rise residential towers along the city’s Hudson River waterfront. He also notes increased education spending and a rise in the high-school graduation rate. Lastly, he celebrates various environmental initiatives like the Saw Mill River daylighting.
Seeking to block a fourth Spano-term is City Council-member Anthony Merante. Merante has a background as a Certified Public Accountant and is an owner of three local businesses.
As a Republican Councilman for five years, Merante prioritizes citizen-centric government. His focus includes neighborhood safety, affordable senior and workforce housing, low taxes, infrastructure repairs, and equitable education funding. He advocates for prudent spending and proactive issue-solving like road and tree maintenance as Yonkers’ Mayor.
The virtual debate kicked-off later than planned at 6:15 p.m. on Thursday September 28th. Attendees were required to registered online and had the opportunity to submit questions. The moderators from the LWV maintained independence by not being Yonkers residents. The event made available closed captioning as well as live Spanish and ASL translations.
Candidates customarily began with short opening statements. Merante led with his “for the people” slogan that emphasizes his focus on quality of life issues. Mayor Spano repeated his own slogan of Yonkers being in a “renaissance.” Both candidates responded to the first question with mentions of crime-a theme that would repeat throughout the debate.
An animating factor in politics this year has been term limits. Mayor Mike Spano has now twice signed legislation extending term limits for himself; facing criticism in the form of lawsuits and petitions. When responding to this criticism, Spano reminded voters that they have a choice every four years. That this choice is a natural term limit and his position on this issue remains unchanged. However, Merante snapped back to remind viewers that Spano did support term limits before becoming mayor himself.
Ultimately, Merante wishes to capitalize on any term limits sentiment in the city with a promise to reset the law back to the voter-approved two terms while running on his “Restore Term Limits” ballot line.
In a growing city like Yonkers, the candidates were asked about their plans to ensure affordable housing for residents.
While Merante conceded to an undefined increase in the City’s ordinance for the affordable housing set-aside, he emphasized his desire to spur long-term housing via more co-ops and condominiums. Spano responded by citing that Yonkers is already the most affordable place to live in Westchester. He noted the large amount of new housing built and that 40% of all government-defined affordable housing in Westchester already exists in Yonkers.
And of that new housing, most exists on the waterfront. Spano highlighted the restoration of that western shoreline from an industrial wasteland to a beautiful new row of accessible parks and luxury buildings. But, on that, Merante circled back to the issue of crime. He contends that residents in these new waterfront towers are “prisoners in their own homes” due to the crime and homelessness in neighboring inland areas like Getty Square.
In May, New York City transported dozens of families of asylum seekers to a hotel on Tuckahoe Road. On this issue, the candidates seemed mostly aligned. Neither criticized the migrants themselves, but rather the lack of communication and process in their placement.
We have a beef with those who brought them here.Mayor Mike Spano on the transplantation of migrants to Yonkers
Merante proposed a lawsuit against Governor Hochul and Mayor Adams to prevent further transplants. Spano wishes to mitigate the issue with the same solution to most other problems: more state and federal funding.
Residents no longer ignore the demographic reality that Yonkers is a “majority-minority” city. And while Mayor Spano probably correctly boasted that his administration was the most diverse in the city’s history, it may still fall short with many residents. In a city of 55% women and over 40% Hispanic, the Mayor’s administration only has three women and one Hispanic member. Merante also fell short of promising equal representation in his potential cabinet; only committing to hiring who he feels are the best for the job.
While the current administration makes much ado about the high school graduation rate, recent analysis on student readiness brought a critical eye on education to the debate.
Spano noted that the Yonkers Public Schools are underfunded by the state as compared to other cities. But, that the budgets have risen under his administration and that Yonkers is a great place to raise a family.
Merante claims the graduation rate number is a mirage. That a lowering of standards is pushing unprepared students out into the world and we have therefore “failed our kids.”
Violent crime was specifically raised; with responses leading to incident reporting, bail reform, and a link to school performance.
Both candidates contend that recent changes in bail reform and the “Raise the Age” law have contributed to an increase in crime. Mayor Spano noted his appreciation for the good intention of the bills, but seeks further revisions from the NY State government. Merante was not so generous; wishing to rescind those changes entirely. And it is his belief that crime, in general, is being underreported in the city.
Furthermore, Merante links the issue gun violence to an underserved youth. He claims a rise in gang violence stems from the lack of programs for students. But, Mayor Spano reports that shooting incidents in Yonkers are low compared to cities like Rochester.
The candidates closed the debate by delivering remarks on their vision of the city.
Mayor Spano repeated his “our city is booming” advertising line while expressing the deep pride he has of being a lifelong Yonkersite. Pointing to a 3.1% unemployment rate, over 90% high school graduation rate, and increased investments from Lionsgate and MGM he simply said, “I love being here.”
But, Anthony Merante believes the mayor has lost focus. Chiding his “self-serving” term limits extension as proof that he no longer cares about the will of the people. Merante wishes to restore a citizen-centric government while addressing everyday issues like crime and infrastructure for the current residents of Yonkers.