The blood sport that defines Yonkers politics is guaranteed not to disappoint. All within and without our border who know of the City of Hills, will chuckle with derision or thrust their hands as if expecting a helping hand from above. Until that day comes to be, let us examine the protagonists that profess to have a handle on acceding to the second most powerful elected position in Yonkers. We speak of the office of Yonkers City Council President.
Before we begin, would it be too much to assert that each declared and yet to be declared candidate is in their own right a “nice” guy. May we then infer that voting “nice” guys / gals into office in the past has been an abysmal failure in reclaiming our almost forgotten moniker, that of the City of Gracious Living. Are we still in agreement? Good! The next steps will likely whet your political appetite.
Chuck Lesnick, incumbent Yonkers City Council President has completed 3 years and almost 3 months in office. He is expected to seek a second term. He will seek the endorsement of the Yonkers City Democratic Committee in its upcoming late March / early April Convention, fending any challengers to avoid a primary. Yet Dennis Robertson, the former Yonkers City Councilmember who represented the 3rd District believes he has the ability to win the convention. Were that the case, Lesnick would not be deterred to maintain his effort into the primary, expecting to dissipate Robertson’s political energy for lack of funding. Robertson counters that his ability to win the convention will catapult him to being noticed as a viable challenger, thereby garnering an infusion of funding that he believes will carry him to the primary and beyond.
Both men have much to prove. Lesnick was brought into office by former Yonkers City Council President Richard Martinelli’s receding interest in fighting for his political office, his personal demons, and the lack of transparency in the conduct of his office.
The demerits of Martinelli’s tenure in office are lost on Lesnick.
Forgetting his foray in government under former Yonkers Mayor Terence Zaleski, Yonkersites feigned senility, and voted one of their own into office. Martinelli proved to be a rubber stamp to present Yonkers Mayor Phil Amicone. The promise of Lesnick being a formidable, yet astute counterbalance to Mayor Amicone was tattered into shreds by Lesnick even before he acceded into office. Lesnick’s conduct of alleged duplicity would be overlooked over and over again by his likeable demeanor. No matter how much anyone would be irked by his demeanor, position, or more often lack thereof, all Yonkersites wanted him to prove them wrong. Yonkers wanted him to succeed. More than three years on, Yonkers is tiring of the game. In those ensuing years, Lesnick became known to Yonkers Tribune readers as “Lesnick the Liar.” He would too often back track on his professed positions; angering everyone in the process. His legacy of being allover the map committing too little one could bank on is his Achille’s Heal; he is vulnerable, but has an unknown edge.
Robertson must explain his rubber stamp conduct in unison without question with Mayor Amicone when he was a Yonkers City Councilmember; his past alliance and political direction from former Mayor John Spencer; and his past association with publisher Sam Zherka.
Yonkers City Councilmember Dee Barbato, once persuaded to retreat from her expected challenge of Lesnick, by her very exit destroyed the solid wall of proponents for extending term limits by Yonkers City Council President Chuck Lesnick-D, Yonkers Majority Leader Sandy Annabi-D, and Minority Leader Liam McLaughlin-R for succeeding themselves in office evaporated from their respective radar screens. On a tangential plane, Mayor Amicone believed his vision and legacy for Yonkers was best realized with 3 new councilmembers and 1 new Yonkers City Council President. To that end, the name of Jim Castro-Blanco, first ushered in hushed tones as far back as September 2008 would eventually be divulged to the public by Yonkers Tribune on December 10, 2008.
Jim Castro-Blanco would be first to publicly announce his intention to challenge Lesnick as a Republican. Barbato would pull out within a week’s time. Castro-Blanco is a lawyer, as are Lesnick, and Liam McLaughlin (more about him later). Castro-Blanco exudes an independence, steadfastness, and an ability to communicate. His forte is his potential in expunging the flaw in governance perceived by strategists in City Hall. To that end Castro-Blanco has espoused that his prowess to listen will empower him to lead a City Council devoid of rancor within their ranks and devoid of defiance or challenge to the mayor. Castro-Blanco’s initial rhetoric was met with support but has since waned for his lack of personal control over his own campaign, thereby decrying his ability to be anything but a “rubber stamp.” His political umbilical cord is tied to the financial prowess Mayor Amicone will share or lend to his candidacy. The astute Yonkers electorate is beginning to recognize a nebulous rather than a transparent demeanor by Castro-Blanco by the lack of attention being paid his candidacy. It is simply not visible. That very fact has permitted the public to re-examine the value of the concept defined by our founding fathers, that is, the counterbalance inherent in the separate but equal divisions endowed to the offices of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Castro-Blanco’s message is being translated by the electorate to mean that his conjectured leadership will be at the bidding of Mayor Amicone and not one of an independent, thinking individual. His assertion that his goal is to quell the rancor among the council and mayor is understood to mean that he is already a “rubber stamp” to the mayor. He has time to redefine his demeanor; but not too much time. His only hope is that few know him still.
It has also been suggested that Minority Leader Liam McLaughlin is seriously considering challenging both Lesnick and Castro-Blanco. McLaughlin is also a likeable guy. People love him, hate him, love him. His only hope to conduct a viable candidacy is to win support of the Westchester Independence Party. He has been an insider with Spencer and Amicone. He has grown more astute since his tenure in office. He must also distance his past from his intended future.
Westchester County Conservative Chairperson Gail Burns, employed by Yonkers Mayor Amicone may be pressured to support Mayor Amicone’s choice for City Council President, Castro Blanco.
The battle lines will be drawn. Lesnick or Robertson, endorsed by the Democrats, Castro Blanco endorsed by the Republicans and Conservatives, and McLaughlin endorsed by the Indendence Party, and possibly even the Conservatives if the Yonkers Firefighters who control the Yonkers City Conservative Committee back McLaughlin locally, diminishing Burns’ wiggle room on the county level.
The setup looks chao
tic but in reality the fix is in. Divergent sources reveal that Nick Spano has chosen Lesnick, even bringing Yonkers City Committee Chairman Ken Jenkins to reluctantly support Lesnick. Former Senator Nick Spano’s interest is getting a promise from Lesnick not to challenge his brother and Assemblyman Mike Spano from succeeding Mayor Amicone in office.
Amicone will cuss for public consumption but eventually submit, and Castro-Blanco may become untethered in the process.
McLaughlin may rise to the top.
Still this is Yonkers. In Yonkers, 8 months is a lifetime.
Each contender has the task of making amends for the past and launching a credible and believable candidacy with future promise. Yonkers wishes each well but with a caveat. That is, they had best be concerned about serving the public. Yonkersites have learned to see through and beyond their elected officials. We will not be fooled. The ball is equidistant to each one of them; but it is our court, and it is our ball. And, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, there are more of us than there are of you.
Play ball! This is not a game. It is our lives, our future; be careful how you tread.