Lisa Douglas, 47, of North Salem, former school board member and founder of the Hudson Valley Patriots, a local Tea Party group, , 55, of Bedford, former television news producer and founder and president of WINDTech International, for the Republican line in the race for District 2 in the Westchester County legislature.
The winner of Tuesday's primary faces the incumbent, Peter Harckham of Katonah, in November. District 2 encompasses Bedford, Lewisboro, Mount Kisco, North Salem, Pound Ridge and Somers.
Michaelis, and Conservative parties, has lived in Bedford for more than 22 years. He had a 14-year career as a journalist and producer at ABC News and CBS News. He's been active in local civic and government activities for 15 years and is currently serving as chairman of the Bedford Historical Society and as a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals. He is married to Victoria Michaelis, and a father of two sons, Peter, 19, and Drew, 17.
Check back Monday for our guide to primary day.
Patch: What is your definition of a public servant or your philosophy of public service?
Michaelis: A public servant represents the concerns and will of their constituents without regard for one’s own personal agenda. I believe strongly in public service as a way to give back to one’s community. I was raised by parents who believed in the adage ‘to whom much is given much is expected’. And what my parents expected and encouraged me to do was to give back to my community by being actively involved.
Patch: What specific experience - personal or professional - prepares you for the challenges of this elected office?
Michaelis: All of my personal and professional experiences will be helpful to me as a County Legislator. My private sector experience as a television producer and small businessman, in addition to my extensive volunteer service in local government and non-profit organizations, will all serve me well in looking out for the best interests of District 2. I have been involved for more than 15 years in various Town Boards including work on the Bedford town master plan. Currently, I serve on the Bedford zoning board, am chair of Bedford’s communication commission, and am a member of the town's community emergency response team (CERT) to name just a few. These leadership opportunities have given me great insight into what’s happening in our community and what is important to Northern Westchester families. I have been actively involved in maintaining the rural and historic quality of life we all cherish in District 2.
Patch: What are the top 3 issues you'd like to address as county legislator?
Michaelis: Taxes, taxes, taxes are the top issues I’d like to address. I would like to see a budget for 2012 based on real cuts, not smoke and mirrors. I’d like to see all county employees contribute to their health insurance plan costs. I’ll fight for the consolidation of departments and advocate for more active participation by private organizations that can perform certain roles more effectively than government. Playland is a good example. County government should not be in the amusement park business, especially when the cost to taxpayers will soon surpass the 50 million dollar mark in needed capital improvements—not to mention the 3 - 5 million dollars it loses annually. I’d like to step up and defend our towns against the federal overreach happening as a result of the Spano-Harckham Housing Settlement. The costs from the settlement to the county and our towns are skyrocketing and our zoning laws are under siege as is our Town’s Home Rule. There are so many issues to address, but they all come down to putting money back in the pockets of taxpayers.
Patch: Are you in favor of consolidating county government in any way? How?
Patch: Absolutely, consolidating county government is one of my main campaign platforms. First, I’d look at merging departments that do similar work. The questions must be asked. Among them, why do we have a County Assessors Office, when each town has its own property assessor? Seems to me that this is a redundancy we can’t afford. There is a lot of fat to be cut – starting with the Board of Legislators itself. Recently, I helped lead a push to open the books of the Board of Legislators and to conduct an independent audit of the Board’s expenditures of taxpayer money.
Patch: Under what circumstances do you feel it would be appropriate for the Board of Legislators to override the new annual tax levy cap?
Michaelis: The Board of Legislators must exercise fiscal responsibility and cut the county budget each year by a significant number until we are no longer the Highest Taxed County in America. If they do this, the BOL will not have to override the new annual tax levy cap. The reality is, however, that this will result in reduced services to Westchester County taxpayers. Pension costs projections for next year alone already exceed the 2 percent cap, so for the BOL not to override the cap, they must cut spending from other programs. This may not be popular, but I am committed to making county government smaller and smarter.
6 - Describe your campaign platform or how you differentiate yourself from your opponent's platform?
My opponent is Pete Harckham, the current Democrat Majority Leader of the Board of Legislators who has never met a government program he hasn’t wanted to fund with our tax dollars. In 2009, District 2 voted overwhelmingly for Rob Astorino and his plan to significantly reduce county government. And yet, Harckham and his Democrat super-majority have stood in County Executive Astorino’s way at every turn. No significant change will ever come as long as this super-majority remains in office. His stated reduction of $50 million dollars over the past two years doesn’t even register against the $3.6 billion dollars spent in the same time frame. It came as no surprise to me that another Republican was also interested in running against Harckham ostensibly for the same reasons. Enough is enough. We need real change. And with Pete Harckham as our legislator, we’re not going to get it.
I am pleased and honored to be the “officially” endorsed Republican candidate in this race. I have good name recognition throughout the District because of my extensive volunteer service and my previous run for office. I know Harckham’s strengths and weaknesses. And in what will be an expensive race to win, I have been very successful in fundraising from grassroots supporters who believe I am the one who can take back this seat for Republicans.
Reader submitted question: On the Tree Advisory Board of Bedford you enacted one of the strictest tree ordinances to preserve Bedford's open spaces. Can you explain your position on tree preservation in relation to your own property?
Michaelis: When my wife and I built our home, we removed only diseased trees that posed a danger or that had to be removed to comply with DEC storm water regulations. We did so with a permit – strictly to the letter of the law. We have since replanted about 35 trees.
Reader submitted question: How will you advocate for issues at the local level, such as providing cellular service in uncovered areas?
Michaelis: Cell towers sadly have become a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) issue. I have sat through at least a half dozen public hearings with companies that have been eager to install cell towers in this area. Neighbors come out in droves in opposition to the towers claiming everything from health issues to devaluation of their property and after months of fighting the companies move on or look for alternatives. It is the reason most of the cell towers are located on state property along 684 or at the prison where State jurisdiction trumps local ordinances. Unfortunately for towns like Pound Ridge there is no state property, so they look to put the cell towers on town property or commercial property. However, with residents surrounding these properties, there is much opposition and no decision. This is a local issue for each town to decide, and I would support the consensus of town residents in any way I can.
Reader-submitted question: Will you refuse stipends and reimbursements to save some tax payer money?
Michaelis: My purpose for being a legislator is not to incur additional cost for taxpayers but to find every possible way to cut costs for taxpayers. I will brown bag dinner when necessary. No catering under my watch.
Eds. note: These responses were edited for clarity and length, not substance.