When Sameer Ahuja found out from his parents that he and his family would move to the United States he was ecstatic. His father, who was working for a U.S.-based bank, was planning to relocate the family to New York City — the Big Apple. The city that never sleeps.
Ahuja, who was born in India and later moved to Bahrain for his father’s work, had already been attending American schools but had never stepped foot in the U.S. He read everything he could about New York and America. Spending his holidays visiting his father’s office, he developed an aspirational view of the country. Even as a child, he viewed America as the reason his father and his family were able to develop and nurture opportunity.
When the family finally moved stateside in 1984 and lived in New York City for a year, Ahuja’s parents heard about the quaint village of Scarsdale 30 minutes north of the city. His parents visited, he said, and fell in love with the town and its people. When his parents came home, Ahuja recalls his father saying, “This is where I want to live.” From that point on, they were home.
A graduate of Scarsdale High School who has lived in Scarsdale on and off for 21 years, Ahuja, 45, is running for the village board of trustees on the 2021 Citizens’ Non-Partisan Party ticket. He is joined on the ticket by newcomer Karen Brew and current trustee Jonathan Lewis, who is running for reelection. Former trustee Jane Veron is running for mayor. Trustee Seth Ross is cycling off the board after fulfilling two terms and Trustee Rochelle Waldman is not seeking a second term. Unlike last year’s election, the March 16 ballot will be uncontested.
A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Business School, Ahuja has spent most of his adult life as an entrepreneur. Inspired by his father, he started in finance, working at A.T. Kearney, a global management consulting firm and at JPMorgan Chase. He later saw promise in the emerging technology sector and joined GameChanger, a mobile application owned by Dick’s Sporting Goods which connects families and the community to local sports games. He was promoted to COO in 2019.
A passionate supporter of data gathering, Ahuja wants to meld the technical skills he’s learned through his entrepreneurial ventures with his service on the board of trustees. More specifically, he said he wants to work toward building a collaborative framework, emphasizing listening and fostering communication.
“That collaboration, listening and communication framework, I think, is what makes and would make a really good trustee,” said Ahuja, who lives with his family in Heathcote. “That’s what I’m excited to do. I’m excited to collaborate with the other trustees, with the village staff, with my neighbors, the community at large and really listen to them and … work to communicate whatever decisions we make and actions we take.”
Last April, Ahuja joined the Advisory Council on Communications, where he and other volunteers have been tasked with redesigning scarsdale.com, the village’s website. He said the redesign is targeted for completion this fall.
“I’m really passionate about how the village, the staff [and] the board, communicates with the community as a whole,” he said. “It is an opportunity to bring a group of residents in to help the village better communicate. The work that they’re doing, the ideas that they have [and] the initiatives that they are going to pursue in the future — it’s something that’s so important.”
When he moved back to Scarsdale in 2014, Ahuja put most of his volunteer focus on youth sports, coaching Heathcote sports for several years.
Though he hasn’t garnered a long list of local Scarsdale volunteer ventures, with the village still coping with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic he felt “now was the time to make that contribution” to the village as a trustee.
“Folks have a choice of where they want to live and we need to always be working to ensure that the best people come here,” he said. “I think of my parents who I put in that category. They were lucky enough and chose to come live here. So that opportunity is not something I’ve ever taken for granted. I think it’s a privilege to live here and I want to do my part.”
Where the village has experienced the most apparent effects of the pandemic has been the budget, which has seen a large dip in nondepartmental revenues. The second pass of the budget had a $1.8 million gap and included the use of $2.25 million in fund balance.
Ahuja said besides the coronavirus, the budget needed a lot of focus. He complimented the board’s budget process and said he had “a lot of faith in the staff and the work they do on a day-to-day basis.”
When asked if Ahuja would support a 0% tax increase this year, he said he “owed it to the entire community to dig into what people think and to really study it” when he is on the board, before sharing his own “concrete views” on the subject.
“It’s so important for me to go into this [and] make sure that I hear what everyone is thinking and everyone’s views,” he said, after being further questioned on the subject. “That’s what I’m focused on right now.”
Downtown revitalization has also been a longstanding issue for the village, especially with the onset of the pandemic, which has strained local small businesses. Ahuja said he wants to bring his background as an entrepreneur and building businesses to help formalize ideas on how to further support the downtown and Five Corners business districts.
On the longstanding issues surrounding Freightway redevelopment, which became controversial in December 2019 after two village-selected developers made preliminary presentations for a multi-use development at the site, Ahuja said he hopes that any such complex topic would have a good and open conversation and debate among residents, village board members and staff.
“I look forward to being a part of that conversation. Particularly doing a lot of listening and hearing everyone’s point of view,” he said. “This topic is no different. I’m excited to be a part of the conversation about it.”
After the death of George Floyd in May, activists have been rallying to “defund the police,” an initiative that would shift some police resources to community-focused groups. Ahuja said he had “no opinion” on the defund-the-police movement and complimented the police officers, firefighters and emergency personnel in the village.
“As a resident … I could not think more highly of all of the services that the village provides, including police and fire and other services,” he said. “The people who work to make this community work are really special to me.”
In June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order that required municipal police forces to perform a comprehensive review of current police procedures, practices and policies. The reports are due no later than April 1 and the village’s Police Reform and Reinvention Committee published a draft of its report this week (see article on page 3).
With disagreements almost always an inevitability on any board, Ahuja said he always starts from a perspective of working toward consensus.
“When you have an agreement and if it’s a group and not everyone’s on the same page, there are going to be moments of disagreeing and committing,” said Ahuja. “If a group comes to a decision and … you’re on the side that maybe didn’t agree, well, you’ve said your piece, you’ve done your work, now it’s time to disagree and commit.”
Running unchallenged for a seat on the village board, Ahuja’s message to residents is to get involved and to build Scarsdale into the future.
“I feel very privileged to live here,” he said. “We all need to work together to make this continue to be a great place.”