by Bill Batson
On Thursday, December 21, outgoing Mayor Jen Laird-White will swear-in Mayor-elect Don Hammond at 6:30p at Village Hall. In a time when democratic norms and constitutional necessities, like an independent judiciary and the freedom of the press are under attack, we need to celebrate the smooth transition of power from one administration to the next. The public is welcome to witness Nyack’s changing of the guard.
During 8 years in Village Hall, (six as Mayor and two as a Trustee), White proved to be a natural as a candidate and public servant. She was also familiar with the topsy-turvy dynamic that incoming Mayor Hammond recently described this way: “first they’ll swear me in. Then they swear at me.”
As a former broadcast journalist, Jen White has been as champion of the arts throughout her tenure. As Mayor, White was instrumental in the founding of the Nyack Art Collective. She helped founding Collective President Tracy Anders-Kachtick establish the First Friday Arts Festival, locate meeting space at Village Hall and manage the growing pains of a nascent non-profit.
When I organized a Flash Sketch Mob of over 100 artists in 2012, Mayor Jen yelled the magic words “Veni, Vedi, Sketchi” into a bullhorn to strategically deploy the art makers along Broadway to create a crowd-sourced portrait of the village.
One of Jen’s first visions for Nyack was a plan to have artists adorn vacant storefronts. Now three year’s into its run, Holiday Windows invites world renowned and local artists to transform a dozen windows into pop-up street level exhibit spaces.
Jen helped welcome Toni Morrison to the village to install one of the author’s Bench by the Road monuments in Memorial Park in 2015, honoring 19th century abolitionist and entrepreneur Cynthia Hesdra, she worked with multimedia artist Kris Burns to create a drive-in movie theatre in the Main Street Municipal artist, supported Paulette Ross through Art Walk’s continued growth as a Father’s Day cultural destination for over a decade and, just last week, she appeared at the Edward Hopper House to support their collaboration with The Historical Society to collect oral histories, the Nyack Record Shop Project, a companion piece for their Carrie Mae Weems exhibit.
Kris Burns produces
a video tribute
Working with Melody Partrick, the village’s Recreation Director (a position created by Mayor White), multimedia artist, Burns edited together short video farewells from Jen’s constituents. The video was recently projected ala Burns, on the side of a building off Main Street. Enjoy the hearfelt goodbyes here.
Before her tenure, Nyack’s reputation as an arts center rested on the laurels of past achievements. Now, Nyack is a mecca for artists and art lovers, a trend that Mayor Elect Hammond can work to cement.
In 2016, Nyack Sketch Log spoke with Mayor White during Women’s History Month. Here are some of the thoughts of Nyack’s third female Mayor on the eve of her departure. Farewell, Jen Laird White and thanks for your service to the village and your support of the arts.
Are there any particular blessings or burdens for women in public office?
Holding public office is no different for men or women today. It’s equally tough for everyone because there has been such a breach in the public trust. This is, however, an exciting moment to be in public life because everywhere you look women are taking on leadership roles in business and government.
Are there any women in politics that inspire you?
Recently, I have had a chance to work closely with our member of Congress, Nita Lowey. I am amazed by her work ethic, passion and fearlessness. She is a total inspiration and we are lucky to have her representing us in Congress.
The Village Board recently passed a resolution in support of Governor Cuomo’s gun control legislation that drew some loud criticism from some people. Were you surprised?
Our gun control resolution seemed important to pass. Doing nothing was no longer acceptable. I have been to Newtown. It is a place much like Nyack. I know families that knew some of the children killed in Newtown. I watched them head off in deep grief to funerals for seven years olds.
It is complicated and difficult to safely own and operate a car and there are many requirements that must be met to do so. It should be that difficult to own and use a gun. So when you consider that in 2015, gun fatalities are predicted to surpass deaths caused by traffic accidents, there is a clear need for responsible policy reform. As a Village Board, we all agreed to support our Governor’s attempt to stop the escalating violence.
The backlash has been quite depressing. My office voice mail was filled with profane vaguely threatening statements about our homes and our children. It made me wonder if people who call a municipal office to make profanity laced threats should have unfettered access to automatic weapons.
Ironically, I grew up in a family of hunters; I am a reasonably good shot myself. I am not opposed to guns. I am opposed to guns whose only possible purpose are mass casualties. I am opposed to guns being in the hands of those who are not qualified to keep them from causing harm and I am opposed to criminals who use guns not being prosecuted to the full extend possible.
Was that the low point in your term so far?
No. The low point was Hurricane Sandy. The devastation was stunning, we still have twenty families without homes. In the immediate aftermath, relief was not easy or forthcoming. During the storm and in the horrible days right after, we lost power, we sustained substantial damage as a community and we lost a life. It was a terrifically difficult time. But our community spirit and resolve was kept afloat by our first responders who tirelessly and without complaint went about saving lives and working to maintain order and restore services.
What has been the high point?
There were actually many high points during those bleak days. The Village Hall steps provided a gathering spot for everyone. One neighbor was more generous than the next. There were guys from Georgia who left their homes and families to patrol our streets to restore power. Even as people suffered their own loss and anxiety, they reached out to others during those meetings. The selflessness was incredible.
How is your family surviving your public responsibilities?
Patiently. My rather quiet husband Richard has had to learn to gab a bit more and my boys Jack and Luke can’t really get in trouble because everyone knows their mother. It’s awesome!
An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: Farewell to the Arts Mayor, Jen Laird-White“ © 2017 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.