Late last year, Clarkstown Councilwoman Shirley Lasker held a fundraiser in the expectation that a spot on the ballot under Democratic row A will be enough to carry her to re-election in November 2015. Unfortunately, that is not an unreasonable expectation given the political party demographics in the Town of Clarkstown. However, voters would be well-advised to remember that not all is as it seems when voting along party lines in Rockland County. The candidate must be viewed apart from the party letter designation next to the name.
Let’s consider the case of Democrat Councilwoman Lasker to illustrate this point.
Republican Superintendent of Highways Wayne Ballard and Democrat Lasker are strong political supporters of each other, which might seem surprising to the average voter, but not to anyone that follows Clarkstown politics. Democrat Lasker actively crossed party lines in the last election to endorse Mr. Ballard over her own party’s nominee, Dennis Malone. Mr. Ballard just so happens to employ a close relative of Ms. Lasker in the Town’s Highway Department. He hired her relative in March 2012 and provided a promotion in May 2014 despite that relative’s less than stellar track record in driving town equipment.
Perhaps these circumstances were completely inconsequential to Ms. Lasker’s endorsement of Ballard, perhaps not. Interestingly, there was no public outcry from her Democratic colleagues when Councilwoman Lasker openly offered her support in mailers to this Republican candidate and actively worked against her own party’s nominee. One would think that would have created quite the stir in the Democratic Party, but apparently it did not.
Mr. Ballard is now the subject of controversy as the result of an independent firm’s report that outlines allegations of favoritism and unfair promotional practices in the town highway department, specifically regarding the alleged preferential treatment of those who helped in his election campaigns. Ms. Lasker and her relative would obviously qualify as political allies of Mr. Ballard. Despite the fact that the independent firm’s report on the inner workings of the highway department appeared to be so disturbing that Republican Councilman George Hoehmann immediately referred it to the district attorney’s office for possible criminal investigation, Councilwoman Lasker has remained silent.
Curiously, Ms. Lasker was against hiring the outside firm proposed by Councilman Hoehmann that was used to conduct this review of the highway department, preferring to handle it internally or using another firm of her own recommendation. After the results of the report became public, Rockland County Republican Chairman Lawrence Garvey called for Mr. Ballard to step down temporarily in light of the allegations. Still, the Deputy Town Supervisor has not. There is, at the very least, the outward appearance of impropriety in the Ballard/Lasker connections that should be addressed, especially by those seeking re-election in a town where patronage jobs are one of the top issues.
Even before all this, there was another controversy involving the highway department in which Ms. Lasker and her fellow Democrats acted in a curious manner. Practically the entire town gasped in disbelief as Ballard hired Republican County Legislator Frank Sparaco into a “Constituent Services” job that was widely viewed as a complete and utter waste of taxpayer money. Rather than the Democrats expressing their outrage, it was Republican Councilmen Hoehmann and Borelli that eventually led a charge to eliminate funding for the position while the Democrat Town Supervisor and Democrat Councilwoman Lasker were suspiciously silent on the matter. Republican Hoehmann proposed and Democrat Hausner seconded the motion to eliminate Sparaco’s position and the subsequent vote passed unanimously.
After the position was eliminated, Mr. Ballard simply turned around and re-hired Mr. Sparaco into a higher paying position as his Confidential Secretary. Again, there was no outcry from any of the Democrats who, having the majority on the town board, should have been furious and expressed their political distaste publicly. But then, one must ask if Ms. Lasker actually found anything wrong with Ballard’s actions given her close political relationships with Ballard and Sparaco. During Mr. Sparaco’s tenure in this second position, he was brought up on charges of election ballot fraud in a takeover attempt of the Republican Party in which Mr.Ballard is now accused of being complicit.
This brings us to yet another situation where, at the very least, one has to acknowledge the appearance of impropriety. In another instance of cozying up to a controversial Republican, Ms. Lasker attended a $1,000 a plate birthday dinner fundraiser for Mr. Sparaco, with whom she somehow seems to share the same political ideals. Her political beliefs were apparently similar enough to those of Republican Sparaco and Conservative Party leader Ed Lettre for her to obtain the endorsements of the right-wing Conservative Party AND the Independence Party headed by Sparaco’s long-time friend John Perrotta, not just once, but in many of her campaigns. Perhaps these nods to Ms. Lasker were the result of her support of what is referred to as the “Great Clarkstown Giveway” which enabled several individuals of influence, particularly Mr. Lettre, to take unlimited sick leave, a MINIMUM of 3 weeks of vacation and no longer be required to work a minimum of 35 hours per week in favor of the vague definition of “reasonable” hours.
An article in the Rockland County Times referred to Councilwoman Lasker as one of “Lettre’s Democrats” saying that Democrats Supervisor Alex Gromack, Councilwomen Stephanie Hausner and Shirley Lasker, have a ‘political alliance’ with the executive director of the Conservative Party Ed Lettre, who is also the town’s Clerk of the Works.” Lasker has admitted to phoning into a meeting that Lettre called to rally his power base and the Times went on to describe a subsequent Town Board meeting at which Lasker was asked why she would ‘call in’ to a Conservative party meeting. Her response was that she appreciated Lettre’s support. Unfortunately, Ms. Lasker did not explain why she has that support in the first place.
It is hard for anyone looking at these actions from the outside to dismiss the notion that inside deals were not the driving force behind the right wing Conservative Party endorsing a liberal Democrat for a Town Council seat. It certainly wasn’t Ms. Lasker’s inclination to sell a town asset, Middlewood Apartments, as a temporary solution to keep the ever-depleting town reserve funds at a level needed to keep our AAA bond rating that earned her that nod. It couldn’t have been Ms. Lasker’s willingness to further deplete those reserves in order to prevent any cuts in overtime from the 2015 budget that aligned her with what one might expect to be Conservative Party philosophy. This raises legitimate questions as to how and why the Conservative nomination was given to Ms. Lasker by Ed Lettre. It raises questions as to whether the Conservative Party under Lettre has any political principles at all or is simply an endorsement racket designed to keep certain politicians in power and to keep their friends and families employed in town patronage jobs.
As if all this isn’t enough, Councilwoman Lasker also curiously voted to hire Bronx Republican Chairman Jay Savino as the town’s Tax Certiorai Attorney over the initial objections of fellow Democratic Councilwoman Stephanie Hausner. Ms. Hausner had noted that Savino came with “baggage,” a likely reference to the rumors of corruption that abounded regarding Savino. One can only conclude that Supervisor Gromack and Coucilwoman Lasker approved of Savino’s hiring because the Democratic majority on the town board could have simply killed the Republican minority’s motion on the day it was proposed. Savino’s employment was terminated after he was subsequently arrested on corruption charges.
Again, there had to be some motive for Ms. Lasker’s support of a guy like Savino. What that motive is – who knows? Ms. Lasker certainly isn’t likely to be eager to map it out for us, but once again this supposedly liberal Democrat was involved in supporting a Republican who ended up under criminal investigation. Savino later pled guilty to those corruption charges while still employed by the town of Clarkstown.
It is clearly evident that Ms. Lasker seems to have a knack for crossing party lines to support Republicans who end up under criminal or internal investigations. Perhaps this is all a coincidence, but there are serious questions about all this activity that Ms. Lasker should answer in her upcoming bid for re-election. For members of the Democratic Party it must be a very disturbing pattern to say the least.
Given all this curious behavior, the voters in Clarkstown should take a long, hard look at Councilwoman Lasker’s track record before blindly voting on row A in November.
In viewing this candidate apart from her party, I don’t think Democrats would be happy with what they see.