Friday, May 23, 2014 was reportedly the last day that Superintendent Ballard’s Confidential Executive Assistant, Nancy Willen, was at her desk in the Clarkstown Highway Department following her unexpected ‘retirement’ announcement a couple of weeks ago.
Willen has frequently been described as the person who personifies the saying “Behind every successful man there is a successful woman”. Certainly Willen filled that role admirably particularly in the days following the patronage hiring of County Legislator Frank Sparaco to a $75,000 part time job in the Highway Department back in the summer of 2012 when she was one of the few individuals who made any rational attempt to explain his hiring to an incredulous public.
The Nanuet Civic Association (NCA) held two meetings shortly after Sparaco’s appointment and invited Ballard to attend both to explain the logic of his hiring decision. He declined the first invitation but sent Willen along in an attempt to explain the impossible at the second meeting held on October 04, 2012. The NCA’s president was none too pleased with Ballard’s absence – he was attending a school event with his son – or with Willen’s attempted explications. Here is a transcript of the discussion ….
Moderator: We asked about the recent appointment in the Highway Department … The Highway Superintendent was requested to appear and declined our invitation.
Willen: I’m here
Moderator: You’re here but not your boss!
Willen: No … but I’m here to represent him …
Audience Member 1: I have a question about the part-time worker for Highway – and nobody seems to want to explain exactly what the job entails and why did the Town Board approve it and seeing as taxes are going up and people are being laid off …..
Willen: Wayne Ballard is the Superintendent of Highways and I’m his assistant. We brought to the Town’s attention the need for somebody to help us. It’s Wayne and I and that’s it for the most part to take care of the storms, the work that has to be done …..
Member 1: Are you talking about paper work?
Willen: Not only that but Constituent Services. I know for myself and I know for the people who know me that I have been representing the Highway Department here at the Civic Association so I think they understand over the years the amount of work and time that I put in responding to your requests to get back to you on everything. When you have a situation like we had last year which was pinnacle with a storm .. I’ve been here since before Hurricane Floyd where we worked until all hours of the night .. monitoring the phone calls .. getting back to people .. letting them know where things are and what is the status of roads that have been washed out. All this stuff is on my shoulders and Mr. Ballard’s shoulders.
A highway department just doesn’t start at 8 o’clock and end at 4 o’clock. It can be 7 days a week depending on what the weather is. I mean we are going to be finishing up the hurricane season around October 15. What I am trying to say is that there is never a lull in the Highway Department. There is always activities between snowstorms when we had 72 inches of snow last year and then when we had two floods, a hurricane and an earthquake … thank God the earthquake didn’t have any bearing on it.
Moderator interrupting: Nancy, nobody questions the wonderful job that you do with the Highway Department but when you hire a guy whose only qualifications are running a tanning salon and a broken vending business …. Ok … plus who is politically connected …. OK?
Willen: Let me say something .. I am politically connected.
Moderator: Everybody is politically connected! You shouldn’t be answering these questions Wayne should be here!
Willen: I do want to say one thing to finish it up. There are articles in the newspaper about Mr. Sparaco and what he did and didn’t do. One of the things that he did do is he was doing the same job I was prior to coming to the Highway Department. He has been there about a month. This guy comes to me and he says to me “Nancy, what do I need to do? What can you give me today?” I give him projects and he has got it turned around and done within no time flat. And I’ve explained this to people, this kid is wearing me out. I’m 62 years old – he’s 36. He got a ton of work done in a short period of time and then the other day I’m in my office and I hear him in the back making phone calls to people that he had spoken to two weeks ago to ask them … to check to find out if the job was done. …. he called them to find out if they were happy and followed up with it … and … in one case it wasn’t done correctly and he has followed through with that …. photographs and that type of thing. This guy, yes, he does have a political background .. there is no two ways about it …
Moderator: Nancy, as I said I thank you. Thank you for defending your boss. He should be here to answer these questions .. Not You ….
That exchange was over eighteen months ago. Flash forward to last week when it was learned that Legislator Sparaco had resigned from the Republican Leadership Committee in order to avoid facing charges which included evidence that he engaged in an organized absentee ballot campaign in support of Democrat David Fried in last year’s County Executive race which was won by Republican Ed Day.
Absentee ballot distribution and collection was part of the 2013 campaign to re-elect Ballard in which Nancy Willen was apparently a key person assisting Sparaco to get his boss, Highways Superintendent Republican Wayne Ballard, re-elected last Fall on the ultra-left Democratic Working Families Party line.
In testimony before the Supreme Court, State of New York on September 19, 2013, Sparaco was questioned under oath about the activities of Highway Department personnel in gathering absentee ballots for Ballard.
Here is part of his testimony describing how the process to gather absentee ballots worked:
Frank Sparaco’s Testifies ….
A. The best way to describe this would be that there were two absentee ballot drives going on at once. One I was conducting with volunteers, and one Wayne was conducting with volunteers. Wayne did his own thing and I did my own thing, so I had certain “captains”; mine included, John Perrotta, (nominal head of the Independence Party and Sparaco best friend from third grade), Robert Sambevski (a Highway Department employee) and Brittany Fonseca, to the best of my knowledge off the top of my head, and they were designated as pickup people.
Q. And that was picking up what?
A. Absentee ballots.
Q. The ballots themselves?
A. The ballots themselves from the Board of Elections. None of those people that I just mentioned picked up any Working Families ballots except for Robert Sambevski who picked up one I believe. I handled the Working Families Party pickup myself.
Q. Were there other people, however, who picked up Working Families ballots who were employees of the Department of Highways?
A. I believe, yes.
Q. Did you at any point recruit people to switch party?
Q. When did you first recruit people to switch parties?
A. Approximately ten years ago.
Q. Did you ever recruit people to switch into the Working Families Party?
Q. Are you registered in the Working Families
Q. What is your present party at the moment?
A. I am a registered Republican.
Q. And for how long have you been enrolled as a Republican?
A. Since I first registered to vote.
Q. Why did you encourage people to switch into parties other than the one in which you are enrolled?
A. The Working Families Party is lacking leadership. They are now currently supposedly led by a registered Democrat and their screening committee is made up of registered Democrats. They have no organized committee or leadership, so therefore I felt the candidates weren’t getting a fair shake at any type of screening or any type of interview process. I felt that the system was being manipulated and the parties had been highjacked by the Democratic Party. So I started to go, during my door to door campaign and I also have been, throughout the last ten years, very, very active with voter registration drives so when I would meet people, for example, Robert White. Robert White is a union delegate in the New York City Fire Department. I would explain to him that the Working Family Party might suit him when he registered to vote because it’s a union party and they believe in his ideals. He then decided to register in the Working Families Party and become active.
Q. Would it be unfair to say that you recruited people with whom you had a good relationship to re-register or enroll in the minor parties because you felt that it would improve the minor parties?
A. I registered people into the minor parties because I did feel it would improve the minor parties. I felt that the local leadership of the Working Families Party, for example, lacked any type of organizational skills and was incapable of conducting and organizing a party. I felt that their screening and Wilson-Pakula process was flawed and that the best way to judge who gets that line should be left up to the will of the people, so I decided to leave and help organize, to get people in the Working Families to vote for the candidate of their choosing.
In the same court case Willen’s name came up through the testimony of another Highway Department employee, John Fay:
John Fay Testifies ….
Q. How did you come to be in contact with Ms. Willen on that occasion when she gave you this form?
A. I met her after work around 4:30 because I was looking for the absentee ballot applications. I was able to obtain them from her.
Q. And where was it that you met her after work that day?
A. A convenience store in Bardonia.
Q. Convenience store in Bardonia?
A. In the parking lot. So I wasn’t like driving out of the way or anything. It was, you know, within a mile-and-a-half, two miles.
Q. Okay. So you — how did it come to be that a meeting had been set up between you and Nancy Willen to meet in the parking lot of a convenience store a mile or so away from your workplace?
A. I talked to her on the phone earlier that day and she said, you know, what are you doing after work, I said nothing, I’ll, as long as it’s on my way to my home, so I’m not really driving out of the way or anything, it was right there. I had to pick up lottery tickets. It was convenient for me.
Q. Now, in light of your recollection that it was actually Nancy Willen who gave you the form, does that change your recollection as to whether it was Wayne Ballard who gave you the form?
A. Yes. That changes my recollection because Nancy Willen was the actual person who gave me the application forms.
And here is Willen’s own description of her role in managing the absentee ballot process so that her Republican boss would be the ‘write-in’ candidate winner of the ultra-left Democratic WF party.
Nancy Willen Testifies ….
Q. In the course of 2013 did you assist in the collection of absentee ballot applications?
A. I kept records of collected absentee applications.
Q. From whom did you receive the information upon which to keep those records?
A. Wayne Ballard and Frank Sparaco.
Q. Where did you keep those records?
A. In an Excel database.
Q. Was there anyone who asked you to keep track of the absentee ballot requests?
A. Wayne Ballard.
Q. And in keeping track of those absentee ballot applications, what data did you maintain, the categories or type of data please?
A. It was the person’s name on the absentee ballot application. Relevant information to the person on the absentee ballot application.
Q. Did you, this year, fill out any information on any absentee ballot application forms?
Q. Did you do that for yourself?
Q. Did you do that for other possible voters?
A. I filled out application forms, yes, I did.
Q. How many application forms were there on which you filled out information?
A. A hundred plus.
Q. How did you know what persons to fill out information on?
A. I was instructed by Mr. Ballard
Q. Okay. How did you know whose name to put in as the agent for a particular voter?
A. From Mr. Ballard.
Q. To whom did you give the absentee ballot applications that you filled out?
A. To Mr. Ballard.
Q. Was there a time when you arranged with any of those persons to deliver something to them away from the premises of the Department of Highways?
Q. Who was the person to whom you delivered something?
A. I delivered to John Fay on one occasion and the other occasion was, I believe it was Chris Zampella and George Russo I think.
Q. Where did you deliver it to Zampella and Russo?
A. I gave a package to John Fay in a parking lot in Bardonia.
Q. And Zampella and Russo?
A. In a parking lot in New City.
Nancy Willen will surely be missed by both Ballard and Sparaco. From covering their backs at Civic Association meetings to running their tracks during election season she excelled at all she was asked to do. The court ultimately ruled in favor of Ballard and he was allowed to count the absentee votes needed to win the Working Families primary.
Highway Superintendent Ballard’s ‘Confidential Secretary’ Nancy Willen is to be applauded for having successfully rendezvoused in Clarkstown parking lots carrying packages of absentee ballot documents to Highway Department employees and for coming up with work for Clarkstown’s $75,000 part-time Constituent Services “kid” who was “wearing her out” when hired after numerous snowstorms, two floods, a hurricane and an earthquake.
Though, “thank God the earthquake didn’t have any bearing on it”.
Picture Credit: Wayne Ballard and Nancy Willen by Robin Traum.