Is Something Improper, If Not Illegal, Occurring With The School Board Election In Clarkstown?

Wendy Adolff

Wendy Adolff

Who Is Actually Running For The School Board Seats In Clarkstown?

In an article in the Our Town newspaper published a few weeks ago, it was mistakenly reported that four candidates – Wendy Adolff, Robert Carlucci, Zizette Deutsch, and Walter Litvak would be seeking two seats for the Clarkstown Central School District School Board.

An inquiry by Rockland Voice to a member of the school board about whether Adolff and Carlucci were indeed running given they had not submitted the required paperwork for the election, confirmed that both had decided not to be candidates this year and we believed that was the end of the matter. Carlucci gave as his reasons for not running that his wife did not want him to run again; and Adolff said that she had enough of the stress that comes with being a Board member given the rancor that was directed at the School Board and its members.

imageNow in the day before the election, in e-mailboxes, on twitter accounts and through robo-calls throughout Clarkstown the following request comes asking voters not to support the candidates who have submitted the proper documentation but to “write in” the name of a candidate who has formerly stated that she does not wish to stand for re-election.

Whoever is behind this unusual campaign hired the firm owned by Joseph Gravagna, one of a former group of Ramapo and Clarkstown Republicans who populated the coterie of the ex-Republican Rockland County Chairman, Vinnie Reda, to assist in helping to have Ms. Adolff re-elected.

image Alan D. Katz – Former School Board Member 1991 – 2000 writes to Rockland Voice as follows in reference to this matter:

The history of Town politics in Clarkstown is well chronicled—corruption, fraud and patronage long ago replaced civic duty, responsibility and altruism. The trail of devastation will take years to repair.

By contrast, the process by which we elect School Board Trustees has been immune to the temptations that befell other elected officials. Say what you will about anyone who ran for a Board seat (and I have had plenty to say about many of them) the process was pure; gather enough signatures on petitions, publicly announce your candidacy, rally your supporters, spend a little money (disclosing every week the names and amounts of donors and expenditures) and may the best person win.

I have always had great respect for anyone who stands up publicly and puts forth his name for consideration. Sadly, events over the past few hours have shaken this once proud system, and if true could have unintended consequences that last far beyond the current election.

Wendy Adolff, a current Board member, chose not to run for re election, stating that the stress of the position and public rancor was a deciding factor in her decision. So it was with great surprise that many citizens received emails and robocalls —one day before the election—directing them to write in Wendy Adolff’s name for a Board seat and touting her credentials and experience.

Joseph Gravagna

Joseph Gravagna

This does not look like the work of well-meaning friends and neighbors. These emails and calls were professionally created by JA Media, a media relations firm in Suffern run by Joseph Gravagna, the tennis Coach at RCC and a well-known player in Rockland County politics. 

As of this writing, Mrs Adolff has not made any public comment as to whether she was aware of the campaign, had any prior knowledge of its creation or its accuracy. It would strain credulity to believe that she was not aware of its existence especially given the expenses of a professional robo-call campaign, so her silence is puzzling.

Without evidence to the contrary, the only logical conclusion is that one is witnessing what perhaps may be an illegal scheme by persons as yet unknown to circumvent proper election procedures.

This episode raises many troubling questions:

1) Who hired and paid for the ‘professional services’ of JA Media? How much was spent on the emails and robocalls? How did JA Media acquire the robocall and email lists? This is a campaign effort requiring substantial amounts of time and money.

2) Would Mrs. Adolff publicly state that she is NOT running for office and then allow an expensive stealth campaign to be created on her behalf by persons unknown?

3) Why was JA Media chosen?  Was this just coincidence?

One must wonder if a scheme like this is even legal under School Board Election Law?  If it is allowed to go unchecked, it will serve to undermine the last pure election we have. Why would anyone follow the rules when you can hide in the shadows, spend unlimited, secret money and never be subject to public questioning of your views, philosophy and credentials?

Independent of legality, we must not allow this wanton disregard for an open democratic process to succeed. If Mrs. Adolff does not state publicly that she had no knowledge of this scheme and will not serve under any circumstance, she must be judged unfit for office.

I know virtually nothing about the two candidates who have publicly declared for office- Walt Litvak and Zizette Deutsch. I don’t know if I agree with them on any aspect of educational philosophy or taxes. All I know is that they followed the rules and stated publicly that they wanted the job. In this case, that’s good enough for me.

[Editor’s Note:  A call for a comment to Ms Adolff from Rockland Voice was not answered. However, her husband, Chuck Adolff posted the following statement on Facebook:
First, it’s highly unlikely that a write-in candidate would ever win an election like this so you can all relax.  Wendy’s head is spinning right now trying to take this all in and her phone has been ringing non-stop since late this afternoon.  That being said …. if somehow the stars all aligned and there were that many people who actually wrote her name in, then I believe she feels she would be hard pressed not to accept if a majority of the voters wanted her … but again I do not see that happening.

Alan Katz, then posted:
So let me get this straight … she decided not to run for re-election … did not take out petitions … did not participate in any candidate events … collected no money … filled out no financial disclosure forms … did not have any public candidate debate about her record … doesn’t know anything about someone or group) spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for an email and robocall campaign with a politically connected PR firm that launched “THE NIGHT before what would undoubtedly be a low turn out election … where the two public candidates spent virtually no money because there was no contest to win … and she is so befuddled by the events that she can’t state publicly that she still is not a candidate for office … but, if by chance the secret campaign were successful, she would take the job that she publicly stated two months ago she didn’t want anymore?]

About Jeff Gillies

Jeff Gillies currently resides in Bardonia and has roots that go back four generations in Rockland County. He is a graduate of Villanova University and Albertus Magnus High School. He has lived most of his life in Rockland County and grew up in Congers.

About the Author
Jeff Gillies currently resides in Bardonia and has roots that go back four generations in Rockland County. He is a graduate of Villanova University and Albertus Magnus High School. He has lived most of his life in Rockland County and grew up in Congers.