Karen Brew is a questioner — a trait she shares with her father who spent his professional life as a management consultant, doing all kinds of problem-solving and decision-making tasks. Over time, her appreciation for making smart and informed decisions grew and has continued to influence her life.
When it was time for her to apply to college, Brew’s father directed her through a decision analysis, ranking and weighting each school according to a list of priorities, and then comparing the schools she got into based on assigned weights so she could make the best decision.
“It’s kind of in my DNA,” said Brew. “I’m very process-oriented [and] logical … and I want to understand why. I don’t want to just haphazardly make decisions.”
When Brew was approached by the Citizens Nominating Committee (CNC) last fall to run for the Scarsdale Board of Trustees, she was hesitant. She was no longer working part time as a financial advisor recruiter at Koren Rogers; she was trying to figure out her next professional step. In addition, Brew and her husband, who recently became empty nesters, were considering whether they wanted to stay in Scarsdale.
The timing wasn’t perfect to say the least, so she declined the offer, though she admits, she regretted it.
But when Ellen Plum withdrew her nomination for the CNC slate, Brew was asked once again about her interest in serving on the board of trustees, and at that moment she decided it was destiny and accepted.
“If I commit to something I’m fully in,” said Brew. “When I first said no, I was continuing to have those discussions with my husband about ‘Are we staying? Are we going?’ And we realized we’re not going anywhere that quickly. We still want our kids to have a place to come home to. This is home.”
Brew, 58, is running for the village board of trustees on the 2021 Scarsdale Citizens’ Non-Partisan Party ticket. She is joined on the ticket by newcomer Sameer Ahuja 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 completing two terms, and Trustee Rochelle Waldman is not seeking a second term. Unlike last year, this slate will be uncontested in the election on March 16.
A New Jersey native, Brew earned her undergraduate degree in psychology at Cornell University. Though she never had a set path for what she wanted to do careerwise, she was drawn to jobs that required her to problem solve, brainstorm and find solutions.
Eventually she decided to attend the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University where she earned an MBA with a concentration in marketing, management policy and finance.
She started her career working in financial services marketing as an assistant product manager for Chemical Bank. She later moved to American Express where she worked her way up to senior marketing manager.
Later on, she decided to shift into product marketing and held senior-level marketing positions at the Perrier group, Labatt USA, United Distiller and Vintners, Unilever, Kraft and Pepperidge Farm.
“Professionally when you’re managing the business of a brand you’re creating annual budgets and you’re executing those budgets and trying to maximize what you can do based on consumer needs and wants.”
In her view, those skills translate well to what a village trustee does.
“When you’re in marketing management you’re basically the hub of a wheel. You’re dealing with all these different groups … and you bring it all together,” she said.
Though she and her husband both grew up in New Jersey, neither had an interest in settling there. The couple lived in New York City, but dissatisfied with one-bedroom apartment living, they decided to search for a suburban house in Westchester.
Looking at top school districts, they quickly narrowed down their search and moved to Edgemont in 1996. But the Brew family grew, and eventually outgrew their Edgemont house. They considered Scarsdale, impressed with the village’s larger school system, and moved to their current house on Ferncliff Road in 2001.
Although she was working full time, Brew was eager to get involved with her kids’ school community, so she volunteered on PTA committees at Edgewood Elementary School.
She eventually served as the Edgewood PTA treasurer and president and went on to serve on PTA committees at Scarsdale Middle and High School and the PT Council. Brew also served on the School Board Nominating Committee, the SBNC Administrative and Joint committees and has been on the Executive Committee of the Scarsdale High School Scholarship Fund for five years.
Beyond the school system, Brew has served on the board of the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale and on the Scarsdale Bowl Committee.
Brew said she believes her time on the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale has prepared her most for the role of trustee, citing the league’s process for studying the village budget and creating a consensus statement.
As a lifelong questioner, Brew said she is not afraid to challenge others or state her opinion if she believes something isn’t being fully considered, but she’s willing to support a majority decision.
“I would not hesitate to question or challenge as I saw fit,” said Brew, referring to the process of reaching consensus as a trustee. “I wouldn’t necessarily just be a ‘yes person’ at all, but once a decision was made, I would support it.”
After the election in March, the new board will be inheriting a difficult budget season, facing a million dollar revenue shortfall.
Brew said she “has been really impressed” with the current board’s budget process and complimented the village for listening to community feedback.
“One thing I would love to do, should I be elected to the village board, is to continue to try to get more community engagement in the processes,” she said.
Brew said she would need to be on the board to see what had already been attempted to expand community dialogue, but in her view, expanding outreach and finding ways to make interaction as easy as possible are essential.
“I think a lot of people might want to be more involved but feel like they don’t have the time or know how to tune in and get involved,” she said. “There’s always room with everything for continuous improvement.”
Brew said she is running her campaign with “no preconceived notions or positions.”
When asked if she would support a 0% tax increase this year, given the fiscal strain on Scarsdale residents brought on by the pandemic, Brew said she didn’t want to take a position, as she would need to fully be a part of the board and receive all the same information to make an informed decision.
“I haven’t looked at [the budget] line by line. So, I don’t feel that I am informed enough at this point to take a position on that,” said Brew. “I think it definitely is being evaluated … and they’re asking all the right questions, and should I be voted in, I would continue on that path.”
Due to the pandemic, many businesses in Scarsdale are facing major challenges. On revitalizing the downtown, Brew referenced a campaign she ran for the Scarsdale High School Scholarship Fund where residents were sent to shop at local Scarsdale businesses and the businesses shared a portion of their revenue with the fund as a donation. She said she would look to campaigns like that, which offered a mutual benefit, as a way to help village businesses.
Asked whether she would support the village conducting a long-term revitalization plan for the downtown in a post-COVID world, Brew didn’t take a position but shared her opinion that keeping the downtown vibrant was important.
Redevelopment of the Freightway garage is an issue as the village struggles to keep up parking permit revenues with decreased commuting during the pandemic.
Brew said she attended the controversial community meeting in December 2019 when two village-selected developers presented preliminary plans for a multi-use development at the site.
Brew said she observed “a lot of passion” from many sides at the meeting which was “was handled very well” by the board.
“There are widely different viewpoints and they’re all valid and it’s about listening to them and considering them and weighing everything out to determine what is the best way to move forward” with Freightway redevelopment, which she views as “an important issue” with a whole new set of issues to consider, given the impact of the pandemic.
“Obviously something has to be done in the short term in terms of the fixes,” she said. “I’m looking forward to, when the time is right, picking that [Freightway discussion] back up and digging into all the information around it.”
Police reform has also been on the village’s radar after New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued mandatory internal reviews from all municipal police departments in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Brew said the Scarsdale Police Department is “top-notch” and she is impressed by Scarsdale’s Police Reform and Reinvention Committee report released earlier this month.
Asked about the nationwide movement to “defund the police,” a proposal that would shift some police resources to community-focused groups, Brew said defunding the police is a “lightning rod term” as there can be misconceptions about how the phrase is understood, but she supported the push to have the county activate a social services unit that would respond to people experiencing mental health crises.
With many years of professional and volunteer experience under her belt, Brew said she is excited to serve the community if she is elected on March 16.
“My whole thing is about coming in with an open mind and questioning and drilling into details to support the best decision,” she said.