Wigwam spoke with Beacon’s mayor Randy Casale just before the holidays. This marks the halfway point of his four-year term, so we asked him to look back at accomplishments and forward to the future.
Why did you run for mayor?
You know ever since I was young, I wanted to be mayor of this city.
I swear to god, you can ask anybody that hung out with me in bars. In fact I used to go into bars and they’d say Here comes the mayor. I went to Beacon High. I graduated, I went to Marist for one year. It was really not the college I wanted to go to, I wanted to go to a two-year business college because I didn’t want to take Spanish, theology and all that. But family tradition, everybody went to Marist. So when I came home that summer I went and got a job in the parks department. And they were paying peanuts. But I said to them, You are hiring full time? They said yeah. I said Can I get a job. They hired me. My mother, my stepfather were mad. Whatayah gonna be a bum the rest of your life? So I said whatever it takes. And I started working but I stayed involved in the community. I watched what was going on. I always said, Someday I want to be the mayor. When I was highway superintendent, I came to every single meeting. When I get done, some day I’m gonna run for mayor.
You have the unique distinction of serving as mayor during Beacon’s centennial year.
To me that was special. You know, I grew up, and lived here all my life. To me, to be able to do that was a special moment for me, the whole year. And it was a great year, and as I look back on it, there was a lot of great events put on by volunteers. Every event that was put on, the weather was perfect for. Unbelievable that every event this year, they never got rained out. Last meeting, I gave the four leaving council members a centennial plate. I just thought it was appropriate for them to remember that they served on this council during the centennial.
One of the outgoing council members, who decided not to run for re-election, was Sara Pasti.
One term I use. Add value. She added a lot of value to this community since she moved here. She’s value added to this community and anybody that says different is foolish. I mean, she came in with Erlich, but once she realized the deal she separated from Erlich, but she stayed involved, Beacon Arts, Comprehensive Plan, City Council. And she always represented the fourth ward, whatever concerns were brought to her she brought to the mayor, the administrator, and tried to get them straightened out. A great, great councilperson.
Another thing that bothers me is when people say it’s going to be a Democratic controlled council with a Republican mayor. First of all, I belong to the Independence Party. I don’t belong to the Republican Party. It’s a small little party in town and what I like about them, they don’t put pressure on you to do what they think. You’re just a member of their party.
I don’t know if people realize this, when I took office, and usually this bothers me because I think it’s the ruination of government. And I watched it all the years I was around. And I said if I run it’s not gonna happen. If the Republicans are in charge, whoever the Democrats hired that’s not a permanent position, they fire and put their people in. When I took office—before I took office—when I decided to run, I came in this office, and I told Brian, who was [former mayor Steve Gold] Steve’s assistant, he works for Gibson now, and I told Meredith, listen I just want to tell you guys something now. No matter who wins this election, you’re safe. Because if I win I have no plans of coming in here and wholesale changing people just because it’s a different party. I don’t want you sitting here for four months worrying about your job. I judge people on what they do. I don’t judge people on what party they belong to. And I did that with everybody here.
I was highway superintendant. Every time the administration changed I had a new lawyer to deal with. It wasn’t if it was a good lawyer or a bad lawyer. It was, was he a Republican or a Democrat. To me, none of them were good. They were just political pawns that paid into the political party. That’s why when Steve hired Dick Wolfe, I was pissed man, because he was terrible…Finally after a year and a half of Dick Wolfe, everybody on the council saw that was a total mistake. I said, Go out and get a firm, so it’s not a political appointment. Continuity’s the key to success. Changing every two years because the party changes—they have to learn all—it’s crazy. I just think it’s asinine. I didn’t do it with anybody.
I think Main Street Beacon right now has a lot of good businesses on it, it’s almost filled the whole length of Main Street, there’s not many storefronts open.
With that whole committee I put together for the rezoning. That was committees that Steve had put together. I used the same people because I knew they were doing a good job. It didn’t matter to me if they were Democrat, Republican. And believe me, I took a lot of heat during the election, because they used, Randy appointed me to this. But I don’t get caught up in that, man. I don’t get caught up in that. That’s why I ran. I said I’m not gonna run a political thing, I’m gonna run the city like it’s a business. And a business wouldn’t come in and fire somebody because they came in. If the guy was doing the job for them they keep him. I was at every meeting with that [rezoning] committee. I thought that whole committee well represented—and it proved by the way, we got it passed. And that’s another goal. I hope to extend that zone, to other sections of Main Street so people can have that advantage of less parking because the old zoning laws tell you you need more cars.
I think Main Street Beacon right now has a lot of good businesses on it, it’s almost filled the whole length of Main Street, there’s not many storefronts open. People say to me, some businesses turn over. Well that’s the nature of being in business. People go into business to give it a shot, and if it doesn’t work they get out of business.
Apparently some people in the community feel you did not give CVS a chance.
People think I didn’t sit with them. I sat with them while we were going through the process of making the new zoning. I told them we were making a new zone. I told them it was going to probably scale down what size businesses come into this district. They said we can meet any zoning you have. I said fine, I just want to let you know that up front. And then they come in and try to circumvent everything about the zoning.
I’ll be honest with you, if they would have come in and put two stories there and put in either residential or offices up above, doctors offices or something, and they would’ve put the parking in back like we asked, with no drive through, and they said, Well we can’t live with 5,000 (sq feet) and I said well we can’t live with 12,000, and they tried to meet that, I might have started trying to talk to them, but they never once tried to come to anything we wanted in the zoning. All they kept trying was to find ways they could circumvent the zoning. That’s why I was getting pissed off when people say I didn’t reach out to them. I reached out to them right in the beginning.
With the recent early snowfalls, are you worried the city will deplete its snow-removal budget?
No. This will be coming out of this year’s budget. January starts our new budget. I worry about it, but when I used to budget for snow, I used to do a five-year plan. Some years money is left over and goes into the general fund, some years you need to take more from the general fund. You can’t predict what’s really going to happen. You can get a lot of snow. People think snow is the problem. Big snowstorms could be a problem if they fall on weekends and holidays when you pay prime time for the whole storm. But the little storms where you get freezing rain and they go on for hours and you need to keep putting chemicals down to keep the roads clear, that costs you a ton of money because those chemicals are not cheap. So the smaller, nastier storms are more expense than the storm that comes, dumps, we plow the roads and then we’re outta there.
Looking back, can you give a few highlights of your first two years in office.
During the first two years, we’ve made many strides. We appointed a new police chief to restructure our police department to improve efficiency and help our community become even more friendly and safe. We structured the police department to better meet the needs of the community. There’s a good balance between patrol division and detective division that can now provide more of the services that our residents need to see, like community policing and bike patrols.
With restructuring, what we did is we took some of the detectives, and as they left hired more patrolmen, and reduced the amount of detectives we have. When we get back to full force—we’re not there yet, we have two in the academy, we’re hiring a transfer that’s starting January 6th, and then we’ll still have to hire three more people to be full force. When we’re full force and with the new schedule—instead of a squad, we went to a schedule where they rotate shifts, we’ll have five people on a shift instead of four, which means we’ll have extra people to do bike patrol, community policing, and we won’t get the minimum shift in as often and have to pay overtime, so we should reduce overtime.
We hired a full-time fire chief to lead our fire department, which I believe in time will pay for itself, because he’ll make changes in the fire department. We’re looking to consolidate the three departments into one building somewhere, which I believe desperately needs to be done. Hopefully, we got a grant from the county to figure out the best place and once we do this study we’ll start moving forward with it.
What the study’s going to do is look at what building it should be, if it should be [any of the existing firehouses] or should we build a new building because the value we could get for the property we already own would be well worth selling it and putting something else in those spots and moving to a new spot. My belief is if we sold Beacon Engine and if we sold Mays Hook and Ladder, the study will tell us how much money we should get and if we redo Tompkins to make it big enough to put all three companies in here and have three bunks for the three paid men, and redo the outside of that building, because I won’t do it unless I redo the outside of that building so it looks more like the neighborhood.
But as I think about it, this is prime property right here, overlooking the Hudson River. The study might say you can get your biggest bang for your dollar right here. We probably can’t put everybody in either of the other two fire houses because of the logistics of where they’re located, there’s no room to expand, so they might say look at another spot and here’s what it would cost you. And then once we know that we should start moving forward because I think it definitely needs to be done
Overall picture, we should be thinking regional. But to get a regional fire department is probably not gonna happen in my lifetime because all the players you gotta get to buy into it. It becomes political—who doesn’t want give up their own domain. They’re working at that at the county level, but I think it will be a while.
I think everything should be regional. Between the town of Fishkill and the City of Beacon, we’ve got two police chiefs and a police commissioner. And we’re talking a small area. If somehow we could combine, and have one police department, one chief, one captain, and have full time cops and part time cops as part of the department we probably could give better service per capita for less money. But you have to get everybody to buy into it and give up their domain.
The governor is asking for that consolidation, the county executive has put grant money out there so if you’re looking to do it you can do a study and see if it works. The only thing that bothers me about the governor, he puts all that stuff out there, but he doesn’t show by his actions. Because you know what, the state courts are under his jurisdiction. Why doesn’t he consolidate them and have one court between here and Fishkill. We have a five million dollar building here, Fishkill’s got a five million dollar building. We’re three miles apart up the road. Why can’t there be one court building? Let’s do it. If you’re talking about doing it, be a leader in doing it.
In part two, the mayor looks ahead to the next two years. He talks about his views on development, parking issues, development, development, and whether or not he plans to run again.