Bayville has a storied past of ugly political races and bickering among its leaders. Even so, there was outrage and confusion on Monday, when residents learned that newly elected Mayor Bob De Natale had decided to replace the Village of Bayville Anti-Tunnel Committee’s chair, John Taylor, a village trustee, with another committee member, George Jehn. De Natale reversed his decision in less than 24 hours, but residents wondered: Was the episode yet another example of Bayville politics as usual?
The bipartisan Anti-Tunnel Committee was formed earlier this year to stop Gov. Andrew Cuomo from moving forward with plans to build an 18-mile-long tunnel that would have stretched for nine miles under Long Island Sound and nine miles underground, on the North Shore and in Westchester County. The estimated cost of the project had ballooned from $31.5 billion to $150 billion.
The state Department of Transportation nixed the project on June 28, before it got beyond the concept stage. The department wouldn’t respond to questions about whether the decision was due in part to the backlash it was receiving from the Anti-Tunnel Committee and the nonprofit Coalition Against An UnSound Crossing. The coalition was prepared to begin what it promised would be an aggressive education campaign, including print and television advertising. But in Bayville and the surrounding villages, many residents believed the tunnel plan was canceled due to the efforts of the two groups. And Taylor, who formed the coalition along with retired Newsday reporter Bill Bleyer, became something of a local hero when the project was quashed.
Were accusations of politics warranted?
Taylor was livid, because he had not been informed by De Natale of his dismissal from the committee. He had done the job well, he reasoned, so there was no other explanation other than politics. Although he did not run for re-election as a trustee, Taylor’s party, the Bayville Revitalization Party, had lost soundly in the last village election, replaced by members of the Taxpayers Independence Party.
Bleyer, a Bayville resident, also suspected politics. The vice president of the bipartisan coalition, he was concerned after BRP’s loss that the village’s tunnel committee membership would change to reflect the political party that had taken over. He said that he had been encouraged when De Natale introduced himself at the coalition’s Syosset anti-tunnel press conference in June, saying he had no plans to change the committee, because it was effective.
But when Bleyer heard that Taylor would no longer lead the committee, he began to worry. “Who heads the committee may be moot unless Governor Cuomo decides to resurrect the project,” Bleyer said. “But the mayor’s action sends a very disheartening message of partisanship to the community, especially after he pledged to run a bipartisan administration.”
De Natale said he was his own man and not beholden to TIP. “This definitely wasn’t political,” he said, adding, “The campaign is history. [Taylor’s dismissal] was a misunderstanding that I regret.”
Taylor found out about his dismissal a couple of hours before Monday’s village meeting, when Jehn called. “He said Bob wanted to make a change and asked him to chair the committee,” Taylor recounted. “I told him to do what he had to do, that I would do what I’m going to do.”
Taylor was initially shocked before he became angry, because he had been elected the committee chair. Members chose him, he said, because he had done much of the work, creating the PowerPoint presentations the committee shared with the community detailing the ramifications of a tunnel.
“After the election, Bob told me he wanted to keep the committee together, and wanted me to stay on the committee,” Taylor recalled. “You know, I raised all of the money for the coalition singlehandedly, from wealthy friends of mine.” The funds were used for legal research and to pay Great Neck public relations firm Zimmerman and Edelson, which Taylor said was costly.
He said he believed Jehn was chosen because he is a member of TIP. Jehn said he is not.
“When the mayor called me, he said he wanted to keep the committee intact but asked me to be the chairman,” he said. “I said fine, and then called John, who thanked me for telling him.”
The committee had worked so well together, Jehn added, because it wasn’t political. “The committee I was on in the 1970s to stop the bridge to Rye was also successful because it was bipartisan,” he said.
In hindsight, Jehn said, the entire episode was “not a big deal,” and he believed the mayor was well-intentioned. “Bob is a nice guy and John is a nice guy,” he said. “Whatever they decide is fine.”
Some people who came to the village board meeting told the board and De Natale that they wanted Taylor to stay on as chairman. Taylor spoke, too, voicing his dissatisfaction and disappointment.
Although Bleyer did not attend, he also reached out to De Natale, urging him to keep Taylor. “The Bayville committee has done an amazing job of gathering information and alerting not only the village but the North Shore as a whole to the dangers of Gov. Cuomo’s cross-Sound tunnel proposal,” Bleyer said by way of an email. “John knows more about the project and its deleterious effects than anyone.”
The next day, when De Natale called to ask Taylor to remain committee chair, he apologized. “I represent the entire village,” DeNatale said. “We have so many good things to do, and I don’t want to be distracted by this. I’m looking forward to accomplishing great things for the community.”