Thursday, March 29, 2007

$28,000 Raises? We Think Not! Westchester Taxpayers Have Had Enough.

In Our Opinion...

“It’s not a raise. In a sense we were underpaid.”

With those arrogant words, Democratic County Election Commissioner Reginald La- Fayette, who currently earns a total of $129,230, was quoted in The Journal News last week, attempting to justify a proposed $28,000 annual pay increase for himself and his Republican counterpart, Carolee Sunderland. Most taxpayers The Guardian spoke with expressed little sympathy for LaFayette’s position in light of the fact that Westchester homeowners are paying the highest property taxes in the nation.

We believe that there is something fundamentally unethical in the fact that LaFayette continues to occupy the office in the first place. There can be no denying that as Chairman of the Westchester County Democratic Committee, Mr. LaFayette’s continuance as a County Election Commissioner is a glaring conflict of interest. Clearly, one cannot reasonably be the advocate and the arbiter at the same time. That such a situation should continue unchallengedfor three years now, merely demonstrates the iron-fisted control Larry Schwartz exercises in County politics.

There have been Democratic candidates in Westchester who have definitely suffered under that circumstance, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, in the contest for the 35th District State Senate seat in 2004, most notable among them. That situation would have been bad enough if it had developed honestly and spontaneously.

However, most intelligent observers who have closely monitored elections in the County over the years, are well aware that the nomination process, and the conduct and outcome of many elections have been anything but honest and spontaneous. One need only examine the antics that surrounded three races in a row in that same 35th District to understand that there is nothing about the conduct of the Westchester County Board of Elections

under the present commissioners that recommends them for a $28,000 pay raise.

Consider, in 2000, Nick Spano was up against stiffer competition than he had previously faced, in the person of Tom Abinanti, County Legislator from the Town of Greenburgh. Abinanti, an independently-minded Democrat who has never been popular on the “Ninth Floor”, was certainly not Larry Schwartz’ choice. Nick’s campaign director, and legal ‘wunderkind’ Anthony Mangone, would forge 166 ballots in the Green Party Primary, and not only get away with it, but also would get immunity and a good position arranged by DA Jeanine Pirro for testifying against Democratic political operative Dennis Wedra, in a trial based on trumped-up charges. Did Democratic Commissioner LaFayette have one word to say about the unlawful activities of Nick Spano’s organization? Of course, not.

In 2002, when a Latino candidate named Ramos was challenged in the courts by Nick and tied up until two weeks before election, LaFayette was again unavailable. But the ultimate measure of Mr. LaFayette’s obedience to Larry Schwartz, and his corruption of the electoral process, would come two years later, in 2004, when County Legislator Andrea Stewart-Cousins opposed Big Nick. Andrea actually won that election by more than 300 votes. It would take three months to steal it from her, in what would become the longest disputed election outcome in New York State history, and Reginald LaFayette was an undeniable player, from the very beginning, in the conspiracy that ultimately involved Appellate Division Judge Robert Spolzino, DA Jeanine Pirro, Republican Nassau Supreme Court Judge Warshawsky, Joe Bruno, Anthony Mangone, the Westchester County Department of Public Safety, and a host of others invested in Nick Spano’s re-election.

We are mindful, also, of the countywide-fixed elections of 2001, in which LaFayette’s immediate boss, Larry Schwartz, together with Nick Spano, and David Hebert, Jeanine Pirro’s campaign director, conspired, and rigged, the outcome for County Executive, District Attorney and County Clerk. LaFayette was Larry’s puppet then, even as he is now. Carolee Sunderland, for her part, representing the party out of power, has been happy to go alongwith every scheme that has come down over many years.

No, there is nothing to recommend Westchester’s Election Commissioners’ receipt of a $28,000 annual increase, putting them $45,000 per year higher in salary than their counterparts in Nassau County, a jurisdiction of comparable population and complexity. More importantly, given the long history of the Office under the present occupants, The Westchester Guardian sees no justifiable reason to further burden our already overtaxed County residents by rewarding one of the more egregious components in the overall Machinery of Corruption, otherwise known as Westchester County Government, with a totally undeserved raise.

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