NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – When New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson wrote a lengthy, thoughtful essay about group homes in the city, he had no idea what type of backlash to expect from the public.
Several days after publishing the piece on his personal website , Bramson is happy to report the public has responded in droves. Most people expressed overwhelming support for the mayor’s stance that a proposed group home could be a potential boon to a disenfranchised group in New Rochelle.
In his essay, Bramson juxtaposed his feeling of benevolence and gratefulness after a recent visit to a special education class with the acrimony and discord over a proposed group home expressed by some speakers at a recent city council meeting.
Despite opposition from neighbors and certain elected officials, Bramson said he has received hundreds of e-mails, most of which expressed support for the mayor’s message.
“I’ve been astonished by the response. We’ve received more comments and e-mail on this than probably anything we’ve posted before,” he said.
“We anticipated both negative and positive backlash, but it has been overwhelmingly positive, so hopefully some goodwill can come out of this.”
The topic of group homes in New Rochelle – which is home to nearly 20 already – became a hotbed issue when Cardinal McCloskey Community Services proposed opening a home in a cul-de-sac that would house four autistic children.
Those who live nearby have argued their children play in the area, the group home would pose a safety risk and the neighborhood would be irrevocably damaged.
However, Bramson contends “group homes are intended to provide a supportive, neighborhood-based living arrangement to adults with disabilities and other challenges.”
The public outcry led to city administrators filing a formal objection with the state Office of Mental Health, a decision Bramson decried.
“Here’s where I make an admission that will get me in trouble: I disagreed with the city’s decision to file an objection and I recommended against submitting it,” he wrote.
“I simply believe that the objections are wrong. Profoundly wrong. And that the objections should not be validated by the city or its leadership.”
Bramson’s essay has drawn national attention, after it was picked up by activist group Autism Speaks, which posted a “Thank You Mr. Mayor” letter on the website.
“As a mayor, your decision to stand up for the basic rights and needs of the disability community sends a powerful message to elected officials in towns and villages everywhere,” President Liz Feld wrote.
“It sets an example for residents everywhere that we need to live with open hearts and open minds.”