PEEKSKILL, N.Y. -- Vivian McKenzie is hoping to use her business experience and love of Peekskill to achieve success as the newest member of the Common Council.
McKenzie replaces Donald Bennett, who has multiple sclerosis, and resigned due to his health.
McKenzie is a lifelong Peekskill resident who runs Kathleen's Tea Room, in downtown Peekskill.
"I have seen the city go through many changes," McKenzie said. "I wanted to have a voice in city government."
McKenzie said she had thought about running for Common Council before being approached by the Democrats. McKenzie is the first African-American woman to serve in the city.
"I hadn't thought about it," McKenzie said. "I don't see color. It's a wonderful opportunity and an honor."
Replacing Bennett, McKenzie conceded she has big shoes to fill.
"He was well liked and people had so many positive things to say about him," McKenzie.
Kathleen's Tea Room, an English style tea room has been owned by McKenzie for three years. She owned other businesses and worked in insurance, but said she always had a passion for cooking.
Kathleen's Tea Room serves soups, salads and sandwiches and has more than 60 loose teas.
"There are some really great places to eat in Peekskill and this just adds to it," she said.
McKenzie would like to see the downtown improved with less empty storefronts and more sustainable jobs for residents. While she will primarily work on economic development, she also wants to see more programs for children.
Changing the perception of Peekskill is also key.
"We need to change the image of Peekskill," McKenzie said. "People think of these perceived problems. Peekskill is a place to bring your family. I want to see young families move here. We need more storefronts."
Peekskill is not the easiest city to serve, with Common Council meetings often being tense and filled with discord. A recent altercation between two residents led to police being called, but McKenzie is unfazed.
"It shouldn't happen again," McKenzie said. "We're going to put things in place to make sure it doesn't happen again."