How the Democrats Lost the Council Majority

Two years ago, Democrats in Yonkers knew City Council President Chuck Lesnick would be term-limited from running for re-election in 2013, and knew they had to find a Democratic candidate who could win a citywide election for council president. Former City Councilman and mayoral candidate Dennis Robertson was the primary Democratic candidate for council President and took the lead last year in lining up Democratic support in the city.

But in April, Robertson dropped out of the race, citing his desire to spend more time with his family. That left Yonkers Democratic Party Chairwoman Symra Brandon two months to find a candidate for City Council president, and either considered, or should have considered, these eight qualified possibilities – including herself:

1 – Ivy Reeves
2 – Terry Joshi
3 – Councilman Christopher Johnson
4 – Councilman Michael Sabatino
5 – County Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins
6 – Yonkers Democratic ChairwomaN Symra Brandon (herself)
7 – Former Yonkers Democratic Chairwoman Ann Muro
8 – Assemblymember Shelley Mayer

County Board Chairman Ken Jenkins, fresh off having the Democratic nomination for county executive taken away from him, had no desire to run for council president; Assemblymember Shelley Mayer also had no interest in leaving her position in Albany to run for the seat.

Both Jenkins and Mayer could be future candidates for mayor.

Terry Joshi considered a run for council president, and may have been the preferred choice of Lesnick to replace him – but Joshi also decided not to run.

The two first-term Democrats on the City Council, Christopher Johnson and Michael Sabatino, were both deemed “not ready,” or that it wasn’t their time to run for council president.

Former Democratic Chairwoman Ann Muro would have been a good fall back option for council president, but was neither contacted or encouraged to run.

Ivy Reeves and Symra Brandon are the two remaining candidates on our list.

Reeves was a logical choice for Democrats to back for council president once the “A list” of candidates decided not to run. Knowledgeable on the issues and progressive in her views, Reeves could have been Yonkers’ first African-American council president.

But the leadership in the Democratic Party did not support, and tried to hinder, Reeves’ run, to the point of supporting an unqualified candidate – Michael Rotanelli – to be the Democratic nominee.

Many Democrats we spoke to disagreed with the decision by Brandon, Jenkins and Johnson not to support Reeves. “Why would anyone want our nominee to be Rotanelli? Couldn’t they see that he was a disaster waiting to happen, and we would lose the majority on the City Council?” said one Democrat.

“Ivy Reeves might not have been able to beat Liam McLaughlin in the general election, but she would have fared a hell of a lot better than Rotanelli, who hurt all Democrats by being on the ballot, including Tim Theotokatos in the Fourth District, and Noam Bramson for county executive,” said another prominent Democrat. “Rotanelli was an embarrassment and somebody should have done something to stop him from representing the Democratic Party.”

“The job of a party leader is to get everyone in a room and make one of the qualified candidates run for council president,” added a Democratic ward leader. “If nobody still decides not to run, then the party leader should step up and run. You can criticize Ivy Reeves and Frank Spotorno and Terry Joshi as not being good council president candidates, but in the end you need to have your own candidate to run for the highest citywide office this year if you are the party leader.”

“In a city of 70,000 Democrats, I find it hard to believe that the leadership of the Democratic Party could not find a qualified candidate to support for council president,” said a former Democratic elected official. “Their silence resulted in Rotanelli winning the primary, and that turned into a train wreck that Democrats were running away from him.”

“Our city leader needs to be out there meeting and recruiting new Democrats to join our party and run for office,” said another Democratic leader. “Our chairperson also needs to be making sure our ward and district leaders circulate petitions for our candidates and gather enthusiasm for the November election. None of this happened this year.”

In the end, Liam McLaughlin was elected council president, and with victories by incumbent Republican Councilmen John Larkin and Dennis Shepherd, Republicans will now hold a 4-3 majority on the council for the next two years.

Yonkers Democrats will select their next chairperson of the city committee in 2014. Will anyone step forward to challenge Brandon, who is now co-chairperson with Ken Jenkins? 

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Astorino Re-Elected County Executive; Property Tax Relief to Continue

Rob Astorino

Rob Astorino took the biggest prize election night in Westchester County when he was re-elected Westchester County executive by a 55-45 percent margin over Noam Bramson. Westchester voters validated Astorino’s first four years as county executive, and the promises he made, to put the taxpayers first, control spending, and pass three county budgets with a 0 percent property tax increase. “I came into office four years ago because the Westchester dream was becoming unaffordable. We have worked to find a healthy balance between the government we want and the government that the taxpayers can afford,” said Astorino, who congratulated Bramson for running a good and tough race.

Bramson conceded early on election night and congratulated Astorino, while saying: “I’m more committed to public service than I have ever been.” Astorino’s victory is even more impressive considering the following obstacles he overcame to secure another four years as county executive: Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-1 margin in Westchester. Astorino won as a Republican and his message of controlling property taxes resonated with Democrats, Independents and Republicans.

Astorino won re-election without the Independence line, the first time that any Republican has won a countywide election without it in decades. Four years ago, Astorino had the Independence line and received 8 percent of the vote on that line. This year he won re-election by 10 points without it, underscoring his appeal to a cross-section of Westchester residents who voted for Astorino regardless of party. High-profile endorsements for Bramson from former President Bill Clinton, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and almost every elected Democrat in Westchester and New York State did not equate into votes for Bramson, the Democratic mayor of New Rochelle.

Astorino’s ability to win decisively as a Republican in a Democratic majority county in two consecutive elections, 2009 and 2013, makes him one of the rising Republican  stars in New York State.“Too often  in politics we focus on what divides us, but we need to focus in this country more on what unites us. And that’s what this campaign did,” he said. “The days of unrestrained taxing and spending in New York has to end. We are hemorrhaging jobs to other parts of the country. We are controlling overtaxing and overspending in Westchester and we have kept our promises.”T

he voters validated Astorino’s campaign message of contrasting his record of controlling taxes on the county level to Bramson’s record as mayor of New Rochelle, of passing budgets that exceeded the property tax cap. And the voters rejected Bramson’s campaign message of contrasting his views on federal issues like abortion and gun control with Astorino’s, and trying to label Astorino as a Tea Party Conservative. In the end, the Westchester voters who came out Tuesday were knowledgeable and did their homework.

They realized the county executive has little impact on abortion and gun control, and were most concerned about property taxes, and like the recent Marist poll, want their next county executive to focus on property ax relief. For the next four years, the majority of Westchester voters who believe that Westchester is headed in the right direction and who voted for Rob Astorino can look forward to a county executive who has imposed his own tax cap – of 0 percent.