Friday, March 01, 2019

Rockland elections: Airmont mayor, trustees removed from ballot amidst fraud allegations 

Airmont Mayor Phillip Gigante and his two trustee running mates removed themselves from the village ballot after admitting they had insufficient petition signatures in the face of fraud allegations.

The departure of Gigante, Paul A. Marchesani and Anthony P. Valvo opens the door for a new mayor and change on the Board of Trustees, which faces two lawsuits filed by Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish groups after a controversial building moratorium and updated zoning plan.

Ralph Bracco Sr. and Nathan Bubel are running for mayor.

Brian Downey, Migdalia Pesante, Ronald Roberti, and Angela M. Thompson are running for two trustee seats.

Bracco is a former mayor who says he's ready to fill the void. He had lost a race to Gigante, an attorney and one-term mayor.

"It is time the village gets together and unites as one," Bracco said in a statement on Thursday. "I had been successful in such efforts for at least ten years."

Exit from the ballot
Gigante and his running mates removed themselves from the ballot just before acting Supreme Court Justice Sherri Eisenpress was to hear testimony on the petition challenge. Candidates in New York need a certain number of valid petitions to get on the ballot.

Rockland Elections Commissioner Kristen Zebrowski-Stavisky said the Gigante team agreed they had "insufficient signatures and the judge enjoined the clerk from placing their names on the ballot."

Yossi Gestetner, an activist in the Orthodox community, accused the mayor and his team of attempted election fraud, calling their withdrawal "a stunning admission. This is the Preserve (Airmont) side who is busy yelling how corrupt Hasidim are."

Gigante, who ran on the Preserve Airmont ticket, could not be reached for comment. But an explanation of the court case has been posted on the Preserve Airmont Facebook page.

Yehuda Zorger, a frequent critic of the Airmont government for zoning enforcement, said, "How ironic is it that Preserve ... always claims to stand for enforcing and making sure no laws are broken. Now we know that the mayor and his board personally committed fraud here."

Downey, a trustee nominee, said: "I look forward to protecting our suburban neighborhoods and serving the people of Airmont, honestly and faithfully. I respectfully request that people come out and vote for the Protect Airmont Party."

More challenges in Pomona
Petitions also were challenged in Pomona, where Mayor Brett Yagel is not seeking re-election.

Petitions filed by Daniel Kolak for mayor and incumbents Leon Harris and Nicholas Wilson for trustee were challenged and removed from the ballot.

The decision opens the door for a new mayor, as Yagel's rival, Trustee Ian Banks is running against Lloyd Ecker. Ilan Fuchs, Susanne Kernan, Carol McFarlane and Joanne Robinson-Filas are competing for trustee seats.

The Rockland Board of Elections initially upheld their petition and a judge ruled in favor of the candidates, said Pomona officials.

Lloyd Ecker, who is running for mayor, went back to the election board and asked members to revisit the original decision. The board removed five signatures, dropping the candidates below the required 75 signatures and they were subsequently taken off the ballot.

Chestnut Ridge and Hillburn also have contested races.

Paul Van Alstyne, Anthony L. Shaut, Grant Valentine and Steven J. Wasserman are running for two trustee seats in Chestnut Ridge and incumbent Mayor Craig M. Flanagan Jr. is running against Joseph P. Tursi for mayor of Hillburn and incumbent Trustee Eleanor J. DeGraw is running against challenger Bernadette A. Tarantino.

Zoning the focus
Zoning is a contentious issue in Airmont, Chestnut Ridge and Pomona.

In Airmont, the Orthodox Jewish community has complained that the village is being discriminatory after it issued a building moratorium. The village updated its comprehensive plan with stricter zoning laws, which many Orthodox Jews say targets their community.

Chestnut Ridge passed a "house of worship law" allowing people to have houses of worship in residential neighborhoods, which has caused tension with the non-Orthodox and non-Jewish neighbors in the village.

A recent lawsuit accused Pomona's mayor, Brett Yagel, and other village officials of anti-Semitism. Yagel, who has denied the allegations, is not seeking re-election. Pomona has also had some legal issues regarding zoning.


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