Independence Day!

Below is an article I was asked to write for the Cortlandt Living Magazine July 2018 edition. They wanted a short piece showing some of the important events associated with July 4th other than being Independence Day, especially local connections.

fourth-postcardFBIt is officially known as Independence Day but more commonly referred to by its date, the Fourth of July. The birth of American Independence in 1776 has been celebrated ever since becoming a federal holiday in 1870. The day has brought us together with our families and communities to celebrate the freedom and liberties we enjoy because of the events and people who enabled those freedoms. Thanks to such organizations as the Peekskill Volunteer Fire Department, we have historically celebrated with a tradition of an annual parade and fireworks display. We look back fondly of our time growing up, watching or participating in those parades and the family cookouts that followed.Fire Dept_Parade
Over time, many important tidbits of history can be associated with the July 4th date. Some with close local connections. Incredibly, three founding fathers and past presidents passed away on this date. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1826, the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and James Monroe in 1831, who was also a continental soldier in the Revolutionary War.

While the Declaration was being signed and the Continental Army being mobilized, Fort Hill in Peekskill was a key base for Washington to defend the Hudson River and develop military strategy. Eventually, West Point served that purpose, which became the focus of the Benedict Arnold conspiracy. On July 4, 1802, West Point Military Academy was founded.

New York made history by abolishing slavery on July 4, 1827 and setting the stage for what would become a great Civil War between the states. One of the pivotal battles of that war was in Gettysburg, PA. After three days of bloody fighting, on July 4, 1863, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia retreated from the battle. A number of the 700 Town of Cortlandt/Village of Peekskill area soldiers participated in that battle.

The Statue of Liberty, a symbol for freedom and independence, was deeded as a gift from France on July 4, 1884. At the statue’s dedication two years later, famous area resident and orator Chauncey Depew gave a lengthy speech celebrating the day. He clearly saw the significance of the moment and praised the cooperation of countries that made it possible. Originally known as The Bartholdi Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, the Statue of Liberty officially became a U.S. National Monument in 1924 and has been the responsibility of the national parks Service since 1933.

Above all, the symbol for Independence Day has been the stars and stripes of the American Flag. As kids, we made sure we had special devices attached to our bike’s handlebars holding an array of mini-flags and our tire spokes were threaded with red, white and blue crepe paper as we rode up and down the streets following the parade. There was also the sight of most houses displaying a flag on the 4th of July or any other appropriate holiday.  It was and still should be a simple way to show admiration and appreciation for living in such a wonderful country and it is an important way to say thank you to those men and woman who have served and continue to serve our country in the military. It is our responsibility to continue the tradition of decorating and displaying the American flag on Independence Day, for us and for our children.  Let’s make sure our way of life is not taken for granted. We should enjoy a day of celebration, yet never forget why we celebrate.

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Legislator Testa Announces $4 Million in Upgrades at George’s Island Park

News12 5_2018Legislator John Testa (Cortlandt/Peekskill/Yorktown)) was joined by his Legislative colleagues on Monday, May 21, 2018 in unanimously passing a Bond Act in the amount of $3,940,000 for major rehabilitation work at George’s Island Park in Montrose. The Legislation was an amendment to a previous Bond Act in the amount of $210,000 which was for the design phase of the George’s Island project.

Some elements of the rehab include design and construction of two playgrounds and picnic areas which will replace the existing ones. The new playgrounds will conform to current accessibility standards. Another major element of the project will be the rehabilitation of the boat launching docks which were last renovated nearly twenty years ago. The sanitary septic systems which service the comfort station buildings will be completely rebuilt. The septic system is a critical piece of the Island’s infrastructure in protecting the Hudson River. The funding will also allow for the restoration of the peninsula shoreline, drainage work, landscaping and other associated site work. The work will take approximately 1 year from beginning to end and will start once the bidding and contracts process is completed.

Following the passage of the Bonding Legislator Testa, who was a member of Westchester County’s Parks Board from 2012 to 2018, said “George’s Island park is a really wonderful part of Westchester County’s parks system and I am very happy to see this rehabilitation project coming to fruition. My family and I have made a lot of memories and had a lot of fun at George’s Island over the years- as have many Westchester families. As a Legislator and a former member of the Parks Board I feel very fortunate to be a steward of our parks which contribute so much to our quality of life here in Westchester County.”

About George’s Island Park- George’s Island Park is a 208-acre waterfront park offering magnificent views of the historic Hudson River. It contains tidal wetlands, a fresh water pond and wooded trails and provides boat access to the Hudson River as well as areas for nature study and picnicking. In winter, it is a favored spot for viewing eagles on the Hudson. A trail network links it to the Hudson River Greenway. This park has archaeological significance and sensitive natural areas, especially along the shoreline.

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Existing Boat Launch

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Existing Pavillion

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Existing Playground

 

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Testa Joins Bipartisan Announcement of Additional Funding for Indian Point Closure

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To my surprise and disappointment, when Governor Cuomo recently came out with the 2018 NYS Budget he did not include any new funding for the closing of Indian Point. The Cessation Mitigation Program is a mechanism in the budget that helps communities gradually adjust to the tremendous negative fiscal effects of a plant closing. This program is already utilized by the two other NYS plants in the process of closure, so whatever funding is presently in the program is not sufficient for the Indian Point closure. The Governor must help plan ahead to help the communities surrounding Indian Point that will be devastated economically by the plant’s closure. Combined, the Village of Buchanan, Hendrick Hudson School District, Town of Cortlandt, County of Westchester, as well as the local library and fire department will see a $32 million reduction in tax revenue.

Once I learned the proposed budget did not include new funding I immediately called for additional funds to be added to the budget, dedicating a specific line item in the Cessation Fund budget solely for the Indian Point area. We need to start gradually building up the dedicated fund now, three years in advance of the possible plant closure. It can’t be done all at once at the end of the process.

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Senator Terrence Murphy felt the same way and, along with Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, successfully added $24 million to the Cessation Mitigation Program funding in the final budget that was signed by the Governor. Just as important, the funding was included as a dedicated line item specifically earmarked for the Indian Point closure. My colleagues on the Westchester County Board of Legislators supported my efforts to include the request for this funding as part of the Annual Legislative Packet that is sent to our Westchester State Delegation who deliberate on the NYS Budget. By including the request in our packet, it demonstrated to all state representatives how important the issue was to a large portion of the state and the tremendous number of people it will affect. Not only will the taxpayers of the area be impacted, but so will the 1,200 families whose jobs are in jeopardy along with local businesses who will lose a significant portion of their customer base and revenue.

I was happy to stand in a bipartisan manner with Senator Murphy on April 11, 2018 along with Assemblywoman Galef, Buchanan Mayor Knickerbocker, Hendrick Hudson School District Superintendent Hochreiter, Cortlandt Supervisor Puglisi and other local representatives and union officials to announce the additional Cessation Mitigation Program Funding and thank those involved with making it happen. We have a long way to go in planning for a future without Indian Point but this was a positive and significant accomplishment that we can build on going forward.

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They Just Don’t Make ‘Em Like That Anymore

Appreciating and collecting items from the past was instilled in me mostly by my father. Growing up, he would always point out objects that were handed down in the family and explain what it was and how it was used. It could be a simple snuff box, porcelain baby feeder or travelling inkwell. He also was famous for bringing home interesting objects that he would pick up from various sources. It was something he started doing early in his career as a Conductor on the NY Central Railroad. His layover periods between trips allowed him to explore different towns and their thrift shops. He especially enjoyed the military surplus shops that sprang up following WWII. It was a habit he continued until his death in 1988.

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One of those interesting objects was a large ash splint woven basket. Besides his familiar “they don’t make ‘em like this anymore” reason for bringing something home he also saw practical value in them. I don’t remember exactly when the object arrived in the house but I think it was probably late 60’s or early 70’s. He could have obtained it from Peekskill Military Academy where he worked as a night watchman. The academy closed at the end of the 1968 school year so it could have possibly come as a result of that. More than likely it was used for laundry services.

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It was larger than a typical basket used for a home but it was put to good use as a storage container for various things over the years, toys especially. It was built to be strong and was obviously of good quality. It held up perfectly. My father knew it would.

In the early 1980’s my parents sold our house on Walnut Street in Peekskill and decided to move out of town. With space limited and downsizing needed, the basket ended up in my garage rafters for the next 35 years. I just couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it. Besides, they don’t make them like that anymore or if they do somewhere, they are surely very expensive. Now, all these years later, it was my turn to make space and downsize. With both of our adult children living on their own, my wife and I realized we had to begin the endless task of sorting through the piles of ‘things’ that have accumulated over the years. So, as we began sorting and organizing for the inevitable garage sale, it was time for the basket to once again see the light of day. Then I took a real close look at this object I took for granted the for last 50 years!

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J. Clinton Ballou (Courtesy of the Becket Historical Commission)

I saw the name and location of the manufacturer burned into the wood near one of the handle openings, Ballou Baskets Becket, Mass. and I decided to do some online research. It took a little work to get information but eventually an amazing history was discovered.

The Becket Historical Commission responded to my email submission to their website requesting information about our basket and the company that manufactured it. After starting as a small shop in 1888 the Ballou Basket Company grew to a larger factory producing quality products sold throughout the country. It was also a significant employer for the Becket area. Then it all came to an abrupt end.

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The Ballou Basket Shop, one of the buildings washed away the 1927 flood. (Courtesy of the Becket Historical Commission)

In November 1927, a torrential rainfall caused the local reservoir to give way and flood the area. Within minutes, the basket factory was washed away, along with the homes of the Ballou brothers Willis and J. Clinton. Many other homes were destroyed or badly damaged as well. The post office was gone, area stores were gone too. Although the family did their best to attempt a come-back for the company, the stock market crash of 1929 and the depression that followed made it virtually impossible. Ballou baskets finally came to an end when another family tragedy occurred and J. Clinton Ballou was killed by a locomotive in the early 1940’s.

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J.C. Ballou standing in the doorway of his shop with a few of his employees. (Courtesy of the Becket Historical Commission)

We discovered that samples of the Ballou Basket Company are not easy to find. Even in Becket, there are very few samples to show in their museum. Many families will temporarily loan their treasured possessions whenever the town looks to honor their basket manufacturing history.

My wife and I decided we should donate our basket to the historical commission. It was the right thing to do. However, given its size, we were not sure they would want it. To our delight, they were excited to be getting such a donation. Their permanent collection was minimal and there were no samples of baskets of the size we were offering.

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Sandra Jarvis and Joy Lennartz of the Becket, MA Historical Commission happy to take possession of their new artifact.

So, just weeks later, representatives of the Becket Historical Commission travelled to our home in Peekskill to collect the new addition to their collection. They were thrilled and appreciative of the gift. While they were here I was able to give them a private tour of our very own Lincoln Depot Museum. Then, after lunch in the area, they were off back to Becket.

There was only one stipulation I gave for the gift, that the display described the gift as coming “From John and Nancy Testa in memory Joseph L. Testa.” It was an appropriate and fitting attribution to my father to which they wholeheartedly agreed.

So, if you are ever in Becket, Massachusetts stop by the Becket Historical Commission to learn more about Becket and Ballou, and look for our basket.

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Candidate Nancy Vann Violates NYS Election Law By Failing To File Financial Disclosure Report, Continues to Violate Campaign Ethics

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County Legislator candidate Nancy Vann has failed to follow NYS Election Law by not filing her Campaign Disclosure Report that was due on October 27, 2017. There are specific requirements set forth by the NY State Board of Elections to prevent unauthorized and improper collection and expenditure of campaign contributions. The filing that was due on October 27th was the last filing to be done before election day. Why didn’t Vann follow the law? What is she hiding?

According to the NYS Board of Elections: “There are significant consequences, for both treasurer and candidates, which may include penalties for failure to comply with the requirements of the NYS Election Law related to campaign finance.”

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This breech of campaign finance law comes on the heels of Vann’s continuing violation of ethical campaign practice by falsely advertising she is an endorsed candidate of the Working Families Party and advertising on literature she is an attorney, despite her license being suspended since 2013.

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Here is an actual sample of what the Working Families ballot line will look like on Election Day. Vann’s name will not appear since she is not the candidate for the party.

“If it wasn’t so serious it would be comical,” said incumbent Legislator John Testa. “There are rules and laws in place to ensure to the general public that a candidate is acting in a transparent, ethical and honest manner during a campaign. If someone is willing to blatantly violate ethical standards and NYS law, even after being discovered, what will they do if allowed to hold office? My opponent doesn’t seem to care”, added Testa.

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TESTA CHALLENGER NANCY VANN A NO-SHOW TO TWO DEBATES, FAILS TO SIGN FAIR CAMPAIGN PLEDGE

Campaign LH HeaderThe Only Candidate to Miss Cortlandt Event on October 17th
Did Not Show Up for October 25th Yorktown Debate
Claims to be Attorney Despite Law License Being Suspended Since 2013
Failed to Sign Fair Campaign Pledge

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County Legislator John G. Testa participating in the Yorktown Chamber Debate on October 25th.

Democratic candidate for county legislator opposing incumbent County Legislator John G. Testa, Nancy Vann, has neglected to participate in two crucial debates for the election. First, she failed to show up for the Town of Cortlandt Candidate Forum on October 17th and then she was a no-show for the Town of Yorktown Candidate Debate hosted by the Yorktown Chamber of Commerce on October 25th. When given the opportunity to commit to and sign a fair campaign pledge she refused that as well.

Speculation for the avoidance of public appearances stems from recent discovery of her law license being suspended since 2013. She was also thrown off the Working Families Party ballot line after it was discovered the petitions she submitted had a majority of invalid signatures. Despite these revelations, Vann continues to improperly claim she is endorsed by the Working Families Party and claim to be an acting attorney. By doing so Vann clearly is violating standard ethical campaign practice and in the case of claiming to be an attorney, possibly breaking the law. Her actions may explain her refusal to pledge to conducting a fair and ethical campaign.

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“Many lawyers from both sides of the political aisle contacted me during the summer upset to see Vann indicating she is an attorney on all her campaign literature since she has been prohibited from practicing for the last 4 years,” said Testa. “They were outraged that their profession was being mocked and tainted in that way. It is a clear violation of The Rules of Professional Conduct and all lawyers are well aware of it. Some indicated to me it was even illegal to proclaim to be an attorney with a suspended license and that the reason for the suspension does not matter,” added Testa.

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Given that these two very serious violations were bound to surface in a public debate, Vann has avoided the issues by not appearing before the public. Vann has also offered no concrete platform or reason for running against a very accomplished and experienced incumbent. Her only record is that of an anti-establishment activist.

“Nancy Vann has no idea what it takes to work in a bipartisan way to solve problems and work through issues, said Testa. “She seems to be against a lot of things but I haven’t been able to see anything she is actually in support of. That is not someone who could sit down and rationally work through issues and successfully work with others to solve problems. Protesting and holding signs seems to be her strong suit, she should stick with that,” said Testa.

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County Legislator Testa signing the Fair Campaign Pledge.

The two public forums that Vann avoided were the last of the campaign season. With less than two weeks left until election day, avoiding the debates was a missed opportunity to speak directly to the voters. “I always enjoy the discussion of issues and setting the record straight during the debates,” said Testa. “The citizens look forward to the exchange between candidates and hearing what they stand for; it is a slap in their face to simply not show up. I appreciate those who organize the debates and thank those in Cortlandt and Yorktown for the opportunity,” Testa said.

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John G. Testa is a four-term incumbent of the Westchester County Board of Legislators and has served the last two terms as Minority Leader of the Board. He is a retired high school Technology and Social Studies teacher of 33 years and served 14 years as a member of the Westchester Community College Board of Trustees. Testa is also a former City of Peekskill Councilman and three term Mayor of the city. For more information visit: johngtesta.com and facebook.com/johngtesta.
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Legislator John Testa Announces Three Major Infrastructure Projects for His Northern Westchester District

Major rehabilitation to Albany Post Road, George’s Island Park and Washington Street.

Follows Completed Projects to Rehabilitate Main Street (Rt. 6), Crompond Road/Division Street (Rt. 202) and Upgrades in Blue Mountain Reservation and George’s Island Park

In a continuation of his focus on Westchester County owned infrastructure in the northern portion of the county, Legislator John G. Testa announces three major projects to be completed over the next year.

The three new projects detailed below come following a multi-year focus by County Legislator Testa to finally address the long-neglected county infrastructure in the northern part of Westchester County. So far, the entire portions of County owned roads of Main St. (Rt. 6) and Crompond Road (202), North and South Division Streets in Peekskill (a total of approximately 4.5 miles), have been completed. These projects were not simple resurfacing but a complete rehabilitation of the entire roadway with milling, resurfacing, replacement or adjustment of utility castings, concrete curb replacement, installation of handicap ramps, new traffic loops, and new pavement markings.

The County Parks have also been a focus for Testa. Major improvements have been made in both Blue Mountain Reserve and George’s Island Park, both county owned. In 2014, $5.4 million of funding was allocated to provide for much needed infrastructure improvements at George’s Island Park and Blue Mountain Reservation, including road resurfacing, new guiderails, and new culverts and swales to reduce stormwater runoff in keeping with Westchester County’s Best Management Practices for stormwater management. George’s Island also had the boat launching area and docks rehabilitated along with the picnic areas, playground, sanitary sewers and landscaping.

“I have made it a priority to fight for the funding and approval for these long overdue projects,” said Testa. “Northern Westchester communities had not been getting their fair share of county infrastructure improvements and it was time to get the attention we deserve. It is not just about fairness but is a serious public safety and quality of life issue. The projects completed so far and the ones to start soon are a huge step towards catching up but there is more to be done. I will continue to advocate for these improvements and work closely with my colleagues, as we have done previously, to make them happen,” Testa added.

George’s Island Infrastructure (RGE04)

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Major water and electric upgrades are planned in 2018 at George’s Island Park. Along with being one of the few boat launching sites available for the public, the park contains two large picnic areas, pavilions and bathrooms. Many families and organizations utilize these facilities for gatherings and events. The supporting electric and water service are original to the park and are in poor condition and inadequate. A full replacement and upgrade will be done. A bond Act of $225,000 was unanimously approved to fund this project.

Old Albany Post Road Over Sprout Brook in Cortlandt (RB03P)

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The existing jack arch bridge that supports the Old Albany Post Road as it crosses over Sprout Brook in Cortlandt is in need of replacement. Originally constructed in 1929, the structure will be removed and replaced with a new precast concrete pile-supported bridge, waterproof membrane, asphalt wearing surface and steel bridge rail. The bridge has 9,200 vehicles a day travelling over it. The total cost of the project is $7.2 million with $4.9 million being provided by  NY State through the ‘Bridge NY’ Program. The project will require approximately 18 months to be completed.

Washington Street Rehabilitation (RB134)

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Approximately 1.23 miles of Washington Street from Welcher Avenue to South Street will be rehabilitated, including milling, resurfacing, stone curbing, ADA sidewalk ramp installation, traffic loops, new pavement markings and related work and repairs. With approximately 7,600 vehicles a day traversing this roadway, this work is long overdue. Engineering and design for the project is nearing completion with construction bonding to follow in 2018.

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