Former Councilwoman McDow Owes Taxpayers $3,500

By Dan Murphy

Last year, Yonkers Rising wrote a story about former City Councilwoman Pat McDow and her illegal use of the city’s postage meter for her personal use in the last days of her elected office in December 2011, and also in early 2012 after her term expired. The Yonkers Ethics Board recently released its report, and findings on McDow’s actions, which call for McDow to pay a $3,500 fine to the city and its taxpayers.

Councilwoman McDow

The Ethics Board report shows that Inspector General Kitley Covill and the Ethics Board were reviewing McDow’s action before our story ran. The Ethics Board received correspondence from the IG in September 2012, referring the postage matter to the Ethics Board for review.

The Ethics Board met in June of this year and voted to investigate that matter fully and conduct a hearing. That hearing was held July 11, with McDow testifying under oath and without an attorney.

Following is a portion of the Ethics Board report, which details McDow’s actions and the lengths she took to conceal her actions, and her non-believable testimony.

                     

While there were some inconsistencies between Ms. McDow’s testimony and some of the documentary evidence available to the Board, most of these inconsistencies relate to the reasons Ms. McDow offered as to why she took the actions in question. Accordingly, this decision will initially discuss the documentary evidence, and undisputed facts and testimony.

The Undisputed Facts 

A. The envelopes:

(1) Those returned as undeliverable

The Sept. 7, 2012 letter from the inspector general attached copies of six hand-addressed letters that the post office had returned to the City of Yonkers as undeliverable. These letters provided the city with the initial evidence that Ms. McDow had used City Council envelopes metered with City Council postage for her private, outside business.

The board and staff examined the originals of these letters. Each envelope was hand-addressed to persons with addresses outside of Yonkers, and metered by the council’s postage meter on Dec. 30, 2011; that date was a Friday, and was the final business day of the former councilmember’s term. At the hearing, Ms. McDow conceded that the handwriting was her own.

On five of these six envelopes, Ms. McDow’s official city address, which was printed onto the envelope, had been covered over with a white label, leaving no return address. On one of the six, the City Council’s address, rather than Ms. McDow’s, had been printed onto the envelope, and was also concealed with a white, blank label.

Each envelope contained two fliers advertising Ms. McDow’s wedding planning and travel agent businesses, and her private business card. The post office’s return stickers for these six envelopes bear dates ranging from 11/28/12.

Also returned to the city as undeliverable were two envelopes containing a constituent mailing addressed to persons within Council District No.1, which had been Ms. McDow’s district. These differ from the envelopes containing the business fliers:

(I) Then-Council Member McDow’s return address appeared, with no label over it;

(II) A label had been used to cover over a bulk mailing imprint, over which appears metered postage dated Dec. 28, 2011;

(III) The constituent addressee name and address were on preprinted labels, stuck to the envelope;

(IV) The envelopes did not contain the business fliers, but rather city business, specifically, a double-sided flier with “A Message from the Majority Leader Patricia D. McDow” on one side, and a list of her “accomplishments” as councilmember on the reverse side.

The post office’s return stickers for these two envelopes both bear the date 2/27/12. No postage stamps appear on any of these envelopes returned as undeliverable.

(2) The unused, empty envelopes:

When Ms. McDow voluntarily appeared for an interview with the inspector general Feb. 27, 2012, she brought with her five boxes of empty, unaddressed envelopes, all of which had been metered with postage using the City Council meter in the amount of 44 cents. These were provided to the Ethics Board for inspection. Each box contains about 400 to 500 envelopes, totaling more than 2,000. About half the envelopes have former Council Member McDow’s official City Hall address as the return address and about half have the City Council return address. None of the envelopes have labels covering the return address. There were two unaddressed envelopes, both sealed, containing the business promotional materials.

The envelopes in four of the five boxes (about 1,500 to 2,000, or 75 to 80 percent) were metered Dec. 30, 2011, the final business day of her term. Those in the fifth box (about 500, or 15 to 20 percent of the total) were metered Jan. 1, 2012, the day after her term expired. One of the boxes also contains 44 envelopes metered Oct. 17, 2011 and 20 metered Oct. 8, 2009, about two years earlier than the others.

On Jan. 1, 2012, a Sunday, City Hall was open for the inauguration of the new mayor and three new councilmembers. No envelopes are dated Dec. 31, 2011. In all, there were at least 2,000 to 2,500 pre-posted envelopes in her home that were never addressed to constituents. When Ms. McDow returned the envelopes to the inspector general, there were no address labels for the constituents included with them. None of these unused envelopes bear a postage stamp.

B. Invoice from Pitney-Bowes:

The city received an invoice from Pitney Bowes’ Purchase Power system for three refills of the account for the City Council’s postage meter (No. 3831693) used by Ms. McDow on Dec. 27, 28 and 30 2011, of $800 each, for a total of $2,400 – enough for 5,454 envelopes at 44 cents per envelope.

C. The summaries of the interviews with the inspector general:

The Office of Inspector General prepared summaries of interviews with Ms. McDow and her former Chief of Staff Charlotte Vinson, on Feb. 27, 2012 and March 6, 2012, respectively. A recording of Ms. McDow’s interview was distributed to members of the board.

Ms. McDow’s Testimony Before Ethics Board 

At the hearing July 11, 2013, Ms. McDow was asked about the use of the postage machine, what letters she actually sent out, and related matters. Essentially, her testimony consisted of Ms. McDow stating what her intentions were, in an attempt to explain the above facts.

In summary, Ms. McDow testified as follows: She prepared the envelopes intending to use them to send out a message to her constituents summarizing her accomplishments while on the City Council. She ran approximately 3,000 to 5,000 envelopes through the metering machine. She thought the city would not be charged for the envelopes if they were not used.

She testified that she was unaware the metering machine needed recharging; she believed that her Chief of Staff Charlotte Vinson took care of that for her. She denied going into the City Council offices for more envelopes metering while City Hall was open for the inaugurations on Jan. 1, 2012.

Ms. McDow testified that she did the metering herself, and the envelope stuffing herself. She was hurrying to beat a deadline in the third week of January 2012, when postage would increase, which would render the envelopes useless without additional postage.

An unidentified “mailman” told her to stop sending out envelopes because so many were being returned. She planned to send her official mailings by metered envelopes because Ms. Vinson told her it would be cheaper that way, rather than bulk mailing or using a city contractor that had been retained for doing mailings. She sent about 100 business mailings.

Ms. McDow placed stamps over the metered postage for the envelopes containing her business fliers, based on her view that the city would thereby not be charged for the postage.

Ms. McDow also answered questions about her defaulting on her $780 debt to the Yonkers Parking Authority. She testified that she thought she had paid the debt in full, and, having recently heard from a news reporter that she still owed money, about a week earlier sent the YPA a $50 check – check number IS46. The YPA reported to corporation counsel that Ms. McDow delivered by hand check number IS46 in the amount of $50 on July 12, 2013, the day after the hearing.

Conclusion 

In light of the above, the Ethics Board renders the following decision:

Pursuant to §CIA-31(C), the Ethics Board imposes on Ms. McDow a civil penalty of $3,500. An elected official should set the tone for government; a majority leader even more so. The conduct should be at the highest standard. The actions discussed above, no matter the explanation, fall far short of acceptable. The board asks the Office of the Corporation Counsel to take such steps as needed to collect the penalty.” (End of ethics report.)

The vote on the Ethics Board was 6-0.

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Third Party and Write-in Candidates for 4th District

By Dan Murphy and Ben Cohn

Can you win elective office in the City of Yonkers without running on the Democratic or Republican line? When was the last time a minor party, or Independent Party candidate won a seat on the Yonkers City Council? Former

Brandon Neider

Brandon Neider

City Clerk Joan Deierlein could not remember a candidate for mayor or council winning without the Democrat or Republican line.

Former Mayor Angelo Martinelli may have come the closest, forming a party line to run against Republican Pete Chema and Democrat Terrence Zaleski in 1991. Zaleski won, but Martinelli got 30 percent of the vote on a third party line. Many third party candidates have run for mayor in Yonkers in addition to Martinelli, in the 1970s and 1980’s, but did not win. Can any of this year’s crop of six candidates break through?

Nineteen-year-old Brandon Neider is running for City Council in the Fourth District (against Republican Dennis Shepherd and Democrat Tim Theotokatos). Neider, a graduate of Lincoln High School and a student at Westchester Community College, collected enough signatures – 600 – to form his own party, which he calls the New York State Constituents Party, to appear on the ballot for City Council.

Neider’s petitions were scrutinized and challenged, but upheld by the Board of Elections. He said he is running because he doesn’t feel that the people of the Fourth District are being well represented by either the Democrats or Republicans. “I want to be a community-oriented councilman,” he said. “I’m running on a third party to avoid the restrictions that come with running for one of the main parties…I’m running in this district because I care for it, I’ve put a lot into it even though I’m young, but before I even announced my candidacy I knew our neighborhoods, our associations, and our district.

“I can’t see why someone would come in and attempt to represent something he has little association to – if any,” he continued. “It’s like if I moved to New Rochelle and the first thing I did was run for office with zero knowledge of any thing about the city. Let’s even be realistic, when you say you want to lower taxes but increase school funding greatly and bring back or add more services, you are just creating magic money or you’re being a typical politician.”

As a recent graduate of the Yonkers Public Schools system, Neider said he wants YPS to have additional funding and perform better, but residents have to be realistic on what can be provided right now. “I want to lower taxes, but we must be realistic when we say that; I guaranteed that I will push to cut ridiculous spending when I come across it,” he said. “I don’t owe party favors on either end, and I only represent one group and that’s the citizens of this district and this city,” continued Neider. “I’m a candidate who’s really integrated with the community not the political system. That’s why I’m running for City Council, and why I believe I should be our City Council member for this district.”

Neider has received the endorsement from Local 200 United Service Employees International Union. He gained a lot of press from other media outlets over the summer, so we shied away from covering his campaign. But we congratulate Neider most for collecting enough valid signatures and forming his own party line. That is a good accomplishment for anyone at any age, and Brandon deserves his day in Yonkers Rising.

Jason Hungreder

Two candidates who are still running in November had difficulties collecting enough valid signatures. Jason Hundreger is running in November on the Working Families Party in the Sixth District (against Republican candidate John Larkin). Hundreger was the Democratic nominee but failed to submit enough valid signatures to stay on the ballot as a Democrat.

After getting knocked off the Democratic ballot, Hungreder vowed to continue his campaign paign on the Working Families Party line. Grace Borrani’s campaign for City Council president continues into November after she was knocked off the Republican line for not having enough signatures, and after losing a Conservative Party primary to Liam McLaughlin. But like Neider, Borrani collected enough signatures to form her own party, named the Every Vote Counts Party, and will be on the ballot Nov. 5.

City Council president candidate Ivy Reeves who narrowly lost the Democratic primary to Michael Rotanelli last month, announced that she will continue her campaign as a write-in candidate. In a video posted on YouTube, Reeves thanks the 2,048 Democrats who came out to vote for her for council president in September.

“Every single vote counts. If the Democrats lose the majority on the City Council, things will change and not for the better. We need to do a write-in; there is room on each ballot at the bottom to write my name in – Ivy Reeves – and fill in the vcircle to the left. Get out and vote Nov. 5. Please get out and vote Nov. 5; this isn’t over yet.” While Reeves was pressured to not run a write-in campaign and support the Democratic nominee for council president, Michael Rotanelli, Reeves told Yonkers Rising: “I feel a sense of responsibility to the 2,000 people who voted for me to continue my campaign and run as a write-in.”

Some write-in campaigns are successful; McLaughlin just won a write-in campaign in the Conservative Party primary for council president. But the number of voters increases drastically in a general election, requiring the write-in candidate to get more voters to write in their name. Delfim Heusler continued his campaign against Republican County Legislator Gordon Burrows.

Heusler, a blogger at http://www.yonkersinsider.com, is running on the Working Families Party line, with no Democrat in the race, in the15th District. Councilman Wilson Terrero is still running on the Independence Party line for re-election to represent the Second District. Terrero narrowly lost the Democratic primary for council to Corazon Pineda.

Terrero, who appeared at a Yonkers Democratic campaign office with Pineda, is still holding out hope that he can win re-election, on the Independence party line. All six candidates are considered long shots to win their races, but are exercising their right to run for office. Look for their names on the ballot –or write them in – Nov. 5.