All Politics Are Local: Interview with Rye Brook Mayor Paul Rosenberg

In this column I will be interviewing different politicians that represent Rye Brook. I will be asking each politician many of the same questions. I hope that these interviews will help you learn about the people who represent us in government. For this interview, I spoke with Paul Rosenberg, Mayor of Rye Brook.
Prior to being elected Mayor of Rye Brook in April of 2013, Rosenberg was Deputy Mayor from 2008-2013 and Trustee from 2003-2008. His accomplishments as Mayor include: construction of a brand new public works facility, streamlined village code and land use application process, implemented use of technology throughout the organization, staying within the tax cap 9 out of 10 years and much, much more. Mayor Rosenberg is completing his decade-long tenure as Mayor of Rye Brook, this interview is a review of his legacy, his accomplishments and his thoughts about possible future forays into public service.

What or who inspired you to get involved with public service?

“When you live in New York City you don’t really have much of a say in anything your government does, it’s just too big, unless you want to devote your whole career to being in politics. {Once I left the city and] moved to a much smaller village, I went to a couple of board meetings with some friends just to kind of get an understanding of what it was like and at that point I said to myself I’d like to have a say in how the village is run and really help in decision-making and that’s when I decided.

I just thought it was cool to be able to go to a Board of Trustees meeting, to drive 5 minutes to Village Hall and go to a meeting and these are the five trustees who basically run the village and you get a chance to speak, the public can speak and I thought that was very novel for me given that I was raised in Queens and then lived in Manhattan, so it was the novelty of having the ability to really have a say in your own community that made me want to be involved.”

What does your day-to-day look like?

“In ‘normal times’ I would say, we have our board meetings every other Tuesday night from 7 to 10:30, but I also get lots of emails and messages that I have to respond to, I would say about an hour to an hour-and-a-half every every day; but then, during the height of the pandemic, I was on conference calls for big chunks of the day, I think I was spending easily 4 to 5 hours a day on being Mayor.”

What is your favorite part of the job?

“Having the ability to make a big difference and improving the lives of the village residents. One of the first things that I did when I came in as Mayor, one of the biggest problems that we were seeing, is that people thought it was too hard to do work on their homes in Rye Brook and the zoning code was too complicated. Also, I was hearing from realtors that people didn’t want to move to Rye Brook because it was too difficult to renovate, so I wanted to change that and make it easier for the residents. So we immediately put together a task force to simplify the zoning code.

There are things that go on in government behind the scenes that most people will never know about unless they go wrong or unless things break. One of those things was the construction of our new Public Works/Highway garage facility. It’s something that 99.9% of all the residents will never see, but if we didn’t have it roads would not get plowed, the parks wouldn’t be mowed, all the parks and the ball fields would not be groomed, all the things that make Rye Brook a nice place to live would never happen. The roof in the old facility was leaking all over our people and we rebuilt the building and that was a 17 million dollar project.”

What do you want your legacy as Rye Brook Trustee/Mayor to be?

“In addition to streamlining the zoning code, I would say the excellent relationships with our unions. We have three unions: fire, police and the teamsters that cover the highways, the public works guys. We have had tremendous, wonderful relationships with our unions. I want that to be a model for other boards in the future because when you’re honest with your staff, even when there’s news they may not like, but if you are just straight with them and treat them fairly, they will respect you and you may have to sometimes agree to disagree, but hopefully not very frequently.”

What Surprised You The Most About The Job?

“As a trustee we receive what we call our board packages from the village administrator every Friday and you read through any information that’s important, but when you are Mayor the volume of information that you have to retain is much larger than being a trustee. You have to know everything about everything, you have to be very familiar with all of the village staff, you have to be the one to disseminate information to the rest of the board and you have to be the one to share the good news as well as the bad news with the community, because you are the face of the community, and as a trustee yes you’re a leader in the community, but being the face of the community is a little bit different.”

What is the Village’s relationship with the Blind Brook School District?

“As you know, the school district has its own budget, they collect their own taxes,and there’s an unwritten kind of agreement that we stay out of their business and they stay out of ours. I think it works pretty well because we on the village board are not educators and I wouldn’t ever pretend to know how to educate people. Likewise school board members, they don’t really get involved in village board issues, when they have questions or comments they reach out, and when we have questions we will pick up the phone and ask them. Or village administrator has had a great working relationship with all of the superintendent’s over the last several years, and whether it’s doing some emergency plowing or something for them that they need, or giving them access to one of our fields that hadn’t been planned for, we always try to work closely with them, as their students are our residents.”

Do you have future plans for public service?

“I don’t think so, Rye Brook’s special in the sense that we are nonpartisan in terms of our village government, the members of the board can be Republicans, they can be Democrats, it does not come into play at the village government level, and it’s nice for the community. In other communities if the Republican council person or a village board member comes up with an idea, but if they don’t have the majority, then the Democrats will squash it, it’ll go nowhere just because it’s seen as a Republican vs. Democrat issue/idea. Working with my fellow trustees is a pleasure. When I look at any other type of elected office that I might want to seek, it’s all partisan politics and I just really don’t want to be involved in that type of party politics, it’s a hindrance to getting things done.

For example, once when I was campaigning and I was going door-to-door when I rang someone’s doorbell, I said hi I’m Paul Rosenberg and the person said very nice to meet you what’s your stance on abortion and I said we’re nonpartisan you know my stance on abortion or any other matter of national interest really doesn’t apply to Rye Brook. We don’t have to worry about the other board members stance on anything unless it’s directly related to the Village of Rye Brook, and those national conversations and disagreements that people have don’t make their way into the way we run the village, and it keeps us focused on doing what’s best for the village, not doing what our party would like us to do.”

Advice For Future Public Servants

“Raise your hand and get involved in as much as you can when you live in a small village like this. I’ve seen over the last 18 years that I’ve been on the board that it’s become much harder to get people to donate their time doing public service, remember that it’s volunteer work, we’re not paid for this, we all have other jobs, but, it gives you a sense of fulfillment that you’ll never get anywhere else.”