Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Pelham Opposed Plan by Lawmakers to Consolidate Westchester Towns Into "Westchester City"

In 1922, lawmakers floated a plan to consolidate a large number of Westchester communities including the three villages of the Pelhams and the Town of Pelham to create a Westchester City.  Known as the "City Plan in Westchester," the proposal faced intense opposition from prominent Pelham residents including William T. Grant (head of the famous Grant's "twenty five cent" nationwide store chain), Lockwood Barr (former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal and head of investor relations at General Motors) and others.

The article below details the opposition to the City Plan in Westchester.

"Home Builders Fear 'City' Plan In Westchester
Commuters Can See Equity Swept Away by Greater Tax Burdens if Project of Politicians Succeeds
Anti-Ward Revolt Spreads
Civic Groups Throughout County Join in Denouncing Scheme as Vicious
[This is the second of a series of articles on 'The City of Westchester' plan.  The third article will appear in The Tribune to-morrow.]

The most important aspect of the campaign that is developing against the City of Westchester project is the situation of thousands and thousands of persons who earn their living in New York, but who are trying to create homes for themselves in Westchester County.

Ordinarily the mass of these persons take little interest in the affairs of the politicians of the county.  For some of them, however, the difference between a Westchester County and a City of Westchester might be the difference between possessing an equity in their homes and not possessing one.  A sharp rise in taxes might upset the calculations of countless adventurers in the field of domestic economics.

That is a hazard, though, that has not been dwelt upon in the numerous condemnatory resolutions that have been adopted recently by civic bodies and other organizations recording themselves as opposed to a City of Westchester.  The consensus as expressed in these documents is that the plan would be destructive of all hope of intelligent application of the principle of self-rule.

Few Openly Champion Project

There is so little feeling favorable to the City of Westchester scheme that it is difficult to get any one to say a kind word for it.  Even Surrogate George L. Slater, whose prophecy, made last January, that Westchester would be a single municipality within two years has had surprisingly little to say about it.  Nevertheless, the Republican organization, headed by William L. Ward of Port Chester, is not permitting any of its members to participate in the attacks upon this plan.

There was a meeting of the Republican City Committee of Yonkers on April 17 in which there was a demonstration of the vitality of the City of Westchester project.  Ulrich Weisendanger, formerly sheriff of Westchester, introduced a resolution denouncing the city government scheme.  The Ward forces knew that the resolution was to be introduced and they were prepared for it.  The chairman of the meeting was Wade Hampton, of Yonkers, a Ward supporter.  One of the Ward men moved to table the resolution and it was tabled with the assistance of about thirty proxies, which were voted over the vociferous protests of the anti-Ward crowd, a group generally referred to as the Sutherland-Weisendanger forces.

The tabling of the resolution was declared by persons hostile to Ward to be a complete demonstration of the actual sympathy entertained by Ward for the plan to fuse the scattered towns

(Continued on page six)  [Page 1 / Page 6]

Home Builders Fear 'City' Plan In Westchester
(Continued from page one)

and villages of Westchester into a single municipality.

The resolution that was defeated by the Ward forces was as follows:

'Whereas, Statements have appeared in the public press which indicate that a movement is on foot for the creation of a so-called City of Westchester, into which shall be incorporated all the towns and cities in the southern part of the county; and

'Whereas, The establishment of such an institution would take away from the people of the City of Yonkers the right to govern themselves and to exercise control over their own local affairs; and

'Whereas, The right of local self-government is one of the oldest established principles of our democracy and necessary to the continued existence of our form of government; and

'Whereas, There has been established a county government commission which exists for the purpose of formulating a proposed new plan of county government, of which commission ex-Mayor Wallin of this city is a member; and

'Whereas although the law provides for a referendum to the people of the county on the question, it also provides that the adoption by the county of any new plan of government shall not preclude the Legislature from amending or modifying such plan; therefore be it

'Resolved, That the Republican City Committee of the City of Yonkers does hereby express its unqualified disapproval of the creation of a City of Westchester, and that it further urges the County Government Commission to adopt no plan of county government which may include the transfer to the county or county officers of any functions now exercised by the city or city officers; and be it further

'Resolved, That a copy of this resolution be forwarded to the chairman of the County Government Commission and to the members of the State Legislature representing the territory included within the limits of the City of Yonkers.'

Called Ward Patronage Scheme

Ward's opponents say he favors this scheme because in no other way can he continue to be the patronage dictator of the county, Yonkers, a city of 115,000, and Mount Vernon, a city of approximately 50,000, are growing rapidly and in both places there are vigorous revolts against Ward's exercise of power revolts, moreover, which menace the rest of the county with infection.

The first revolt was five years ago when Lee Parsons Davis, then Assistant District Attorney ran for District Attorney in the primaries, beating Francis A. Winslow, the Ward candidate.  The next revolt came in Yonkers when Ward refused to nominate for Sheriff Robert Ferguson, an under-sheriff.  This attempt to depose Ward was even more successful.  About 40 per cent of the enrolled Republican vote in the county was gained by Ferguson.  Last year the Wallin-Ward forces in Yonkers were beaten in the primaries by the Sutherland-Weisendanger 'rebels.'  Ulrich Weisendanger, running for Mayor, carried the city by 2,000 votes, but was defeated in the election by the Democrat, Walter M. Taussig.  'Knifed,' was their succinct explanation of this curious defeat in a city normally Republican.  Robert Ferguson, in the same election, was elected Comptroller.

All of this demonstrates the metal of the politicians fighting Ward, but now they have found in the city of Westchester project an issue that is unpoplular in every town and village in the county, and they are preparing to make the most of it.

It is their contention that Ward, and Ward alone, wants a City of Westchester in order to suppress the Yonkers and Mount Vernon insurrections by bringing these cities under a larger tent.  As proof that the Ward forces are not sitting idly by the Sutherland-Weisendanger forces point out that in recent months nineteen Federal state and county jobs have been created in Yonkers.  All of these places have been filled with Ward men.

Arthur W. Lawrence, of Bronxville, also classed as loyal to the Ward organization, recently lent a hand by purchasing 'The Yonkers Statesman.'  The price was said to have been $100,000.  There are scores of other incidents, all of which have a bearing on this fight to give a city government to nearly 500,000 people, who, if allowed to vote on the question would probably be overwhelmingly opposed to it.

Whatever the motives behind the actions of the politicians engaged in these skirmishes there can be no question about the sincerity of some of the organizations that have attacked the scheme.  For example, the Men's Club of Pelham, with a membership of nearly 500, is reported by the president, W. T. Grant, as being strongly opposed.  Mr. Grant is the owner of the chain of twenty-five cent stores that bear his name throughout the country.

'The executive committee of the club is against the plan to a man,' said Mr. Grant.  'Among these men are James Elliott, an advertising man; Lockwood Barr, of the General Motors publicity department; D. H. H. Brown, a minister; Walter S. Findlay jr., and James R. Gerry, an attorney.

Informal Plebiscite To Be Taken

'We are trying to figure out ways of aligning all the churches, social organizations, chambers of commerce, secret orders and other bodies of citizens in Westchester County.  For Pelham we are planning to conduct a straw vote.  A resolution for this purpose is being drafted.  Just as soon as we get one which all can approve it will be mailed out to the people of Pelham, and if other committees want to use the same ballot we'll be glad to assist them.

'I haven't heard a kind word for this proposal since it was broached.  But the people have got to get up on their hind legs about it if they want to kill this most absurd and vicious plan.'

The Board of Trustees of the Village of Ardsley adopted a resolution placing that community's feeling on record.  The village government there is an excellent example of the thing the people would lose if a City of Westchester were created.  They are getting 100 cents' worth of government for a dollar's worth of taxes, because the officials of the town serve without pay.  Their resolution is as follows:

'Resolved, That the Village of Ardsley, its board of trustees and a large majority of its resident inhabitants are unalterably opposed to any legislation having for its purpose or intent the establishment in Westchester County of a commission form of government in the place and stead of the present local self-government therein, or to any legislation looking to the consolidation of the several municipalities in the County of Westchester into one city to be known, as currently reported, as the 'City of Westchester,' believing that such legislation would be highly detrimental to the best interests and upbuilding of the several municipalities proposed to be included therein, thereby in a great measure at least depriving each municipality of the time-honored privilege of local self-government as exemplified in the Americanized ideals of unabridged home rule.'

In the northwest section of Yonkers the Moresmere Community Brotherhood, including about two hundred men in its membership, adopted a resolution protesting against the project on the ground that it would increase the cost of government and militate against democratic institutions, and that the proposed city would include large unpopulated areas.

William H. Anderson, state superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League, is a vice-president of the Central Brotherhood of Central Methodist Episcopal Church of Yonkers, which organization has joined the anti-City of Westchester forces.  Others in this organization are Frank Fowler, president; Alfred M. Reeves, chairman of the Automobile Chamber of Commerce of the United States, and James A. Jarvis, of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. The resolution the brotherhood adopted at a meeting held March 20 follows:  'We approve any proposal in good faith to make a study of governmental conditions within Westchester County, and the various subdivisions thereof, with a view to consolidation of activities, where such consolidation will save money and increase efficiency.

'However, we oppose any attempt to revive the scheme for the so-called City of Westchester, which involves setting up of a government in the entire county, or in a considerable portion thereof, containing the largest cities of the county.  In our judgment it would aggravate the situation already existing in Yonkers, where there are large unimproved areas, which impose a burden out of proportion to their ability to support their fair proportion of same on a reasonable basis of taxation.'

There are more resolutions on record, but altogether they are but a start in the campaign, for this is a fight in which there can be no neutral person in Westchester."

Source:  Home Builders Fear 'City' Plan In Westchester, New York Tribune, Apr. 25, 1922, Vol. LXXXII, No. 27,554, p. 1, col. 3.

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