The Hezitorial Informed By History
MOUNT VERNON, NY — July 27, 2019 — Israel Ruiz Jr. was a member of the New York State Senate from 1975 to 1989, On August 23, 1988, Ruiz was indicted for fraud and perjury. He was accused of funneling part of the money received from New York State by a non-profit organization into his own pockets, and of lying to a bank while asking for a personal loan. On November 8, 1988, he was re-elected to the State Senate. His trial began on January 19, 1989, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. On February 3, 1989, he was convicted.
Controversy arose over whether his conviction would vacate the State Senate seat automatically, or whether the seat would be vacated only after sentencing, or not at all. State law expressly states that the seat is vacated upon conviction for a felony. Previously it was assumed that the seat would be vacated automatically only in case of conviction in a State court, but would be vacated in case of conviction in a federal court only at sentencing. Complicating the issue is the fact that the crime of which Ruiz was convicted is classified under federal law as a felony, but under State law only as a misdemeanor. On February 10, 1989, Attorney General Robert Abrams ruled that Ruiz’s seat was vacant and ordered to withhold the payment of Ruiz’s State Senate salary. Abrams cited a decision of October 1988 by the New York Court of Appeals which ruled that any federal felony conviction also automatically vacates a seat in the State Legislature. Nevertheless, Ruiz hung on to his seat, but refrained from voting in the Senate, perhaps conduct that permitted him to be seated in the Senate chamber that casting a vote one way or the other may have been an additional illegality. On May 10, 1988 Ruiz was sentenced by Judge Peter K. Leisure to six months in jail.
On May 26, 1988, Temporary President of the State Senate Ralph J. Marino announced that he would file a statement with Governor Mario Cuomo that the seat formerly occupied by Ruiz was now vacant. On June 9, 1988, Governor Mario Cuomo called a special election to fill the vacancy.
Ruiz tried to run in the Democratic primary for his former seat, but was barred by the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, ruling that an expelled member may not run for the same term in office again. On August 31,1989, the Appellate Division’s decision was upheld by the Court of Appeals.
Similarly, based on the findings by the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, regarding the one-time New York State Senator Israel Ruiz Jr. then, we move the timeline to July 8, 2019, with respect to former Mount Vernon Mayor Ricard Thomas. Specifically to New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and Attorney General Letitia James’ announcing the guilty plea of then Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas for stealing campaign funds and lying about those funds on a disclosure to the State Board of Elections.
Thomas was sentenced to pay a $13,000 fine in addition to a one-year conditional discharge during which time Thomas may not seek or accept any elected or appointed public office or seek or accept any position as a public servant. A clause seemingly not taken to heart by Richard Thomas.
DiNapoli / James further wrote that, “Thomas will also resign and leave office effective September 30, 2019,” yet the basis for the September 30, 2019th date has not been rationalized and may be one of the reasons ambiguity has allowed a continuing and vigorous effort by Thomas to hold onto power for reasons yet to be divulged, if ever, other than create angst and havoc to the caretaker government of Acting Mount Vernon Mayor André Wallace and Mount Vernon City Council President Janice Duarte.
“Mayor Thomas admitted to knowingly misusing campaign donations to fund his lifestyle instead of funding his campaign,” said State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
“By using campaign funds to line his own pockets, Mayor Thomas broke the law, and violated public trust,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “New Yorkers put their faith in our public servants, and Mayor Thomas’ gross violation of that faith constitutes the utmost disloyalty to those he was sworn to serve.”
The impertinence of Acting Mayor André Wallace not bringing the issue of succession and the basis for dismissal of Richard Thomas from office reveals his abrogating the Mount Vernon City Charter which demands under Article 25 that Thomas step down from office on the basis of his admission of guilt. In fact awaiting September 30, 2019 is a travesty that must be corrected as it has creating nothing but ambiguity of conduct. Acting Mayor André Wallace must file with and await a decision from the Mount Vernon City Court. It is the only prudent and pertinent course of action since other courts appear reluctant to engage in the contentiousness presently recognized.
I have only met one such esteemed judge who presides on the Mount Vernon City Court, that is, Hon. Nichelle Johnson. I am familiar with no one else on the Mount Vernon City Court. I do however trust in their forthrightness and legal capacity. With all due respect, Acting Mayor André Wallace must recognize his not taking the issue and dismissive behavior of Richard Thomas to the Mount Vernon City Court permits the chaos fomented in Mount Vernon to continue to sap and undermine Mount Vernon’s capacity to govern issues of daily concern.
Ancillary to the continuing political drama, perhaps Acting Mayor André Wallace, too close to the maelstrom in the city, by not moving these concerns to the Mount Vernon City Court, is in fact undermining his future for embellishing his political prospects. That would be a shame. That alone undermines the city from finding its way through the present muck toward a better outcome.