It was a dreary, drizzly morning at the Hartsdale train station as Lucas Cioffi handed out petitions May 13 to commuters.
“Hello, I’m running against Paul Feiner in the general election, if you’d like to sign this petition it helps to get me on the ballot,” Cioffi told the commuters rushing to catch trains to the city.
Cioffi, who grew up in Edgemont and moved back this past year, is petitioning to run as an independent for town supervisor. In the first week of his petitioning he has collected 750 of the 1,500 signatures needed to get his name on the ballot, a deadline he will have to meet by May 28.
Although he is required to obtain 1,500 signatures, he hopes to get 1,000 more to ensure his place on the ballot.
“When you hold these petitions in your hand, it’s this awesome feeling that people went out of their way to read up on what’s going on in our town and they said I’m going to take some of my personal time, figure out this complex government document, and I’m going to sign this petition,” said Cioffi, who has been going for a week to train stations and sports fields to collect signatures from Greenburgh residents. “Each of these signatures represents an actual person who wants to see change, and it’s just thrilling.”
In a donation-free, grassroots push to get on the ballot, Cioffi, 39, is petitioning on transparency and open government, something he believes is organizationally lacking with the current Greenburgh administration. His focus in the early stages of petitioning is not only learning about the issues, but also on the process for organizing those issues to better accommodate residents and solve their quarrels. In an open and honest approach to candidateship, Cioffi admits that he’s still learning about every issue Greenburgh residents face, but he has the appetite to ask questions to inform both himself and his constituents. When he finishes his petitioning, he plans to kick off a public project to document the state of the town, where residents will be able to collaboratively identify issues, prioritize those issues, propose courses of action, and list all the pros and cons of those courses of action.
With this new process, Cioffi hopes to increase transparency around budgeting and taxes, have longer term strategic planning and institute term limits.
“We’re doing this so I can learn, but also so any town resident who wants to learn about all these issues… can easily get up to speed,” Cioffi said. “These are going to be public documents that are going to be collaboratively edited, and they will be the community’s resource, the community will be able to own it — it will be theirs.”
Cioffi graduated from Edgemont High School in 1997. After going to an information session featuring Congressman Ben Gilman, Cioffi decided to enroll at West Point where he graduated in June 2001 as an infantry officer. After six to eight months of training at Fort Benning, he enrolled and graduated from Army Ranger School and did further training to become a platoon leader for Bradley fighting vehicles. After a one-year deployment in Iraq where he led a 125-person company on its first mission in a combat zone, Cioffi finished his military career and opened a small sign and digital printing business in central Texas in 2006. After selling the company a year later, he became a research fellow at the Logistics Management Institute in Washington, D.C. He then became interested in software development and co-founded AthenaBridge, a debate and collaboration tool, which jumpstarted his interest in mapping individuals’ ideals and opinions and using them to problem-solve.
“You get people with different opinions to map out their ideas and you can see where they’re missing each other, where they have common ground, where they disagree,” said Cioffi. “I’m definitely going to be using those concepts [as town supervisor] because there are so many people who are adamant and passionate about specific issues here in Greenburgh, and I want to give them a chance to be fully heard.”
Cioffi wants to use tools like Google Docs to map out ideas and courses of action to better serve the Greenburgh community and to make the process more open and collaborative.
In 2009, Cioffi founded the OpenGov Community Summit Series and in 2010 was the president of the board of the Open Forum Foundation. In 2011 he was on the board of directors for the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. Cioffi met his wife Sandra at Edgemont High School while on the debate team. They moved to Hastings-on-Hudson last year and recently moved back to Edgemont for their two young children to attend school.
Cioffi is running as an independent and has been a registered independent since 2010. He is not all that interested in politics and sees his candidacy as a community effort, rather than campaign.
“I still don’t see it as running for political office even though every day it becomes more clear that it is a political office, I just see it as an opportunity to change … Greenburgh town government. You have to be in charge of it and I’ve led people before and I can lead people here in Greenburgh,” he said.
As he is hyper focused on process, if elected to the position of town supervisor, Cioffi plans on hiring an experienced and professional town manager to compare experiences and use them as a resource to keep the politics out of town management. The position would pay for itself through more efficient use of funds and by reducing the supervisor’s salary, according to Cioffi.
“The advantage is that many people agree our town operations will be much smoother if run by a professional town manager rather than a political leader,” Cioffi said.
Although still early on in his campaign for supervisor — he only announced his candidateship at the Edgemont Community Council meeting May 6 and has not run for political office previously — he will be spending time learning about as many issues as he can between now and November when he hopes to face off against Paul Feiner, who has been serving as Greenburgh town supervisor for 28 years.
Cioffi is also looking to shift the current system of communication with the town supervisor — where residents usually email or call in complaints or ideas — to a collaborative system with accountability at the forefront.
“If we used a more robust issue-tracking system, it would have several strong advantages. Specifically, we would see all the other issues reported by all the other residents; we would be able to identify duplication and patterns, and most importantly, we would be able to track accountability,” said Cioffi. “There’s a lot going on and the Greenburgh town government is working hard, but if you can’t see what all the problems are and what problems are getting fixed, … you don’t notice all the solutions that are going on around you.”
On Edgemont incorporation, Cioffi takes an impartial stance, maintaining that his role as town supervisor would be to ensure the validity of the petition and that residents have the data they need to make an informed decision.
“They have a right to vote if they have a valid petition, so I will make sure that if the petition is valid, it can go forward and then aside from that it’ll be in the voters’ hands,” said Cioffi. “I believe voters should have as much say as possible in their daily lives.”
It was nearing 9 a.m. at the Hartsdale station and Cioffi was getting the last couple of signatures before he would have to go to work. The platform was emptying as a train headed to Manhattan signaled that its doors were about to close.
“I think I have to go home and be a dad too,” said Cioffi, who is still working a full-time job and taking care of his son while petitioning before and after work hours.
He did one last quick look down the platform to see if he could catch anyone before he had to leave.
“The difficult part is that the human body has to sleep,” said Cioffi. “The idea that someone who’s not a politician can do research on the process and jump in … that’s what’s pretty inspiring about living in our country, and it’s not like that in every country, so I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”