Two political newcomers and one incumbent are running for two Greenburgh Town Council seats in the Democratic Primary June 25, an election that is rarely contested.
With the death of Councilman Kevin Morgan in April, Fairview resident Gina Jackson and Hartsdale resident Eric Zinger will vie for both Morgan’s vacant seat and the seat currently occupied by Ken Jones, who plans to run for re-election.
Ken Jones was first elected to the town council in 2012, where he obtained the democratic convention nomination and ultimately defeated incumbent Sonja Brown.
Jones, 53, and his family have been longtime Greenburgh residents, currently living in a home that’s been in his family for three generations. In 2003 Jones inherited the house his father’s family purchased in the Parkway Garden section of Fairview in 1929.
After graduating from Cornell University in 1988, Jones earned a J.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1993 and spent time working in Manhattan, eventually returning to Greenburgh where he became active in the community.
In 2007 Jones took action on behalf of the Parkway Gardens Civic Association when a developer proposed a plan to subdivide a home once owned by renowned photographer Gordon Parks. The group eventually succeeded in getting the home declared historic, which put Jones on the political radar for neighbors who encouraged him to run for public office in 2011.
“You can never please everyone all the time, but my inclination is to try,” said Jones who currently serves as senior associate council for the Legal Aid Society of Westchester where he practices criminal defense. “The reactions of those people who cannot be pleased can be harsh and the personal attacks can be difficult, but it’s what you sign up for when you run for public office.”
Since being elected to the council, Jones is proud to have been involved in the town’s organic waste recycling efforts, enhancing community policing and the hiring of Greenburgh Police Chief Christopher McNerney, whom he calls “a young, progressive attorney, as well as being the police chief who makes it his business to hire officers who either live in the town or were raised in the town.”
Jones believes the chief’s hiring has helped build a positive relationship between the Greenburgh community and the police.
For the future, Jones is looking forward to expanding sidewalk coverage across Greenburgh.
“Our goal is to create a much more walkable environment and one that is less dependent on cars for the safety of residents and the environment,” said Jones.
With plans for the redevelopment of the Hartsdale Four Corners still underway, Jones hopes to see a wide variety of housing in the area. From market rate, to affordable, workforce and low-income housing, Jones said he hopes that bringing commercial businesses into the renovated mixed use area will help alleviate the tax burden on residential taxpayers.
Jones also expressed an interest in instituting 12-year term limits for council members.
Jones has also been the acting liaison to the Greenburgh Housing Authority — an independent entity from the town — for eight years. In 2015 Jones worked for the Bozeman Law Firm PLLC, the firm that represented the authority. After a meeting with the town’s board of ethics, the board decided Jones should avoid voting on issues involving the authority.
“That was over two years ago and in that time period no votes were taken,” said Jones. “The only vote was the one on May 22, and on May 22 I did not work for the Bozeman Law Firm.”
Although Jones is still listed as an attorney on the firm’s website and he still lists Bozeman as his current employer on his Linkedin page, both Jones and the Bozeman Law Firm confirmed that he is no longer employed at the firm.
With a second Edgemont incorporation petition having been submitted to the Greenburgh town clerk May 28, Jones said he believes that as long as the petition is sufficient, Edgemont should be able to hold a referendum. He does not believe incorporation will help Edgemont residents; rather his view is that the town is stronger together.
“I don’t feel that incorporation is the right way to go,” said Jones. “Further separation and not sharing of services doesn’t seem to be efficient to me.”
Jones is part of the GreenburghTogether team, which also includes town clerk candidate Maria Portilla and town council candidate Gina Jackson. The Greenburgh Town Democratic Committee, County Executive George Latimer, Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, incumbent council members Francis Sheehan and Diana Juettner, county legislators MaryJane Shimsky and Alfreda Williams, and Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, all endorse the team.
Candidate Gina Jackson has been a longtime resident of Westchester. Born in Mount Vernon and raised in Greenburgh where she graduated from Woodlands High School, Jackson obtained a B.S. in business administration from Concordia College and a human resources certificate from Cornell University. After a three-year stint in Atlanta as the chief of staff and manager of administration for Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management in 2006, Jackson moved back to the unincorporated Fairview section of Greenburgh in 2010 and was employed as a human resources consultant. In 2013, she became the director of administration for the New York State Executive Chamber Office of the Governor. Jackson currently works at the New York Power Authority as a program administrator.
A first-time political candidate, Jackson, 49, hopes to use her skills in human relations to solve pressing issues in Greenburgh and communicate with her constituents.
“I’m a human resource, so I believe it’s very important to be engaging with our constituents,” said Jackson. “My plan is to be visible, to be out in the community — not just [be seen] on the television every Tuesday and Thursday evening. To really get out and really understand what’s really going on you have to be present.”
Jackson was originally introduced to politics by her mother, who was one of the founding members of the Greenburgh chapter of the black women’s political caucus.
“I was one of those kids who sat on the stairs and watched these great women do great things in the political realm,” said Jackson.
Jackson would go back and forth to Albany for caucus weekends where she began contemplating about her role in politics and if she’d be able to handle the intricacies of holding office.
Inspired after working closely with local council members in Atlanta at the Water Department, she said she knew when she moved back to New York that she would want to hold a political office and serve her community.
Jackson’s main talking points include expanding affordable housing across Greenburgh, establishing a strategic plan and mission for the town, and reducing the town’s dependence on property taxes.
“Even though we have young, Wall Street type millennials moving to Westchester, there still should be some way we can also incorporate people who are not making … comfortable salaries,” said Jackson on the topic of adding affordable housing to Hartsdale Four Corners. “As we develop Four Corners and make it safe for our children to be on Four Corners and cross the big intersection, [so] that it’s affordable for all.”
Jackson also said she wants to establish a mission and a vision for Greenburgh in a strategic plan that would inspire unity among residents in both the villages and in the unincorporated areas.
“I want to have a mission statement about what we stand for [in] Greenburgh,” said Jackson. “We want to build off of our comprehensive plan to make sure we put a strategic plan in place.”
Jackson said she is “on the fence” on Edgemont incorporation, but that “it would be devastating on both parts” if Edgemont were to become a village. She admits though that she still needs to research incorporation and how it would affect the town and existing unincorporated areas.
“I really want to figure out a way to have the opportunity to really work with the constituents and the residents of Edgemont,” said Jackson. “I’m a big family person and I don’t want us to break up the family.”
Candidate Eric Zinger, 34, became politically and civically active after he moved to Hartsdale with his wife in 2013 to start a family. Originally from East Meadow, Long Island, Zinger attended the University of Maryland where he earned a degree in finance.
“What I found when I started getting involved with the neighborhood association was that I really liked it,” said Zinger who works at Arcesium, a financial technology startup.
Zinger’s dedication eventually led him to become president of the Hartsdale Neighborhood Association in 2017 where he helped grow civic engagement in the area.
“I learned the importance of listening to people and building bridges and finding common ground,” said Zinger about being president of the HNA. “I’m one of the newer residents to town, but I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on where we’re at and I know the issues … as well as anyone in this race.”
Zinger said he has been thinking about running for town council for years and launched his campaign for a seat in January. His hot button issues include term limits, private investment in Four Corners, creating a quantitative, data-driven budget, and revamping communication with constituents to enhance public engagement.
“I think term limits are a vital reform,” said Zinger. “The lack of term limits gives rise to [an] insular culture that makes politicians complacent, it makes them reluctant to tackle issues, it makes them too comfortable with the status quo.”
Zinger said he hopes creating 12-year term limits for all Greenburg officials would increase constituent participation, which he believes has been dwindling.
“There is a lack of engagement in the town and that’s true for both unincorporated residents and village residents,” said Zinger.
Zinger also said he wants to expand his reach and be more active with constituents to get them involved. He said he hopes to evolve how the community engages with the government by expanding public outreach away from just the supervisor.
“The ‘call Paul Feiner’ method of government is not scalable,” said Zinger. “[The supervisor] does an excellent job of community engagement and I will give him an A-plus for that, but the problem is that he is the CEO of our town … I don’t want the CEO playing customer service agent all the time.”
With his experience working with young families in Hartsdale, Zinger said he believes he can increase public engagement and get people interested in what’s going on in the town.
Four Corners redevelopment has also been on Zinger’s front burner, and he has worked to galvanize residents in Hartsdale. Zinger said his vision for Four Corners is to create incentives for private investors to help address the infrastructure needs at the intersection. The zoning is too restrictive, he said, and if the corners were to disappear today, they wouldn’t even be able to build what is currently there.
“It is a great opportunity for a gem,” said Zinger. “I want to create the incentive for private investment to come in and help us with the known issues of parking, stormwater and traffic.”
With his background in finance, Zinger said he would streamline budgeting in the town to be more data driven. He pledges to only vote in favor of budgets that hold the property tax cap flat.
On Edgemont incorporation, Zinger said he believes Greenburgh would be stronger together, but Edgemont should have a right to hold a referendum.
“I’m running because I want to work to repair the relationship between Edgemont and Greenburgh so that — if there is a vote — Edgemont chooses to stay,” said Zinger. “In order to make that happen, we need fresh leadership.”
The democratic primary vote is June 25.