The race for County Executive has begun and four candidates have announced their intention to face the electorate. Of the three Democrats we have already determined that Dagan Lacorte was caught attempting to spy on his fellow Democrat, David Fried, and subsequently saw fit to propose "ethics rules" for his fellow candidates to follow.
David Fried may have been the recipient of patronage largesse. In 2008, after enduring several accusations of political patronage and wrongdoing, Fried started a job as Sheriff Kralik’s 'Public Safety Advocate'. The $65,000-a-year position was created by Kralik, a Republican, to "go after grant money and build community relations".
Meanwhile the third Democratic candidate, Ilan Schoenberger, can't even get his own neighbors to vote for him and is the candidate of choice of those who seem to operate as a theocracy first and a democracy second. PreserveRamapo.org reported how Shoenberger, with the advantage of the Democratic, Conservative, Independence and Working Families lines running against one opponent on the Preserve Ramapo line, won the 4 election districts of New Square and lost the remaining 10 election districts by a 2 to 1 margin. Shoenberger even lost his own home election district. Presumably this candidate will be prepared to explain why at Yeshivat Avir Yakov, an all-boys school in the chasidic enclave of New Square where students spend the vast majority of their days studying religious texts and where they do not have access to the Internet or computers, the school has been allotted more than $3.3 million in government funds earmarked for Internet and other telecommunications technology.
Ed Day, the only Republican candidate in the race, has railed against political patronage pointing out that the Rockland County Office of Tourism is run by a patronage appointee who basically manages a website, yet he says nothing about the 120 patronage appointments claimed by P. T. Thomas, the Head of the CSEA to exist in the County including that of his fellow legislator, Frank Sparaco, who has a $75,000 part time patronage job working for the Highway Department in the Town of Clarkstown as a "Constituent Services Representative".
What the difference is between an 'Advocate' and a 'Representative' is yet to be clarified but from the taxpayers' perspective neither position appears to entail any 'heavy lifting' either physically or mentally.
Our County politicians are finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile their 'net' incomes from the taxpayers with their 'gross' spending habits. On Tuesday, February 19, 2013 they voted 14-1 (Bardonia's Cris Carey being the sole lone "No" vote) to try to persuade the State to allow them to borrow $96.4 million to address not their debt but their deficit.
It's getting so crazy that my annual property tax will soon be more than I paid for my home in the first place.
Having spent Rockland County into a bond rating status one level above junk, however, it is good to see that the candidates are getting down to a debate early this year on how we are to avoid bankruptcy. At the Federal Level we have had the 'New Deal' and the 'Fair Deal' - In Rockland County we are now about to experience the 'Ordeal'. The County politicians will propose every way of reducing property taxes except cutting their expenses. During this debate we should not be worried about the County Legislature letting us down - but we should wonder if it will ever let us up. That is the question each voter must ask of these four candidates - will any of them "ever let us up"?
In an article entitled 'Puppet on a String' I wrote that the political process in Rockland County and particularly in Clarkstown is broken because of minority party endorsements, cross-endorsements and back room political deals designed to prevent voters from having an untainted political choice. For example, in an article published by the Rockland Times we read that Rockland County Republican Chairman, Vinny Reda, stands accused of cross-endorsing Democratic candidates in return for favors to the GOP from the Democrats. One such favor is believed to be the appointment of the Bronx GOP Chairman, Jay Savino, to conduct the Town of Clarkstown’s tax certiorari work for a retainer fee of $87,000 since increased by 2% for 2013 to $88,740 using a flawed resolution.
Reda, who was re-elected party chairman with a non-democratic "voice vote" is accused of cross-endorsing non-Republican candidates of his choosing e.g. Democrat Alex Gromack in 2007 and 2009 and Democrat Christopher St. Lawrence in 2009. It is often remarked that politics makes strange bedfellows, but with these three sleeping peacefully in bed together it is the taxpayers who are having the nightmares.
Does Reda shut down efforts by independent Republicans to obtain their party’s endorsement and win elections? Former Republican candidate for Supervisor of Clarkstown in 2011, Ralph Sabatini, thinks so. Sabatini defeated his rival in the Republican Party primary only to discover that Reda's support was not even luke-warm in the subsequent election battle. Even worse Reda's protégé, County Legislator Frank Sparaco, who Reda supported with great enthusiasm in the latter's race against Zebrowski to become a legislator in Albany, actively undermined Sabatini's candidacy with a pro-Gromack mailing three days before the election.
Is it so strange that Sparaco now has a patronage job approved by Gromack and the Town Board?
With friends like these who needs enemies or indeed bedtime companions?
How is it that in a County with five supposedly separate political parties one sometimes finds the same name appearing on every election line? The election ballot for the Town of Clarkstown in 2007 showed that Supervisor Gromack was the choice of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the Independence Party, the Conservative Party and the Working Families Party. There is something fundamentally wrong when one candidate sleeps in five political beds and the only choice the voter has is which color of sheet they prefer him to sleep upon.
In previous articles I have referred to the Independence, Conservative and Working Families parties as "cuckoo" parties because "cuckoo" parties rarely run candidates of their own but simply grab an egg in another party's nest. The Independence Party in Clarkstown appears to endorse whatever major party candidate might be willing to provide some benefit such as a good paying patronage position while the Conservative Party, already in complete control of the Clarkstown Town Board, might attempt to extend its control to the County Executive's office by backing Shoenberger over Day.
Not much is known by the electorate about these strange 'cuckoo' parties and the shadowy power brokers who control them from the behind the scenes but reading the Westchester Magazine one will find ...
You wouldn’t think a third party would have much success winning elections. But New York is one of a handful of states that allows cross-endorsement. The Democrats and Republicans have the first two rows on the ballot. In local elections, the Conservative Party, (a 'cuckoo' party), usually endorses the Republican candidate, and the Working Families usually endorse the Democrat. The Independence Party is the wild ('cuckoo') card. The power of the Chair of the party is largely a function of the cross-endorsement system. If the Working Families and Conservative parties remain reliably partisan, and if Democratic registration keeps rising, any fickle third party with votes to deliver can expect ring-kissing and a slew of campaign donations.
The Westchester Magazine explains the Town of Clarkstown's politics in a nutshell - "fickle" third parties and "ring-kissing".
This year in Clarkstown Supervisor Gromack, Councilwoman Hausner, Councilman Hoehmann and Highways Superintendent, Wayne Ballard, are up for re-election. It is imperative that viable independent candidates step forward now and declare their intention to run for these offices before back room political deals are completed to prevent voters from having a vigorous discussion of the issues which are facing our Town.
Already we can see the developing outlines of "fickle" party behavior and "ring-kissing" going on involving the Conservative Party whose Chairman is Town employee Ed Lettre. Lettre held what has become known as the "House of Horrors" meeting to ensure his control of the Conservative Party and the endorsement that he will provide to each of the encumbent candidates. Every member of the Clarkstown Town Board along with the Town Attorney, the Highways Superintendent, and his patronage appointee were in dutiful attendance. What was going on? The ancient Romans explained it as: "Manus manum lavat" - "One hand washing the other".
When Liberal Democrats run to the whistle call of the Conservative Party's leader you know there is a problem in the political system. Liberal Democrat Councilwoman Lasker wasn't at the "House of Horrors" meeting but did admit she "listened in by telephone" because she "appreciates the Conservative party's endorsement". Lasker's ire at being identified as associating with Lettre resulted in a letter to the Editor of the Rockland County Times in which she wrote:
"Why was I so prominently featured as to be placed on the front page when I wasn’t even at the meeting?" She then offered as the excuse for her 'telephone attendance' that "there is more I can say but suffice it to say the officials who did attend the meeting had a constitutional right to meet." The editor, should be pleased that he received a very nice compliment from Lasker who thanked him for "using such a nice photo" of me in the article.
Instead of taking the pants off the taxpayers with rising taxes it might be better to take the vests off the vested interests and in my opinion those who have the most interest vested are Ed Lettre, Vinny Reda, Frank Sparaco and Jay Savino. We need candidates who are not beholden to any of these individuals and who will initiate a debate as to why Clarkstown and Rockland County is rife with out of control taxation and political patronage. Who will oppose Supervisor Gromack when he is assured the Conservative Party's endorsement through Ed Lettre, the Independence Party's endorsement by his approval of a job under Wayne Ballard for Frank Sparaco, or the Republican Party's endorsement when he provided a tax certiorari job for Jay Savino who had no prior experience in doing such work but happens to be the Head of the Bronx Republican Party?
The only remaining question is who will get the Working Families Party's endorsement as signatures are reportedly being gathered, as was done for the Independence Party line, to take over that endorsement.
Unless someone steps up soon and announces their candidacy for Supervisor, Mr. Gromack will get a free pass to continue increasing the Town's debt, increasing the Town's taxes, and handing out patronage appointments. Mr. Reda may run a 'straw candidate' against Gromack to give the process the appearance of legitimacy. Therefore, I call upon former Republican candidate, Ralph Sabatini, to step forward again and stop Clarkstown's ride with Rockland County down the road to bankruptcy. There needs to be a public and vigorous debate with Supervisor Gromack on several critical issues such as:
a) Why do we have 51 police officers whose incomes in 2012 were over $200,000? These 51 officers constitute nearly one third of the Clarkstown police force and all of them earned more than the Governor of New York State, Andrew Cuomo, who earned $171,050. Why did 42 Clarkstown Police officers, which are 25% of the Clarkstown police department including the current Police Chief, Michael Sullivan, take home more in 2012 than Raymond Kelly, the Police Commissioner of New York City who earns $205,180?
b) Why was the Bronx Republican Chairman hired to do tax certiorari work for the Town of Clarkstown, having no prior experience, in a flawed bidding process said to have been initiated by Savino calling the Town looking for work?
c) Why are the Head of the Conservative Party, a County legislator, and the Bronx GOP Chairman all on the Clarkstown payroll?
d) Why was a 1% surcharge placed on the school tax bills to save the Town from raising taxes in excess of 6.2% even though the same taxpayer pays the School and the Town taxes?
e) Why is the Town continuing to pile debt in the form of bonds to be paid by the taxpayers when the current Town Board is long gone to retirement in Florida?
f) Supervisor Gromack should be asked to explain how his comment .... "The $1.5 million raised from the school tax fee would eventually not be a burden on taxpayers because the town would end up lowering town taxes for the coming year. In other words, while the school taxes would increase, homeowners’ share of town taxes would decrease. A $1.5 million increase in revenue would allow the town to lower its tax rate by 2 percent. This is money that is coming from town residents and going back to town residents in tax relief. The surcharge does not affect the school districts' tax levy, their bottom line, their tax cap or the residents' tax rate. It’s a charge to the residents" .... might not be better explained as theft from the School's educational pocket to pad the Town's patronage pocket?
Further, I call upon former Democratic candidate, Dennis Malone, to step forward again as a candidate for Highways Superintendent and provide a vigorous debate as to why:
a) Maintenance costs in the Town garages were running amok before a Fleet manager was appointed
b) 260 applicants willing to do a part-time job for $25 per hour were rejected by Ballard in favor of a County Legislator with failed ambitions to achieve political office in Albany
c) The Town Board created a position for a person who stands accused by Democrats of having accepted money from mobsters to fund a failed Albany campaign.
Ballard made what is considered one of the most egregious patronage appointments in the sad and sorry history of Clarkstown by providing a part time job paying nearly $60 per hour to County Legislator Sparaco. Ballard may have had a metaphorical gun to his head when he made this appointment but his decision to hire Sparaco ensures that he will receive the Republican Line, thanks to Reda, the Independence line (mistakenly believed by many naive 'independent' voters to be the 'Independent' Party line) thanks to Sparaco, and the Conservative line thanks to Lettre.
Clarkstown's shadowy 'puppet masters' would probably prefer that no one runs against Ballard because he will certainly be questioned in depth about the Sparaco appointment as will Gromack, Hausner and Hoehmann who all voted to create the position that Sparaco now holds at great expense to Clarkstown's taxpayers.
This County and Town are is serious fiscal shape and it is our property taxes that will pay the bills. Look at some figures for Rockland County - Its debt is $250 million with a nearly $120 million deficit as of 12/31/12 and 1 Billion dollars (that's a B) of unfunded OPEB (Other than Pension post Employment Benefits).
This equates to $4,347 for every man, woman AND child living in Rockland County!
The Clarkstown 'already bonded' debt and 'approved to be bonded' but not yet spent is $118 million or $1,402 per individual Clarkstown resident. The unfunded OPEB debt is $157 million or $1,865 per individual.
That amounts to $3,267 for every individual residing in Clarkstown.
The total debt now owed by every MAN, WOMAN and CHILD who lives in Rockland County in the Town of Clarkstown is $4,347 + $1,402 + $1,865 = $7,614.
A family of four wanting to pay off its share of the Rockland County and the Town of Clarkstown's debt today would need to cough up $30,456. Clarkstown's residents are paying outrageous property taxes and on top of all of this a family of four owning a house in Clarkstown has a property debt of over $30,000! Property taxes and property values are under a savage assault from the County and the Town. The County steals from the Town by transferring road and college costs to the Town; the Town steals from the Schools by putting a 'surcharge' on the school bill to collect the school taxes. Both of these bodies voted to override the State Tax Cap so they could continue their spending gluttony, but the schools, which are not permitted to override the tax cap without a referendum, will, at the end of the day, have to pay the bill by firing educators and raising school taxes. The net effect is that 120 political patronage employees in the County will remain 'fat and happy', as will 170 police in the Town of Clarkstown, while those who educate our children will be laid off in budget cuts and senior citizens will be stripped of their meager increase of 1.7% in their social security income in 2013.
Taxes are now so high that it is literally impossible for me to joke that our political leaders are "cheap politicians". Mark Twain said it best: "The only difference between these politicians and taxidermists is that the latter leave you the skin". If this disgraceful tax and spend binge is permitted to continue by re-election of these encumbent bedfellows I will have my remains cremated and mailed to the County Executive and to the Supervisor of Clarkstown with a very short note which will read: "Now you have everything!" In Rockland County the definition of 'Death' is fast taking on a new meaning as the state in which 'one needs to be so that one can stop paying taxes permanently'.
Oops I forgot, there are still estate and inheritance taxes!
Michael N. Hull is a retired senior citizen who writes privately for political candidates committed to the return of democracy to the democratic process in Rockland County and particularly in the Town of Clarkstown. He was formerly a member of the Clarkstown Taxpayers Group.
Images courtesy of: SierraExpressMedia.com and GoloCalProv.com