By Dan Murphy
When is the right time in a person’s life to make their first run for public office, if they so desire? How long should you live in a community before you run for office? How old should you be? Should you be married, with children? And do any of these factors matter to the voters?
For Democratic City Council candidate Tim Theotokatos, the time is now. Theotokatos is seeking to become the next councilman from the Fourth District – representing east Yonkers – on Nov. 5, with Republican incumbent Councilman Dennis Shepherd running for re-election, and independent candidate Brandon Neider adding a wild card to this council race.
Theodoratos, 29, who has lived in Yonkers since 2010, brings a different set of professional and political experiences into his first attempt at elected office and his race for City Council than the typical candidate.
“I am running for Yonkers’ City Council District Four because I care deeply about my community and my neighbors,” he said. “Yonkers is a great city, but it can be better. I have a different vision for the district and for Yonkers, than some of the current members on the council.”
Theotokatos’ parents immigrated from Greece to Mt. Vernon, where he was born and raised and went to school. After graduating from Iona College, Theotokatos decided to leave the private sector and pursue his passion and a career in non-profit work.
He currently works as a senior associate in the domestic medical assistance program for AmeriCares, a nonprofit disaster relief and humanitarian aid organization that provides emergency medical and humanitarian assistance for all people in the country and around the world.
Theotokatos works with AmeriCares to distribute medications and medical supplies donated by pharmaceutical companies to free clinics and community health centers around the country.
“I took a position to focus on the need in the United States for health care for the uninsured or underinsured. Even with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, there will still be 30 million uninsured Americans,” he said. “We have the logistical capabilities, with a warehouse in Stamford, Conn., and we have get medicine to underserved patients and get them access to medical supplies.”
Theotokatos is also part of the AmeriCares team that travels to communities hit by natural disasters, and has traveled to Mississippi after tornadoes, and Moore, Okla., to coordinate and provide emergency assistance to victims, providing water and medical supplies, and vaccinations for first responders.
“AmeriCares sent a lot of teams to help after Superstorm Sandy here in New York, and in Red Cross Shelters on Long Island,” he said. “I feel blessed to be able to have a job that really helps people. It takes dedication and hard work, but we all do it because we care.
“I want to bring my background of providing support to people to the City Council. I think coming from a humanitarian background would help get things done on the council,” he continued. “Working for a non-profit teaches you the value of a dollar. I’ve also worked with many Republicans who help us do our good work for the uninsured, and I would use my experience to work with council Republicans and Democrats, and Mayor Spano, to work for the people of the Fourth District.”
Theotokatos is a ward leader in the Yonkers Democratic Party and in the Young Democrats of Westchester, and recently worked on state Sen. George Latimer’s successful Senate campaign. “My goal is to get more young people involved in our political process. I believe that my generation is open-minded and ready to make a difference,” he said.
Theotokatos’ number one issue is education.
“I would make effort to restore the funding for the Yonkers Public Schools, and most important to provide full-day pre-kindergarten funding because studies show that an early investment in a child’s early education is crucial to a student’s long-term future,” he said. “I would also work to bring back some of the teachers that have been laid off in recent years. Thirty students per classroom is too high, and while Mayor Spano has been doing a wonderful job, and Assemblymember Mayer has brought additional funds from Albany, more can be done. We need to make sure that full-day pre-k is funded and sustainable so that it isn’t cut after a few years.”
Theotokatos has the endorsement of the Yonkers Federation of Teachers.
“The Yonkers Federation of Teachers is proud to endorse Tim Theotokatos,” stated YFT President Pat Puleo. “We believe he truly understands the struggle to maintain school services during these difficult budgetary times. He will put the needs of students in the forefront of our city. He will work across the city to build a strong public school system to create the brightest future for the children of Yonkers.”
“Investing in our school system will yield long-term results,” added Theotokatos. “Having a strong public school system will make Yonkers an attractive place for middle- and working-class families that are looking to settle down.”
In addition to education, Tim said that voters he is meeting while knocking on doors in the district, have concerns about quality of life issues and taxes. “Some residents in the 4th district don’t know who their councilman is. I think that’s unacceptable. They deserve to know that they have a friend and a champion fighting for them in City Hall. Some communities feel neglected in the district.”
“People are also asking why their taxes have gone up almost 15% in the last 4 years when development projects like Empire Casino and Ridge Hill were supposed to raise revenues and relieve homeowner’s property taxes.”
Theotokatos said, if elected, he will work on the council to make sure that Democrats and Republicans work together more. “Some meetings that we all saw, including the meeting on re-districting, could have been handled a lot better,” he said. “It got a little nasty and it took the mayor to work things out. I think that I can come in with the mindset of trying to be a bridge to both parties, and work across the aisle, and get things done.”
He also said he would work to improve constituent services, follow-up and accountability, if elected.
“I’ve demonstrated ability to make an impact throughout the country and I want to bring that to the council,” said Theotokatos. “I have the drive and vision to do it, we can do some great things and change the perception and reputation. Many of our elected officials are doing a great job, like Sen. Latimer and Assemblymember Mayer, and Mayor Spano who is a great leader for our city, and I look forward to working with all of them.”
Theotokatos is also active in the Prophet Elias Church, and at St. Anthony’s Church, where he worships with his girlfriend.
He looks forward to the final weeks of the campaign and wishes both of his opponents well. “I think that running for council will be a good experience for Brandon (Neider). I think it will be a good experience for him, but I also think he should continue his education and get his degree,” said Theotokatos. “I also wish Councilman Shepherd well and look forward to a positive race based on the issues. Maybe we can win this if we light a fire under our people to work hard. And we are working hard and campaigning everywhere from Bronx River Road to Kimball Avenue. I think we are reaching different voters who haven’t been involved before, and I think the middle-class, working families in the district would like to see a change over what they have had the past four years, and eight years before that.
“This is a tough race; it is always hard to beat an incumbent,” he continued. “But we have a great chance to win, and either way we can win if we get more engagement and involvement from our councilmember moving forward.”
Three debates are scheduled for the Fourth District City Council:
The Friends of the Yonkers Public Library will sponsor a “Meet the Candidates” on Sunday, Oct. 6 at 1:15 p.m. at the Grinton I. Will Branch Library, 1500 Central Park Ave.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People local branch will hold a candidates forum Wednesday, Oct. 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Nepperhan Community Center, 342 Warburton Ave.
The Hyatt Homeowners Association will hold a candidate forum; date to be determined.