This was the first year that Democratic Municipal Officials has held elections for DMO of the Year. As we gathered in Seattle, Yonkers City Council President Chuck Lesnick was chosen by our membership from among this year's DMOs of the Month. Below is what was written about Chuck Lesnick back when he was named DMO of the Month for February.
In their endorsement of Chuck Lesnick for mayor of Yonkers, New York in 2011, the New York League of Conservation Voters said of the city council president, "While various elected officials come in different shades of green, Chuck is deep green and a true progressive.”
On the first Earth Day after he was elected Yonkers City Council president in 2005, Chuck formed the city’s Green Policy Task Force, to provide policymaking advice to the City Council and to advise on environmental opportunities, such as the $300,000 grant which they applied for and received, to enable the Yonkers Public Schools to retrofit school buses and remove harmful emissions.
Each year on Earth Day, Chuck joins local environmentalists, Native-Americans, clergy and school children in Yonkers to draw support for environmental protection by "blessing” the Hudson River. Last year the blessing took place on the Science Barge, a prototype sustainable urban farm developed by NY Sun Works and acquired by Groundwork Hudson Valley in October, 2008 (with Chuck’s own $2.00 bill) and operated since then on the Yonkers waterfront as an environmental education center. Chuck has also championed green initiatives such as urban bicycle trails, backyard chickens and honeybees and Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE).
An avid bicyclist and kayaker, Chuck takes great pride in the renaissance of the Yonkers Hudson River waterfront which he helped ignite in 1993 when, as director of economic development for Yonkers, he obtained $3.5 million through Congresswoman Nita Lowey and the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan for the preservation of the historic Yonkers recreational pier. He also worked to establish the city’s first annual Riverfest (now in its 20th year) to bring people to the downtown area – previously dilapidated and unsafe – that boasts majestic views of the Palisades.
A block away from the Hudson River, Chuck supported the vision of the previous mayor, governor and the community to "daylight” the Saw Mill River which had been buried for nearly a century in an underground flume beneath a surface parking lot. The day lighted river now provides a two block natural preserve of the exposed river flowing with more than 100 species of fish and eel. The immediate area has become a major draw for new real estate development.
Chuck is currently working to establish both sustainable development and inclusive zoning standards for new development, while at the same time, fighting to preserve important historic structures. He led the charge for the creation of the Philipse Manor Historic District on both the local and state level which preserved the picturesque Warburton Lofts – reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s "Early Sunday Morning” painting, while at the same time allowing the construction of new workforce housing on North Broadway. Recognizing that local designation provides protections and state designation leads to historic tax credits, Chuck is leading the effort to create a Downtown Yonkers Historic District.
A short distance away, at 575 North Broadway, Chuck helped landmark the historic Wilson-Eyers Mansion that had been scheduled to be torn down by the public administrator in an intestate proceeding. He is now pushing the New York State Legislature to issue similar historic protection and notify localities and their respective landmark boards. Chuck has also fought to save the Historic Glenwood Power Plant and the Boyce-Thompson Institute Building from the wrecking ball and is now strongly supportive of their proposed adaptive re-use.
An outspoken advocate for education and libraries, Chuck continues to push for the return of full day Pre-K, the restoration of guidance counselor positions and arts, music and sports programs to support the education of the complete child. He has led rallies and organized coalitions to get more state aid for these items and is supportive of allocating as much money as possible each year, within the constraints of a tough budget climate.
Recognizing the cost to local taxpayers of tax certioraris and "scars” owed by the fact that Yonkers had not conducted a proper revaluation of its local properties since 1954, Chuck became involved with the Westchester Municipal Officials Association (WMOA), eventually becoming its president, and got the County of Westchester to appoint him to the Westchester Collaborative Assessment Commission, which has recommended uniform reassessments in each of the 28 assessing jurisdictions within the county, with partial reimbursement by the county.
Frustrated by delays on the county level, Yonkers has led a dozen municipalities in a joint RFP that will result in the reassessment of more than half of the hundreds of thousands of parcels in the county. Chuck also brought WMOA into the 21st century by creating its first electronic communication plan and website at www.wmoaonline.comto help increase participation within the organization and provide for more openness and transparency and an exchange of best shared municipal practices.
Chuck’s involvement with WMOA led him to the New York Conference of Mayors and other Municipal Officials (NYCOM) and the National League of Cities (NLC) where he discovered the importance of the DMO. Chuck organized an active chapter in New York and served as their NYS Chapter chair and recently agreed to serve as secretary to the National DMO board of state chairs. He has also stepped up to serve on the founding board of Local Progress with fellow members of DMO from across the country.
Chuck’s involvement with the Democratic Party and government goes back to his election as an alternative delegate to the national Democratic convention for the Carter-Mondale race in 1980 and Mondale-Ferraro in 1984, while serving as head of the first Yale Students for Carter-Mondale and NYU Law Students for Mondale-Ferraro. Chuck served as a regional representative to former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and worked for his NYS Urban Development Corporation from 1985-92. He also coordinated Cuomo’s 1986 re-election effort in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties. Chuck has been a Democratic district leader since 1985 and served as chairman of the Yonkers Democratic Party (1991-92) and secretary (2004-2005). He has worked on every Democratic municipal, gubernatorial, congressional and presidential campaign since then and has participated in nearly every local, state and national Democratic convention. Chuck worked in the Clinton Administration at the Department of Housing and Urban Development for Secretary Andrew Cuomo as an economic development specialist and community builder.
Chuck enjoys the camaraderie of his fellow Democratic Municipal Officials and enjoys sharing best practices and strategy for both political campaigns and elections in addition to the details of effective policy-making.