Mount Vernon Comptroller Maureen Walker is on a mission to gain back the city’s trust in local government, along with restoring the city’s fiscal health.
In office for 17 years, she is making her second attempt at becoming mayor of the mostly Black New York City suburb.
A native of Guyana, South America, Walker is a wife and mother of two grown children. She is also an educator at Iona College, where she teaches accounting and finance, and teaches through the Junior Achievement program at the local schools.
The daughter of a politician, she began her own political career when she moved to Mount Vernon in 1987. The city was plagued with skyrocketing taxes. At the time, she was helping seniors figure out how to pay their taxes and manage their finances. A vacancy for the position as Mount Vernon’s first deputy comptroller was her first political run and victory in 1993. In that race, she won by only 400 votes. After taking office, she started on a mission to reduce taxes.
“It was one of the most glorious days in Mount Vernon,” she said. “I’m a very strong advocate for having minimum tax increases. You cannot raise a family and you can’t have businesses come to your city unless you minimize those taxes.”
Her years in office have found her at odds with the city’s current mayoral administration. Meanwhile, the city’s budget has always been a hot issue. Since she has been in office, Walker says she has worked to make sure taxpayers’ money is spent properly.
“I try to keep checks and balances. I’m very passionate about how funds are spent,” she said.
Walker first ran for mayor in 1999 in an effort to make Mount Vernon into what she calls a “healthy city.” With a population of about 68,000 and over 96 ethnic groups, Mount Vernon is one of the few cities in the state that boasts a surplus every year.
Along with getting the city’s money right, Walker said she wants to work on Mount Vernon’s crime and drug problem, which she says would make the city more attractive to new businesses. The city also has a pressing foreclosure problem, which Walker has worked on. Walker points out that the city’s proximity to New York City and other locales is a major incentive to get companies to call Mount Vernon home.
Walker is one of the six candidates running for the seat and the only women. If elected, she will be Mount Vernon’s first elected female mayor and she’s considered the favorite to win. The other candidates running include current Mayor Clinton Young and former Mount Vernon Mayor Ernie Davis.
“I decided to run because the time is right,” she said. “Our city is lacking strong fiscal management. It’s lacking leadership that’s ethical and it’s lacking committed people to run the city.”
Many of the problems that Mount Vernon has faced are being blamed on Young. His track record of reported corruption since being in office hasn’t faired well with many voters. Some of his recent controversies include giving his own sister a City Hall job with a $95,000 salary and a no-show inspector general getting a $100,000 salary. He’s also accused of hiring unqualified people to various positions.
Walker said, “I think it’s very disrespectful to the people of the city who work hard and pay taxes. I think it’s a slap in their faces. He could have found a job for his sister elsewhere. I have family, and there is no way I’d put them in city government to work. It’s not something the people in the city are proud of.”
She added that she has received complaints from people that Young is virtually inaccessible and not returning any phone calls. She’s has even had to take on issues her office doesn’t normally deal with. As comptroller, Walker said she has an open door policy and wants to try and continue the practice if elected mayor.
Unlike her fellow elected officials, Walker refuses to take a city car and reimburses the city triple and double for any personal calls she makes on her city-issued cellular phone.
Calling herself a “public servant” rather than an elected official, Walker said that even though she has the admiration and support of her constituents, she plans to work hard to get votes.
“I have to work very hard in every single election,” she said. “I am cautiously optimistic. I knock on doors, hit the streets and put up lawn signs myself. I think the people of the city see in me somebody who is honest. Running for mayor is not about me.”
Voters in Mount Vernon will head to the polls to elect their next mayor on Sept. 15.