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Civility War Breaks Out in Heat of New Rochelle Election

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Civility War Breaks Out in Heat of New Rochelle Election

October 29, 2015 - 01:02
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NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Tensions are running high in New Rochelle as the election for New Rochelle City Council nears but things have been simmering for a while.

2013 began on a high note for New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson. The Echo Bay deal was sailing along, he had council support to move the DPW yard and with the help of Governor Cuomo managed to shove aside Ken Jenkins to seize the Democratic Party nomination for Westchester County Executive in a County where Dems have a two-to-one registration advantage. Bill Clinton came in to headline a Bramson fundraiser and pose with Bramson and his family for his annual Christmas Card. For once, after years of delay and frustration, the stars were aligned for Bramson to rise to a more exalted status in the political pecking order.

And then his dream came crashing down around him.

Even those who do not support Noam Bramson, and I am certainly one of those, had to acknowledge that it all must have been an incredibly bitter pill to swallow. It must have been extremely painful to have to return just a week later to the constricting (for him) confines of a New Rochelle City Council meeting with the realization that his political career was at a dead end and echoes of Pearl “Westchester can’t afford Noam Bramson” Quarles still ringing in his ears.

In retrospect, Bramson ought to have taken some time off. Instead he was back in his seat, chairing a City Council meeting, less than a week after the returns came in for the County Executive race where he was soundly thumped by incumbent Rob Astorino. That was a mistake — as he later admitted.

Unbeknownst to Bramson, Shari Rackman had come to a decision to oppose the Echo Bay project and join in a bipartisan coalition (2 Democrats, 2 Republicans) to vote against a procedural vote that effectively killed the deal. As Rackman cast what would be the deciding vote, the disbelief on Bramson’s face was palpable. Jared Rice asked whether Barry Fertel could vote again. Noam struggled to wrap his head around what had just happened. Opponents of Echo Bay, many of them in the room, could not contain their joy not only defeating a project most had come to realize was a bad deal for the City but defeating Noam Bramson after years of playing the Washington Generals to Bramson’s Harlem Globetrotters.

And then things got really ugly with reports that Bramson took Shari Rackman in a backroom where he loudly and angrily berated her in tones that shocked other members of Council who could hear the violent tirade through the thin walls that separated them from Bramson’s woodshed.

After the public portion of the City Council meeting, Bramson took the unprecedented step of bringing the Council back into session without public notice and called a new vote normally a parliamentary maneuver reserved for a body member on the losing side of a vote who wants to change their vote. Stragglers from the public meeting got wind of Bramson reconvening the City Council and filled the room. Rather than Noam changing his vote, it was Rackman, subjected to repeated verbal abuse from Bramson, who changed her vote, bringing Echo Bay back from the dead.

The room exploded in a cacophony of shouted threats and angry denunciations of Bramson. Council Member Lou Trangucci stormed out of the room. Council Member Albert Tarantino accused Bramson of “water boarding” Shari Rackman until she changed her vote. The anger continued to boil over with Denise Ward, a Republican Party official among the most boisterous. And then someone shut out the lights and anarchy took hold for a few moments until police responded with flashlights, got the lights back on and cleared the room. The imbroglio continued out into the parking lot when Ward’s daughter Ashely and Council Member Barry Fertel nearly came to blows. Concerned for his personal safety, Bramson was taken home under guard by the New Rochelle police.

This is the context for what has been happening over the past few days via email and social media.

Bramson later acknowledged that he should have stayed away from City Council so soon after the election and admitted that his own mother had told him he needed to publicly apologize for his behavior which, to his credit, he did at the next City Council meeting.

I have run for office twice in New Rochelle and both times Noam Bramson and other leaders among the Democratic Party including other Council Members were actively involved in working to defeat me. Bramson broke with long-standing tradition -- and his own stated policy -- to both endorse my opponents and specifically discourage anyone from voting for me. Some of the campaign rhetoric, especially various "whisper campaigns" were as nasty as they were false. I did not like it and I am sure that Shari Rackman, Jeffrey Hastie and other Bramson opponents in the past have not liked it either as their turn has come to be on the receiving end of Bramson and his political operation.

That said, the reality is, as Mr. Dooley so famously said, “politics ain't beanbag”.

This is the real farce that goes on in New Rochelle politics, that there is or ought not be partisanship and so anyone who is alleged to be uncivil is deemed to be “beyond the Pale”.

Noam Bramson is a street-fighter, a bareknuckle political brawler who plays to win. It’s the one part of his personality that I admire and which can be, for so many residents on the losing end, infuriating. I do not have a problem with him being a hyper-aggressive partisan. I do have a problem with his efforts to paint himself as someone who prefers not to be critical of others and only reluctantly criticizes his political opponents.

So much effort is made by Bramson and others on all sides to try to advance the most negative, nasty attacks and rumor-mongering while pretending to have clean hands that it becomes comical once you start to really study New Rochelle politics and get to know how things work.

With that as the setup, I present to you the latest go-round in the quadrennial Battle Royale known as the New Rochelle City Council Election. The latest sequence began with an email from Noam Bramson to his supporters ostensibly listing his reasons for supporting Barry Fertel but serving as a vehicle to advance various personal attacks against Fertel’s opponent Jeffrey Hastie. It was that email that led to a heated email from Frank Ward to Noam Bramson which, in turn, prompted Bramson to post an article on his web site associating those remarks with anyone who opposes him in the coming election.

LETTER FROM NOAM BRAMSON TO HIS SUPPORTERS, OCTOBER 25, 2015

Dear [Supporter]

It’s no secret that I support Barry Fertel for City Council.  That much is obvious from the lawn signs that have popped up everywhere and from the campaign literature that’s arrived in your mailbox.

As I speak with friends about the City Council race, however, I realize that many assume my support for Barry is based primarily on our shared party affiliation or personal relationship.  Those things do matter, of course, but my strong feelings about this campaign have a more fundamental and urgent basis.

So I am writing to explain fully why I believe Barry’s election is absolutely essential to the quality of New Rochelle’s leadership, especially at a moment when our city has a great deal to gain or lose.

This is an admittedly long note, which makes me even more grateful for your taking the time to consider my comments.

Let me begin with some context.  Having finally overcome the difficult challenges of the Great Recession, New Rochelle is now on a positive track, as illustrated by our:

  • Best bond rating in 80 years;
  • Lowest crime rate in 54 years;
  • Smallest debt in 25 years;
  • Fourth lowest city tax rate in New York State; and
  • Record-level sales of local goods and services.

Nonetheless, there is much more work to be done, especially when it comes to the health and vitality of our downtown, which has underperformed relative to its potential.  Economic development is the biggest priority for New Rochelle today, linked directly or indirectly to nearly everything else, from home values to job creation, from cultural activities to energy efficiency, from sales tax revenue to civic pride.

Thanks to the stronger national economy (and extensive planning on our part), we now have a rare window of opportunity to achieve meaningful positive change.  To take full advantage of this moment, New Rochelle has launched the most ambitious downtown development initiative in the entire Hudson Valley – a blend of retail, residential, and office investment that must meet rigorous design standards and deliver a net positive return for taxpayers.  That is only a very brief summary.  You can read the full plan here.

New Rochelle has never had a better chance to bring vitality and energy to Main Street, and I am excited by our prospects.  But we’re not there yet, and without sustained effort and focus, the moment of opportunity will be squandered.

This is when responsible political leadership can do the most good.   When the Mayor and Council share a coherent big picture view, act efficiently and decisively, speak with a clear voice, and honor agreements, then we inspire confidence in New Rochelle and attract the investment we need.

The reverse is also true.  This is when political dysfunction can do the most harm.  When the Mayor and Council are badly divided, lack vision, waste time on petty conflict, or abandon commitments lightly, then confidence in New Rochelle collapses, and investment is scared away by the perception of elevated risk.

Political dysfunction has other costs, too.  It produces paralysis or confusion for our professional staff who are forced to respond to conflicting direction, for higher levels of government that are forced to work through multiple points of contact, and for the public as a whole that rightly expects someone to be in charge.

The potential for political dysfunction is exacerbated here in New Rochelle by our system of government, in which the Mayor (and I don’t mean me personally – I mean any Mayor) has no formal authority beyond a single vote on the Council.  Think about that for a moment . . . the only elected official who represents the entire community and who is directly accountable to all residents for the City’s performance has precisely the same power as a Council Member who represents only one-sixth of New Rochelle and whose outlook may, simply by virtue of position, be more narrowly-focused.

This creates an institutional imbalance, in which citywide long-term concerns – for which the mayor is chiefly accountable – are given too little weight.  Consider the perpetual gridlock in Washington, then imagine the authority of the President of the United States being reduced to casting a single vote in the House of Representatives, and you get the idea.

Can this kind of political dysfunction be avoided in our system of government?  Fortunately, yes.  But only through collaboration between a Mayor and Council majority who work together constructively to achieve big goals.  New Rochelle needs teamwork to succeed.

(To be clear, when I speak of teamwork, I do not mean marching mindlessly in lockstep agreement; every public official should exercise independent thought and feel empowered to express honorable dissent.  What I mean is trust.  Trust in a colleague’s word, trust in a colleague’s judgment, trust in a colleague’s good faith – trust that important decisions will be made on the merits, and not out of personal or partisan considerations.)

Which brings me back to Barry and the Council election on November 3rd.  With your vote, you will determine whether New Rochelle has a functional government for the pivotal four years ahead.  It’s that important.

Barry Fertel has earned my trust, many times over – through both agreements and disagreements.  We share a similar vision for our city’s future.  We share a common commitment to professional interactions between the Council and our staff.  We share an urgent desire to seize the opportunity facing New Rochelle today.

Beyond his good judgment on major citywide priorities, especially our efforts downtown, Barry has been a diligent, responsive, and effective advocate for our district.  I have seen firsthand his follow-through on constituent and neighborhood concerns, from enhancing traffic flow, to fixing potholes, to improving park ecology.

And I greatly admire Barry’s integrity.  He has confronted difficult choices without evasion, and then explained those choices in honest terms.  Barry’s approach demonstrates genuine respect for the intelligence of the people we represent, and was vital in meeting the tough tests of the recession.

I cannot say the same for the other candidate, Jeffrey Hastie.  Although Jeffrey has a friendly demeanor, his public actions and statements do not inspire my confidence.  He has been a deeply divisive presence on the School Board, has offered a campaign platform of incoherent and contradictory pledges, and is backed by the most harshly negative activists in our city.

The core of Jeffrey’s message is that he is “Independent.”  In one sense, that’s both fine and meaningless, because every council member is independent, and no one gives orders to anyone else.  But in another sense, this is simply code for opposition.  What Jeffrey means is that he intends to function as a counter-weight on the Council, resisting the very teamwork that is most essential to the City’s needs right now.

Finally, with some misgivings, I feel compelled also to draw your attention to an aspect of Jeffrey’s conduct that troubles me even more on a personal level and which is described in this link: tinyurl.com/NRCD5hate

I know that these critical statements are uncomfortably direct – I am uncomfortable writing them – but having devoted my professional life to public service, and believing deeply that trust and integrity are essential to good government, I feel a responsibility to share this perspective with you openly, so that you can make an informed choice.  I hope you will accept my comments in this spirit – and then, of course, reach your own conclusions.

To sum up, as much as I would appreciate your vote in my own reelection, I must ask for more, because, for the reasons offered above, choosing a mayor alone is not enough.

If you have any confidence in my leadership and priorities, then please elect a Council representative who will work at my side.  (If you believe that my leadership or priorities are flawed, then you would be fully justified in electing a new Mayor.)  But please do not elect a Mayor who wants to move in one direction and a Council that wants to move in another, because that is a sure prescription for failure at precisely the moment when we need to come together.

Let me conclude by expressing my gratitude for the opportunity you have given me to serve our city.  I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a community that is so diverse and inclusive, and I hope that my own children will feel a similar sense of appreciation as they get older.  When I offer proposals at City Hall, make difficult choices on controversial topics, or wade into campaigns like this one (or even when I make my fair share of mistakes), it is always with the motivation of wanting our city to succeed, of wanting us to feel proud to live in New Rochelle.  This is more than a professional privilege for me; it’s personal.  And, aside from being a husband and father, I feel no greater responsibility than honoring your trust.

On Election Day, each of us stands as an equal – equal in our right to hold and act on our own opinions, and equal in our duty and opportunity to set a course for ourselves, our neighbors, and our community.

Please make the most of your opportunity – our opportunity – when you vote on November 3rd.

Sincerely,

Noam Bramson

EMAIL FROM FRANK WARD REPLYING TO NOAM BRAMSON CRITICISIM OF JEFFREY HASTIE OCTOBER 25, 2015

You are by far the most absolute slime ball politician of all time. As a part time ribbon cutting mayor you think that you are the be all and end all of how the city runs. As a north end resident no matter how many votes you get in this area I know for a fact that a great majority of people are fed up with you. There is a silent majority that would celebrate when you finally leave office. And you better hope Jeffrey [Hastie] and Shari [Rackman] don’t win because not only will you be in the minority but there will be a super majority for the opposition. It will be amusing with you and that other moron Jared [Rice] holding hands. I think that this will be the end of the Gnome Administration.

Frank Ward

BLOG POST BY NOAM BRAMSON REACTING TO FRANK WARD EMAIL OCTOBER 28, 2015

Meet the Opposition

OCTOBER 28, 2015

I don’t like sharing unpleasant things, but sometimes it’s necessary to make a point.

Earlier this week, I received an email from an influential figure in the local Republican Party named Frank Ward.  Mr. Ward’s spouse is the top-ranking Republican official in New Rochelle’s North End and the Vice Chair of the local GOP, so his comments are a good window into the thinking of our opposition.

Here is what Mr. Ward wrote directly to me, quoted in full:

“You are by far the most absolute slime ball politician of all time. As a part time ribbon cutting mayor you think that you are the be all and end all of how the city runs. As a north end resident no matter how many votes you get in this area I know for a fact that a great majority of people are fed up with you. There is a silent majority that would celebrate when you finally leave office. And you better hope Jeffrey [Hastie] and Shari [Rackman] don’t win because not only will you be in the minority but there will be a super majority for the opposition. It will be amusing with you and that other moron Jared [Rice] holding hands. I think that this will be the end of the Gnome Administration.”

Here’s a screenshot of the actual email.

Ordinarily, I would hit the delete button on a nasty message like this and move on.  So why I am sharing it instead?  

For two reasons:

First, to give you an unvarnished look at the viewpoints and intentions that motivate many of our opponents.  It’s a mindset that was also described here.  Only through exposure can this kind of hatred be confronted and overcome.

Second, to underline the critical importance of electing constructive partners to the City Council.  Because Mr. Ward is right about this much: the outcome of these Council elections will determine the balance, character, and civility (or incivility) of our City government for the next four years.

Please remember that candidates don’t run for office in isolation; they run as part of a team.  And when you elect someone, you empower their supporters and allies, too.

Having been in public life for a while, I’m used to personal attacks — and, fortunately, Catie and the kids have the good sense to laugh at stuff like this.  So I’m not asking for your sympathy.

I am asking you to stand up for something better.

Be sure to vote next Tuesday – not just for me, but for my running mates, as well.  And let’s together demonstrate that the “great majority of people” in New Rochelle have had enough of this hateful, divisive nonsense and want responsible, positive, uplifting leadership that aims to bring us together and move us forward.

FACEBOOK POST BY JIM MAISANO REACTING TO NOAM BRAMSON BLOG POST REACTING TO FRANK WARD EMAIL OCTOBER 28, 2015

Jim Maisano

Noam Bramson did a post on his website and Facebook page today with the sole goal of embarrassing a constituent and misleading the public. A poorly drafted and inappropriate email was sent to him, but I would expect more maturity and less political spin from the mayor of my city. I just added the following post to Bramson's Facebook page and you may wish to join me by commenting on Noam's page as well at link below.

"Frank Ward is not an 'influential figure in the local Republican Party' and you know that. I'm troubled by his email as well, but you are misleading the public by trying to make this one poorly drafted email illustrative of the entire New Rochelle GOP. As an elected official, I often receive troubling emails from people on all sides of the political spectrum, and none of them represents anything more than the views, sometimes bizarre, of just one person. I also don't post such emails on the internet or social media with the goal of embarrassing constituents. You are the mayor of our city and are supposed to be a leader that brings people together, but this post fails that test."

STATEMENT ISSUES BY COUNCIL MEMBER ALBERT TARANTINO REACTING TO NOAM BRAMSON BLOG POST REACTING TO FRANK WARD EMAIL OCTOBER 28, 2015

First, for the record, I adamantly disagree with the sentiments expressed in the private email referenced by Mayor Bramson. Second, I can reassure the citizens of New Rochelle that the views expressed therein are not those of the “LOYAL” opposition, which I am one of. 

Mayor Bramson’s brandishing of an entire group, political or otherwise, by referencing one member’s viewpoint is nothing more than an effort to use a broad brush to paint a hostile picture for political gains. Using guilt by association, criticizing an entire political party for views expressed by an official’s spouse is nothing more than guilt by association; a political shenanigan that the mayor is well versed in. Let’s not forget the last mayoral election where Bramson paid for a mailer that disclosed a personal legal issue against his opponent and Noam didn’t have the courage to take responsibility for his action, an action that was ruled unfair by the;

WESTCHESTER COUNTY FAIR CAMPAIGN PRACTICES COMMITTEE

FINDING: UNFAIR

One of the principles of the Fair Campaign Practices Committee reads: “The candidate will clearly identify by name the source of all advertisements and campaign literature published and distributed.”

Based on the fact that Mayor Bramson was quoted in an article in the Saturday November 5 edition of’ The Journal News admitting that his campaign organization was the source of the literature, the Committee ruled that the Bramson campaign organization committed an unfair practice, and canceled a hearing it had scheduled for Sunday regarding Mr. St. Paul against the Bramson campaign.

If I used the Mayor’s moral compass I would depict every registered Democrat based on Mayor Bramson’s appalling, undeserved, irrational attack on councilwoman Rackman over her position on the Echo Bay/Forest City project.

Over my tenure on the city council, I have been one of the most bipartisan representatives and there is no doubt that Mayor Bramson’s latest action is an attempt to gain partisan control of council.

In closing, I believe most residents will see right through Noam’s blue smoke and mirrors, Noam’s veiled attempt to distract the campaigns away from solving the real issues facing New Rochelle taxpayers. I actually agree with one thing stated by the mayor and that is “I am asking you to stand up for something better”.

EDITOR'S NOTE: If there are any other noteworthy postings on this we will add them.

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I would like to be counted as a ” harshly negative activists in our city”. With that said, does the following remind you of someone we all know.
-Has a grandiose sense of self-importance, exaggerating their abilities and achievements
-Has persistent fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
-Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and should only associate with people of the same status
Perhaps this should be added to a palm card.
-Has a constant need for attention, affirmation and praise
-Has a strong sense of entitlement and an expectation of special treatment
-Is exploitative of others, taking advantage of them for personal gain
-Lacks empathy for others
-Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of them
-Regularly shows arrogant behaviors and attitudes
Perhaps this should be added to a palm card.

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