Should Port Chester allow political advertisements on its government television channel?
That was the central question of a debate last week, when Rye Town Supervisor Joseph Carvin urged Port Chester's trustees to allow campaign-style, "meet the candidate" videos on a channel normally reserved for meeting broadcasts and community announcements.
Citing unofficial figures from the Board of Elections that show some 1,500 fewer voters cast ballots in this year's election, Carvin said the low voter turn-out was "horrific" and "a stain on our community."
Candidate videos can help voters familiarize themselves with political hopefuls and local issues, Carvin said. The supervisor pointed to national political and economic woes to bolster his case.
"Quite frankly, in my view America is being challenged as never before. If we don't take serious consideration in terms of how we want to run our communities...then I think the future of the U.S. is in real peril," Carvin said.
Most trustees did not agree. The problem, they said, is that opening up the local government channel to political advertising would create an additional burden on village government.
Currently, Port Chester's understaffed clerk's office is responsible for scheduling programming on the government access channel. If Port Chester allows candidate programming, the clerk's office would assume the additional burden of making sure all candidates receive equal time and access, said Mayor Dennis Pilla.
"The requests didn't come from the Town of Rye, the requests came from the candidates to air what I'm going to call one-sided advertising," Pilla said.
The mayor said he sought advice from Village Attorney Anthony Cerreto, who said it would be "inappropriate."
Trustee John Branca agreed that the videos are tantamount to campaign advertising, but suggested an alternative: Port Chester could grant specific time slots to the Town of Rye, and the town would be responsible for ensuring equal access and parity in programming.
"Whatever you want to broadcast in your time slot, that's your call, and we'll leave it at that," Branca said.
Republicans pointed out that Port Chester has agreed to air similar campaign videos in past elections, and Trustee Sam Terenzi said new programming wouldn't come at the expense of current content on the channel. Most of the time, Terenzi pointed out, the channel simply shows rolling announcements.
"If we were knocking somebody off the schedule, I could see your point," Terenzi said. "But there's plenty of open space on that channel."
The discussion had its tense moments as Carvin and Port Chester's Democrats exchanged muted criticism. At one point, Pilla held up copies of mailers Carvin had sent to constituents: One mailer, which was funded by taxpayer dollars, detailed progress on Carvin's campaign promises to voters. Another mailer was paid for by Carvin's campaign, but featured the town's "Spirit of 1660 logo," making it appear as if the letter was an official town government communication.
Daniel Brakewood, also a Democrat, said Port Chester should continue to make a distinction between campaign advertising and non-political communications to constituents.
"In the Town of Rye, it appears that distinction has been blurred," Brakewood said.
Carvin accused Pilla and Brakewood of political grandstanding, at one point saying he could go line-by-line through Port Chester's budget to criticize the village's elected leaders.
But he ended his remarks by saying he simply wants Port Chester's leaders to consider his requests and apply the same rules to candidates of every party, in every election.
"Come up with a policy that's coherent and logical," Carvin said, "and we'll respect that policy."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post did not make a distinction between a pair of mailers sent to voters by Carvin. One mailer was paid for by Carvin's campaign. The other was financed with town money, but included references to Carvin's campaign promises. The text has been changed to reflect the distinction.
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