YONKERS, NY— January 11, 2020 —The year 2019 is now in the Yonkers history books. As I look forward to 2020, I believe 2019 deserves a brief review. In order to provide 2019 with the proper context, one must to travel back in time to October 19, 2018. On that Friday, Majority Leader Sabatino and Minority Leader Mike Breen sent out a joint press release announcing proposed legislation, which would change term limits in the City of Yonkers from two terms to three terms. The public was given a chance to comment. In fact, I appeared and spoke in favor of the legislation. I still feel that eight years is not enough time for a municipal chief executive to put forth and execute bold improvement plans. The legislation passed with a supermajority, providing a veto proof bill.
During the next 30 days, volunteers under the leadership of former Yonkers City Council President Chuck Lesnick attempted to force a referendum by petition. The news reports read more like political satire, than political strategy. One can only wonder if the referendum effort was in earnest, or meant to thwart all valid attempts to introduce a referendum. There is still an opportunity for a referendum in 2020, if someone is willing to pick up the gauntlet.
2019 became a year of political change. Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins made history as the first woman majority leader for the New York State Senate. New York experienced an unprecedented number of new and progressive legislation. While its purpose was to promote social justice, it makes all New Yorkers less safe. Two of the most egregious are “No Cash Bail” and the “Green Light Law”. When you combine these atrocities with County Executive George Latimer’s “Immigrant Protection Act” from 2018, we have a recipe for disaster.
Feliciano Perez-Bautista was arrested by Yonkers Police on manslaughter and gang assault charges. Although ICE had issued detainer, Perez-Bautista, a twice deported gang member was released into the public. George Latimer prefers making a political statement, then honoring an ICE detainer. Rony Ramirez another twice deported illegal immigrant was also released into the public. Mr. Ramirez was facing a rape charge. He eventually pled guilty to a lesser charge. These are just two examples from 2019 of risky outcomes from Latimer’s Law. The new laws adopted by New York State will increase the number of dangerous felons on the street and increase the risk to Westchester residents.
NYS primary dates were changed to June 25, which meant a longer political season. Republicans put up Mario De Giorgio for Yonkers’ top spot. Democrats kept their top politician Mike Spano. The first, third and fifth council seats were also on the ballot, along with the County legislative districts, 14, 15, 16 and 17. Oddly, after voting in favor of extending term limits, Majority Leader Michael Sabatino opted not to seek re-election. Of the open council seats, there was only one race. Shanae Williams faced a minor challenge in Yonkers City Council District 1, from Terrence Miller of the Working Families Party. She handily won being the superior, experienced candidate.
For the county legislative races there was only one challenge representing Yonkers, a rematch from two years ago, Gordon Burrows and Ruth Walter. Mr. Burrows is described as a centrist Republican with 24 years of public service. Ms. Walter is a local business owner with a decidedly progressive skew. The race was very close, which turned on a mere 70 votes. In the end, Ms. Walter had managed a victory. I had seen Ruth many mornings at the Crestwood Train Station. I hope she will work as hard for the taxpayers, as she did on her campaign. She has earned the chance to work for the residents of County District 15, free of initial criticism. I hope this legislative year is initiated with the taxpayer in mind.
Many of us will miss Mr. Burrows. I am thankful for his years of service to the Yonkers taxpayer. He promoted common sense solutions and was an independent voice for Council District 15. He was an advocate for all of us, regardless of party. I am hoping that this is not the end of Mr. Burrows’ career in public service. We will always need a man like Gordon Burrows in public service.
Mike Spano won re-election with 81% of the vote. This was no surprise for most. I think the Spano Family alone is a voting majority in Yonkers. Mike has big plans and I hope he has a chance to complete them in these next four years. During the last eight years, he has provided decisive leadership and managed resurgence in Yonkers. In 2019, Yonkers was named the second safest city in America. I am looking forward to his next achievements.
There were other winners in the mayoral election, those of us who got to know Mario De Giorgio. Mr. De Giorgio worked incredibly hard. I am sure he replaced at least one pair of shoes. He is a kind, intelligent person with a good heart. I hope there is a future place for him in public service. We will all be better off.
2019 brought political surprises from people who weren’t running for office, namely John Rubbo and Michael Sabatino. In September, Mr. Rubbo, a Republican announced he was changing his party affiliation to that of a Democrat. I guess he’s trans-political. His announcement was met with suspicion on both sides of the aisle. There has been much conjecture about the reason for his new political identity and most center on the political carrot. Time will tell if Mr. Rubbo had a real epiphany of conscience, or there is a bigger reward on the horizon.
After voting to extend term limits, Mr. Sabatino announced he was not seeking re-election. At the time, it appeared he merely voted his conscious. After all, what did the Majority Leader have to gain if he wasn’t seeking re-election?
Before the close of the year, Yonkersites learned that Michael Sabatino would be the new Director of Constituent Services for Mayor Spano. He is moving from the legislative branch to the executive branch and cementing his pension. Isn’t the legislative branch meant to be a check on the executive branch? Maybe this is not a new conflict, considering his husband is already employed by the executive branch. Is Mr. Sabatino the only council member, or former council member with these conflicts? How many others have loved ones employed in a way that may affect their partiality? I am not asserting or implying any maleficence by any elected official. I am merely asserting that the optics are bad.
Yonkers needs two new laws on its books:
- Prior to an election, legislative candidates should disclose whether any immediate relatives are employed by the executive branch.
- Elected officials may not be employed by the City of Yonkers or any firm that engages in business activity in excess of $500,000 per annum, for a period of 24 month after their term ends.
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Ronald Matten is Executive Director of Facilities Management and Planning at City University of New York- Hunter College. He resides in the City of Yonkers.