Editor's note: Video highlights of today's press conference have been uploaded with this story.
Bedford resident Peter Michaelis, former newsman and long-time civic activist, announced today that he will challenge for the District 2 seat on the 17-member county board of legislators.
It won't be the first time the two have faced each other in a political contest. Michaelis, a Republican, lost to Harckham in a bid for the same seat in 2007, by a margin of 365 votes. Harckham ran unopposed in 2009.
"After that loss, I went on to campaign for [County Executive] Rob Astorino. His win changed the landscape for me—it's a good opportunity to get into the legislature where I feel I can have an impact," said Michaelis in an interview last week. "I know what I'm getting into, and now he [Harckham] has a record I can run against."
The 2nd Legislative District includes including the towns of Bedford Mount Kisco, Lewisboro, Pound Ridge, North Salem and Somers.
North Salem Republican Lisa Douglas has also declared her intent to run. The U.S. Navy veteran and mother of five is running on a platform of "fiscal responsibility and government accountability," according to a campaign statement.
Michaelis is making his announcement Monday morning at an 11 a.m. press conference at Bedford's 1787 Court House in Bedford Village. He is to be joined by local Repbublican committee chairs Don Scott of Bedford; John Franchen of Mount Kisco; Wayne Coluccini, Lewisboro and Joe Zaino of Pound Ridge.
Click on the video to hear highlights from today's press conference.
Michaelis' campaign platform emphasizes cutting taxes and consolidating county government; advocating for pension reform; pushing for environmental efforts to preserve open space and maintain water quality and working toward the elimination of programs that "could be better served by the private sector."
"This is the fourth year the county has won the dubious distinction of paying the highest taxes in the country. When Rob [Astorino] won, I expected Harckham to support consolidating and cutting and he did not. Rob's first budget saw many restorations to it because of the Democratic supermajority, and I want to run to eliminate that supermajority," Michaelis told Patch.
For his part, Harckham said his record shows that he has lowered taxes and reduced government. "We reduced 11 percent of the county's employees, which will save $25 million annually, going forward," he said. "The jobs we put back into the budget were crime labs and public safety measures that local emergency services personnel told us were critically needed. And the budget we passed has a two percent tax decrease, which was larger than the 1 percent proposed by the county executive."
Harckham also said the BOL achieved consolidation of the county's transportation and public works services.
Having fewer than 17 legislators do the job of the county board is one area Michaelis believes could be consolidated; he also questioned whether a county assessor and staff were needed when each municipality employed a town assessor.
Michaelis said he was closest in ideology to Harckham on environmental issues. He pointed to his ten-plus years on the town's tree advisory board, and five-year term on the conservation board as indicators of his commitment to preserving open space and water quality.
"I'll be running against some things Harckham has done, like putting money back into the county budget for mental health care. There isn't as much of a need for social services in this district as there is down-county," said Michaelis. "I believe that public-private partnerships and nonprofit organzations can better address those issues."
Michaelis also said he did not support a measure passed under the current board requiring the seizure and forfeiture of cars for second-time DWI offenders. "I have not heard a huge clamoring for that need in this district," he said.
Harckham said those comments indicated that Michaelis "does not know this district at all," and that the DWI seizure rules saved money in probation and court costs, "not to mention a human toll." He also defended adding money back into the budget for a six-month transition for mental health patients prior to the closing of some clinics, adding that the board used an extensive nonprofit network to do so.
Michaelis and his wife, Victoria, have lived in Bedford for 20 years with their sons, Peter, 18, and Andrew, 16. In addition to serving on the town's conservation and tree advisory boards, he is a founding member of the Bedford/Armonk Rotary, former president and trustee of the Bedford Historical Society and a trustee of the Friends of John Jay Homsetead.