Open political warfare within the Democratic Party erupted on Tuesday night at the Rockland County Legislature meeting. The opening salvos could be heard from behind the closed doors of the Democratic caucus meeting as the public slowly trickled into the auditorium. While the exact details of what transpired in that room will likely stay buried, what happened out in the open public arena of the County Legislature was clear for all to see. Three Ramapo-machine Democrats have taken over the Rockland County Democratic Party and have declared political war on both Democrats and Republicans in Rockland County.
The Legislature Democratic Majority Leader, and now de facto Rockland County Party leader, ‘Bugs Bunny’ Aron Weider, along with his enforcer ‘I’m in charge here’ Ilan Schoenberger and the elderly ‘rambler’ Philip Soskin put on both a remarkable display of defiance and a spectacular assertion of power that left the crowd of taxpayers, politicians and the media stunned by what they witnessed. The three Ramapo Democrats voted to defeat their own party’s nominee to fill a vacated seat on the Legislature and in doing so, ensured that the full Legislature would lack the 12 votes needed to pass a memorializing resolution supporting a fiscal monitor in the East Ramapo School District.
With the media in attendance to document the expected routine appointment of Democratic nominee Richard Diaz to fill the seat vacated by disgraced former Legislator Frank Sparaco, the meeting got going with a passionate debate over a proposed resolution to support the state appointment of a fiscal monitor in the East Ramapo School District. After a bipartisan series of statements supporting the appointment of a monitor (made by Legislators Carey, Meyers, Hofstein, Cornell, Low-Hogan, and Earl), the three Ramapo Democrats (Legislators Schoenberger, Wieder, and Soskin shown below) threw the first series of jabs that would preface a knockout punch to the Democratic Party’s putative leader, Kristen Stavisky. No one saw it coming.
The Ramapo Democrats launched their expected counter-attack based on arguments regarding the disenfranchisement of the voters and the elected school board, and the belief that insufficient state aid is the primary issue in the district. Soskin stated there are problems in every school district in Rockland County and suggested a monitor be placed in every one of them. He rambled on about who is going to pay the taxes for programs like art, kindergarten, and music. “Who is going to pay for it?” he asked. He then rambled on referencing the 1773 Tea Act tax imposed by the British Parliament on the American colonies as a point of comparison in what he would be asking from his constituents to suffer by having a monitor with veto power placed in the district against their will. And then thankfully his rambling stopped.
Mr. Schoenberger opined that the real problem in the East Ramapo School District is one of voter apathy. He referenced the recent vote for a bond to authorize an additional $40M in spending to make structural repairs and other improvements to school facilities as his main argument declaring that out of an excess of 50,000 registered voters, only 1,117 voted as the bond failed with results 637 opposed to 480 votes in favor. Schoenberger decried this as THE problem which no monitor can possibly solve. Mendaciously, he did not mention the overwhelming belief in the community that the current school board cannot be trusted to spend any addititional monies in a fair and equitable manner that would represent the best interests of ALL students. He did not mention the result at the polls was widely viewed as a vote of no confidence in the current school board as opposed to a statement that the funding isn’t needed.
Once this portion of the meeting was concluded to the satisfaction and smug smiles of the machine-Democrats, the legislature moved on to the next item of its agenda. A motion was offered by Legislator Cornell to vote on the nomination of Democrat Richard Diaz to fill the vacated seat of Republican Legislator Frank Sparaco who is presently enjoying weekends incarcerated in the County Jail. This proposed nomination was created by the Rockland County Democratic County Committee now only nominally headed by Kristen Stavisky. The appointment was considered a ‘no-brainer’ given that the majority party in the Legislature is Democratic and could therefore slot in a Democrat to a seat formerly held by a Republican even if the seat is expected to be won in a landslide by Republican Laurie Santulli in the coming November elections.
Diaz sat up front with Stavisky and Clarkstown’s Democratic Chairwoman Stephanie Hausner while Cornell spoke. Cornell offered a glowing endorsement of the nominee as his friends and family sat proudly nearby. After a second to Cornell’s motion was provided by Democrat Toney Earl who also spoke glowingly about Diaz, Republican Legislator Carey announced his opposition to Mr. Diaz’s appointment. Carey stated he believed that the Republicans’ preferred nominee, Congers resident Laurie Santulli, should have been considered for the seat but was not. Based on this and his unfamiliarity with Mr. Diaz, he offered that he would not support the nomination. Republican Legislator Hofstein opined that he believed a special election should be held to fill any vacant seat and was opposed to Mr. Diaz’s appointment based on those grounds. These moves were expected from the two Republicans (along with Republican Moroney) as a protest vote against a Democratic candidate being appointed to fill a seat previously held by a Republican. Eleven Democrats were thus left to appoint Diaz to the open legislative seat.
What happened next was anything but expected.
Legislator Schoenberger took the floor and stated he would be voting against Mr. Diaz. Schoenberger said, “I asked my colleagues tonight to not put this up for a vote this evening, but my colleagues refused. There are issues I feel must be resolved before this vote is had and putting it on tonight puts me in a very difficult position and because of that I have no choice but to vote ‘No’.”
Issues? With Mr. Diaz? No – the “issues” were presumably associated with a monitor for East Ramapo! This shocking sentiment was echoed by Legislator Wieder, who stated he could not support Mr. Diaz in light of “everything else that is going on.” That was a non-statement of non-explanation not even fit for an episode of ‘Looney Tunes‘ let alone for a county legislator to offer to Mr. Diaz.
Soskin rambled on about circumstances that were “very pressing” as his reason for not supporting Diaz. Truth be told the only thing that was “very pressing” was for the three machine politicians to give tit-for-tat payback to Ms. Stavisky. And thus by a vote of 8 to 6, Mr. Diaz failed to gain the nine vote majority needed to secure his appointment.
While the three Ramapo Democrats were vague in defining what their “issues” were, Mr. Diaz was the epitome of class in his reply to public humiliation. Diaz made it clear that he believed his stance in supporting a monitor in the East Ramapo School District was the reason behind his defeat. Everyone knew he was right. With Stavisky sitting behind him, clearly seething with anger, Diaz stated that he strongly believed in the need for a monitor and that he would accept the political consequences rather than compromise his beliefs. It was a noble speech by an honorable man in reaction to the disgraceful treatment he had just received from the three ‘amigos’ who have now assumed de facto leadership over his own political party.
In reality, this takeover over the Democratic Party likely happened long ago. Rumors of the power of the Ramapo political machine have abounded for many years. Mostly the machine has been very careful to operate below the radar. However, its continued brazenness even under the light of social media and an increasingly fed-up public afforded some glimpses into the true hierarchy of power in the Democratic Party in Rockland County.
The Brega Bus Wash Giveway, for example, clearly showed a questionable trail of campaign donations from Brega employees leading directly to Legislator Ilan Schoenberger’s political bank account. The Rockland County Legislature, led by Republican Patrick Moroney, later led an ill-fated attempt to allocate nearly $4M in taxpayer funds for the daily washing of Transport of Rockland commuter buses. This measure was supposedly needed in order to prevent the buses from spontaneously catching fire. Only the anger of the public stirred by an onslaught of pressure through social media and a veto from County Executive Ed Day stopped the legislature from pulling it off. Wieder’s appointment as the Democratic Majority Leader in the Rockland County Legislature was the key indicator that the Ramapo machine was more than willing to flaunt their power in the open.
There can be no doubt now that the true power in the Democratic Party rests in the hands of Wieder, Schoenberger and Soskin. Stavisky is powerless to stop the machine that she helped to build. There are only two avenues back to where the Democratic Party in Rockland County can be restored to repectability. The first is through the ongoing federal investigation into the Towns of Ramapo and Clarkstown; the second is through a recognition by the rank and file Democratic voters that they must begin to face the fact their party has been turned against them.
In his explanation as to why he is opposed to a fiscal monitor, Legislator Schoenberger himself ironically gave the people of Rockland the simple blueprint needed to rid themselves of politicians that continue to drive our County in the wrong direction.
“If people are not satisfied with their representatives, they should go to the polls and change their elected representatives.”
I suggest we accept that challenge and vote out any and all politicians who are not working to serve the people of Rockland County. Getting rid of the three Machine-Amigos from Ramapo would be a great place to start.