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Otis and Villanova Square Off In Assembly Debate

RYE, N.Y. – Assembly candidates Steve Otis and Bill Villanova tackled such issues as education reform, public safety and voter eligibility at a debate Monday night hosted by the League of Women Voters of Rye, Rye Brook, and Port Chester.

Otis, a Democrat, and Villanova, a Republican, are battling for the 91st District Assembly seat held by George Latimer (D-Rye), who is running for the state Senate. The 91st  District covers New Rochelle, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Rye, Port Chester and Rye Brook.

On the topic of education reform and unfunded mandates, Villanova, a Port Chester resident who serves as deputy supervisor of the Town of Rye, said every mandate should be reviewed and appealed “to Albany, to the governor and or associates and constituents, and take the opportunity to reduce those mandates.”

Otis, who was mayor of Rye for 12 years and most recently served as chief of staff for retiring state Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer, said it is critical to assure that the state does not “mess with the success” of Westchester County school districts. Everything above 2 percent of state-mandated costs, he said, should be picked up by the state. He used special education as an example. “It’s very difficult to budget and anticipate what special ed will cost … districts should cap it and have control locally,” Otis added.

Local resident Helen Gates asked what each candidate would do about public safety. Otis said municipalities should take advantage of the federal and state funding available for programs to make communities safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

Villanova said it is the municipality’s responsibility to control their own sidewalks, citing his experience on the Port Chester Zoning Board of Appeals. “Albany’s position should be to support local municipalities. ... What we don’t need more of is Albany giving unfunded mandates or giving local municipalities and school districts what they can and cannot do. Let municipalities represent themselves with home rule.”

One audience member asked about voting eligibility, referring to states that require voters to show identification at the polls. Otis said, “I find it unconscionable, the idea that there are legislatures around the country trying to put up obstacles to make it difficult for people to vote. I believe in voter accessibilities and expanding the franchise.”

Villanova said he didn’t think there was anything wrong with requiring I.D. “We have to be eligible to be allowed to do a lot of things. If you want to drive a care you are to show some proof, if you want to apply for Medicare or some kind of social program you have to give some proof ...," he said.

To watch the full debate, which took place at Rye Middle School, visit The League of Women Voters' website or check listings for the City of Rye TV.

The two will debate again on Wednesday, Oct. 24, at 6:45 p.m. at the Town of Mamaroneck Courtroom.

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