The Peekskill Democratic City Committee has made history by endorsing Deputy Mayor Vivian C. McKenzie for Mayor on the Democratic line, making her the first African-American Woman to ever be nominated for Mayor of the City of Peekskill. Her election would make her only the second Black Woman Mayor – after Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson Howard – in all of Westchester County.
Peekskill Mayor Andre Rainey, the City’s youngest, announced on Friday, January 15th, that he would not seek re-election at the end of 2021, having served six years in elected office. He is excited to see McKenzie make history.
“I don’t believe I was this excited about MY first campaign,” Mayor Andre Rainey shared with Black Westchester. “Vivian is one of the strongest leaders I’ve ever met and she’s consistent. This is a very diverse ticket and I must say, the progress we’ve made, the struggles we’ve faced, and the future we deserve, is well within in these leaders right here. After this pandemic, we need to move fast-forward. After watching Kamala Harris win as our first woman, Vice President, I’m excited to see people like Vivian step up, on a local level. Given her success, Vivian will be the first African-American woman as Mayor Of Peekskill.”
Vivian (Cyndi) McKenzie – who owns one of Peekskill’s most successful restaurants, Kathleen’s an English style Tea Room located at 979 Main St, nestled in the historic district of downtown Peekskill – has served on the council since 2013 and was appointed Deputy Mayor by her colleagues in January 2020.
“Vivian McKenzie is one of the most capable and accomplished people to serve on the Common Council. There is no one more qualified to lead this City as its mayor,” said Peekskill Democratic City Committee Chairperson, Drew Claxton. “She not only has the leadership experience to manage the City during these complicated times, but she is also what is needed in our city to advance an agenda that supports diversity and the need for structural and systemic reform. Now more than ever, experience matters.”
Appointed to the Common Council in 2013, and twice re-elected, Deputy Mayor McKenzie has helped to fundamentally transform the way the City conducts business: reforming hiring practices to diversify the city’s work force to better reflect the community and to focus on hiring locally, streamlining the way the city’s economic development office operates to attract private investment in the community, led efforts to diversify the Peekskill City Court and the Peekskill Police Department, and advanced the most significant investment in affordable housing in almost 40 years.
“Peekskill is one of the most diverse, exciting, and transformative communities in all of Westchester and I couldn’t be prouder to receive the endorsement of the Peekskill Democratic City Committee,” said Deputy Mayor Vivian McKenzie. “We need leadership that has the experience to guide this City as it grows and ensures that we grow it in a way that brings everyone along for the ride. As a mother, business owner, and lifelong resident of this city, I know every inch of Peekskill, from the families feeling squeezed by affordability, to the businesses struggling through COVID and the communities who have felt marginalized. I am committed to continuing to build a 21st Century City that represents all of our values.”
Look for an upcoming interview with Vivian McKenzie of an upcoming episode of People Before Politics Radio Show’s Super Tuesdays – a new special edition of Black Westchester’s radio show – that will be interviewing candidates throughout Westchester County.
The committee also endorsed Councilmembers Ramon Fernandez and Dwight Douglas for reelection, and Steve Kollias for common council.
Councilmember Ramon Fernandez was elected to the Common Council in 2017. He has worked tirelessly to ensure that the City is inclusive and fair to all its residents. Fernandez has worked to address climate change and reduce the City’s carbon footprint, to diversify the City’s workforce, increasing its number of Spanish speakers, to diversify the composition of the Human Relations Commission, and to work with our downtown businesses. As one of the City’s most avid cheerleaders, Fernandez often provides tours of our downtown and riverfront to people who are considering living or investing in Peekskill. Ramon has a strategic perspective on a number of projects, and has worked with the County on issues of public transportation. Working with Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, he was able to obtain grant monies that enhance the City’s recreational assets – assets our families need and use now more than ever.
“Experience has shown me that the role of the Common Council is to provide a vision that helps to guide the City Manager and City staff. It is also to supervise the finances, approve the City’s annual budget, and to pass ordinances and local laws that positively impact our residents and enhance the provision of City services. I understand the importance of teamwork and have a history of working well with my colleagues, the Mayor, the City Manager, and staff. In the end, I know that when we disagree, we must do so with respect. With courage, I will fight alongside our new Mayor, Vivian McKenzie, for those who often do not have a voice, the weakest or the most vulnerable among us. For me, it’s all about Peekskill. Para mi lo importante es la familia.”
Dwight Douglas spent his career as a professional City planner and Village Administrator and has served on the Common Council since 2020. During his successful career in public service, Dwight went beyond theorizing and actually developed and implemented various government programs to address affordable housing, downtown revitalization, neighborhood preservation and job development. He was part of a team that created Peekskill’s restaurant row and the downtown artist district. He helped to save the Paramount as a performing arts center, developed the last generation of affordable housing in Peekskill, and developed the Charles Point Industrial Park which provided the city with job opportunities and added significantly to the city’s tax base. During his time on the council, and despite the pandemic, he helped move forward new housing developments that are coming to completion and moving through the planning process. He also helped secure significant grants that have been obtained for park and infrastructure improvements and economic development projects.
“I am running for re-election because I have the skills and experience that can be helpful to our City, and after the last 4 years of national chaos, I understand that there are serious threats to our democracy, so serious that I cannot sit on the sidelines and be a spectator. I will continue to work to make Peekskill be the best place to live and work, and to welcome those who come to stay whether short or long term. I will work to ensure that every person is treated equally, fairly and with respect and that we provide well-run affordable housing, availability of food and access to recreation. While I protect the tax payer’s money and keep my eye on the need to stabilize the tax base and build our fund balance, I also believe that we must, as a City, reach out a helping hand to those in need with care and inclusiveness and a measure of humility and humor”, said Dwight Douglas
Steve Kollias is a proud progressive, a member of the LBGTQ+ community and a middle school history teacher. A millennial, who grew up in a working-class family, Steve understands the struggles faced by many today – struggles that he acknowledges existed well before the COVID-19 pandemic. As an educator, he is especially aware of the challenges facing children and their parents.
“We need leaders who will address the impact of the Pandemic and help to build back Peekskill – leaders who will encourage new businesses to plant roots here, and to assist existing ones to stay. I will work directly with community leaders and City staff to address climate change, to ensure our residents safety, to combat systemic racism, and to provide quality programming for our youth. I will do the hard work towards protecting the rights of all because I personally know that blanket statements of equality are not enough. It is time to act in the best interest of the community”, said Steve Kollias.
As part of the nominating process to identify Democratic candidates to run for local office the PDCC announced publicly in October that it was soliciting resumes from potential candidates, including elected officials for re-election. To attract as many community members as possible to participate in the political process, the Nominating Committee placed public notices in The Examiner, Pluma Libre, Westchester County Press and online. It conducted interviews with every individual who expressed an interest in running for mayor or common council.
Despite multiple attempts by the Democratic Chairwoman and the Chairwoman of the nominating subcommittee encouraging Councilwoman Vanessa Agudelo to submit her resume and inform the committee of her reelection intentions, she expressed no interest in running as part of the Democratic Ticket. On Monday of this week, she informed the Chairperson she would instead run with a separate slate of candidates that would cause a legal primary against the endorsed Democratic ticket for Mayor and Council.