Thursday, August 28, 2008
Dr. Cavallo Diagnoses State of Westchester Politics “Sickly”
Calls DA Janet DiFiore’s Performance One of His Greatest Disappointments
Unfortunately, the state of Westchester County politics is sickly. We are in a very precarious state since the Democratic Party in Westchester County has sought to consolidate power and create a one-party, autocratic political environment. This should cause great political alarm to those citizens who are struggling to make ends meet in these difficult economic times, particularly for the middle- and working-class families who bear the heaviest proportionate burden, as well as those who care about how effectively, and how much, of our hard-earned taxpayer money is being spent without political repercussions.
Let me explain what I mean. When the Republican and Democratic Party each share political power, there is a healthy system of ‘checks and balances’ which works to ensure that the citizens, and their hard-earned tax dollars, are adequately protected from waste and abuse by government officials.
As it stands right now, with the County Executive, District Attorney, and 13 of 17 members of the County Legislature all Democrats, the balance of power has tipped dangerously to one side of the scale, and citizens are increasingly powerless to hold elected officials fiscally accountable. This dangerous trend severely undermines true democratic government and needs to be stopped and reversed. Otherwise, Westchester County will eventually become a place where only the super rich or the very poor live. None of us want that.
Examples of the County’s egregious waste of taxpayer money abound but, as an example, Gary Kriss, who already earns a whopping $150,000 as chief advisor to Westchester County Board of Legislators Chairman Bill Ryan, was called out by the press for purchases just short of $13,000 In unnecessary high-tech computer gadgets and soft- ware, not to mention an additional $10,000 in taxpayer-reimbursed cell phone bills, and even a cigar purchase at taxpayer expense. Does this sound like a fiscally-restrained way to use taxpayer money? In an era, where people are spending $60, $70 or $80 for a single tank of gas; not to me. No wonder grassroots political movements have started to get momentum from within the Democratic Party establishment, seeking to explore whether the size of County government should be dramatically reduced or completely abolished, as it was, for example, in nearby Fairfield County, Connecticut. I do not know if this is the solution to the problem, but it certainly needs to be looked at and evaluated.
Perhaps leaders such as Westchester County Board of Legislators Chairman Bill Ryan should tread lightly in this political and economic environment before seeking to ram a 90% salary increase down the throats of a now veto-proof Democratic legislative majority which spends nearly $2 billion of our money each year. Strong and well-qualified Republican candidates, in particular, are urgently needed. The Republican Party leadership should use this opportunity to run qualified candidates who advocate for and actually implement real political and cost-saving reforms to benefit all citizens of Westchester County. Talk is cheap; the people want action and should elect those candidates who are most likely to deliver.
To be completely candid, one of my greatest disappointments as Chairman of the Independence Party here in Westchester County is District Attorney Janet DiFiore. As the voters in Westchester County will remember, in choosing to join with our Republican Party friends back in 2005, the Independence Party endorsement provided the margin of victory in her narrow vote margin over Tony Castro. It was really disconcerting to me that, after getting elected three times with Republican and Independence Party support, first as a County Court Judge, then Supreme Court Justice, and then Westchester County District Attorney, Ms. DiFiore showed her true colors in being a disloyal turncoat to the very people who worked so hard to support her, raised money for her, and got her elected, by changing her party registration to Democrat in the middle of her term of office.
As the people may also remember, our District Attorney, during the 2005 campaign, strongly blasted her opponent, and the Democratic Party, for not knowing how to fight crime here in Westchester County. Yet, just 1-1/2 years later, last summer, out of left field, she changes her registration and tells the people back in August, “…the principles of the Democratic Party are closely aligned with my views.”
The way I see it, she ran over to the Democratic Party in 2007 because she knows that her performance as District Attorney will not get her reelected if she runs on her record with Republican and Independence Party support in 2009. In case anyone was wondering, the last Democratic District Attorney to serve here in Westchester was a guy named William Platt, back in 1895, more than 100 years ago. I guess that gives some idea as to how afraid the DA was to stay a Republican! As I see it, in taking an objective look at the crime statistics so far, the DA had reason to panic, more than two years before having to stand for reelection.
Despite the fact that there are well over 3,000 full-time sworn and civilian law enforcement personnel Countywide, our present District Attorney, Janet DiFiore, has been largely ineffective in combating crime, particularly violent crime, here in Westchester County, during her time in office.
While she is certainly big on announcing new flowery initiatives to ensure positive public relations for her office, such as her “Prom and Graduation Safety Summit Aimed at Parents” and her “Mothers Against Violence Encouraging Responsibility in Community Kids”, they seemed to be concerted efforts to distract the citizens of Westchester County from her inability to oversee more “nuts and bolts” crime-fighting during her time in office.
For example, the taxpayers of Westchester County might be surprised to know that the amount of reported murders, rapes and aggravated assaults, were all up in 2007 over 2006 levels when DA DiFiore came into office. People might also be surprised to learn that Westchester County’s per capita 2007 rate of violent crime was approximately 50 percent higher than that of our suburban neighbors in Rockland, Nassau and Suffolk Counties, almost 3½ times that of Putnam County, and just slightly better than Staten Island, one of the five counties of New York City.
I think that District Attorney DiFiore has some explaining to do to her constituents. Perhaps the reason for the increase in violent crime can be explained by the amount of felony arrests, both for drug and violent felonies, which were down significantly in 2007 over 2006, as well as felony DWI arrests, which were down in 2007 almost 20 percent from the year before. Our citizens should also know that the felony arrest conviction rate here in Westchester County slipped below 80 percent, actually 79.4 percent in 2006, for the first time in recent memory, under DA DiFiore’s tenure. It is all right there, in black and white, on the Division of Criminal Justice Services website, for all to see.
Aside from violent crime going up, and the conviction rate going down, here in Westchester, the DA seems to have some critical internal communication problems in her Office as demonstrated in the Ridley, Marquez, and Florim cases. It’s not me who is saying it; it is a current ADA in her office, as well as County Court Judge Rory Bellantoni in his opinion in a case called People v Schelenbach. In that case, Judge Bellantoni granted a criminal defendant’s motion to dismiss an indictment charging multiple counts of sexual abuse and forcible touching, in the interests of justice. The motion took place after the DA’s Office had reduced an initial “D” violent felony plea offer down to the possibility of outright dismissal, over an approximately 7-1/2 month period, and then, suddenly did a complete about-face and requested an immediate trial.
Judge Bellantoni said, “For the People to withdraw an offer, cease negotiations and demand a trial as charged, after months of negotiating towards a non-criminal disposition or outright dismissal, would have a negative impact on the public’s confidence in the criminal justice system, particularly where the resolution is otherwise appropriate, but is being withdrawn because of an internal breakdown in communication within the District Attorney’s Office.” Judge Bellantoni went on to say in the Schelenbach case that there is an erosion of public trust in the DA’s Office.
It’s no wonder that morale at the DA’s Office is so low among the ADAs and support staff.
All in all, the DA’s record of personal and professional disloyalty to her supporters, questionable competence in fighting violent crime here in Westchester County, particularly compared to other suburban counties in the New York City metropolitan area, and communication breakdowns in criminal prosecutions out of that Office, should give people cause for concern when they evaluate their choice for Westchester County District Attorney next year.
During the months ahead, the Independence Party will make a concerted effort to double our current Party registration and continue to seek out highly qualified candidates who believe in the calling of public service and good government, whether in the executive, legislative, or judicial branches, candidates who will serve the people of Westchester County with dedication, enthusiasm, and the highest level of professional competence. That is my mission as a civic leader and Chairman of the Independence Party.