"Throw them out!"
October 30, 2008 Back on Sept. 9, the voters in Ramapo handed over the majority in the Ramapo Democratic Committee to a reform group calling themselves Ramapo Democrats for Change. In a third reorganizational meeting held last night, there was only one way Supervisor St. Lawrence and his supporters could have any hope to at least claim (until the courts decide) that control of the committee should belong to the minority—by breaking state election laws, trampling on their own committee rules, and stepping over the expressed will of the electorate. They did all three. At the opening of the meeting, when County Legislator Joseph Meyers and the reformer group’s attorney stood to raise their legal objections to the meeting, St. Lawrence and a number of town employees began yelling from the side, "Throw them out!" There was no question who was in charge of the assault on the rights of the Ramapo voters last night.
Because the situation has been complicated by a number of events, here’s an overview of the situation so far: (If this is old news to you, just skip ahead to the Legal Violations Last Night, appearing below)
September 9, 2008 In the Primary Election, Ramapo voters elect 166 Ramapo Democrats for Change to the Ramapo Democratic Committee. St. Lawrence’s old guard won 131 Committee seats.
September 17, 2008 The County Democratic Committee holds its reorganizational meeting in Nyack. The reformers force a roll-call vote and Joseph Meyers and a slate of reform candidates are elected as new officers for the Ramapo Democratic Committee. People are also elected by the majority to fill 32 committee vacancies.
September 25, 2008 The St. Lawrence old guard, who refused to recognize the results of the Sept. 17th meeting, through Larry Toole--St. Lawrence’s brother-in-law--call for a second reorganizational meeting in Spring Valley at the Cultural Arts Center. After going to the Appellate Court in Brooklyn to get a judge’s order to approve the meeting, Toole and St. Lawrence are no shows at the meeting. The Ramapo Democrats for Change show up with a quorum and vote in, for a second time, their officers and the 32 vacancies (positions that no candidates ran for).
September 26, 2008 A criminal complaint is filed against Spring Valley trustee Demeza Delhomme with the Rockland District Attorney’s Office, the NY State Attorney General and others. A half-dozen sworn statements from reform committee members allege that Delhomme, acting on behalf of St. Lawrence, threatened harm to the members, their families, and/or threatened their jobs if they continued with the reform group.
October 29, 2008 Larry Toole calls for a third reorganizational meeting to be held at the Jos. T. St. Lawrence Rec. Center. He announces that proxy votes will be accepted at the meeting—this after previously claiming in court that proxies were not permitted. (Any elected committeeperson unable to attend could fill out a proxy that authorizes the bearer to vote for the absent member at the meeting.)
Legal Violations Last Night
Last Spring, the Chairman of the Ramapo Dem Committee, Christian Sampson, resigned to run for the Assembly in the fall. Larry Toole was the temporary replacement to fill in as Chairman. The Committee Rule 1.8 describes what should have happened next:
"In the event a vacancy occurs in the office of Chair, the same shall be filled by election by the Town Committee at a special meeting thereof, called for the purpose of electing a Chair in the same manner as at the Organizational Meeting. The meeting shall be called by the Co-Chair, or the Vice-Chair in the event of the Co-Chair's absence or incapacity, within twenty (20) days after the vacancy shall have occurred." No meeting was ever held to elect Toole to the vacancy.
Months later, when Larry Toole called the two meetings to reorganize, he had no authority to do this according to the bylaws of the organization he claimed to chair. Toole is not the Chairman of the Ramapo Democratic Committee. He has no right to call or chair Committee meetings.
Even more egregious than a bogus officer who doesn’t even belong to the club, there was the illegal disposition of the vacancies. After losing the primary election, St. Lawrence’s group, inexplicably claimed the right to name their people to the 32 empty seats for which no one ran. The tradition, and Election Law, concerning these vacancies is that they are filled, by election, at the first reorganization meeting. For last night’s meeting, Toole filled in 32 names of those who would support their side and then gave a number of these individuals illegal proxies to increase their voting power.
Toole violated New York State Election Law, which requires that these vacancy positions be voted in. He then accepted the votes and proxies from these individuals who were not committee members and whose votes were illegal.
It’s important to note that not only does New York law prohibit this, but when St. Lawrence’s people submitted the list of 32 names to the Board of Elections in Rockland County, the BOE refused to list these names on their official (accredited) list of committeepersons.The Rockland officials understand the state law, and they also have the committee bylaws.
To sum up then:
Even though he is not the Committee Chairman, Toole called two organizational meetings (the right to do so, according to the bylaws can only be done by a legitimate chairman.)
Toole lost his seat as a committeeperson, yet he illegally voted as one last night.
Despite the rejection of his list of 32 vacancies by the Rockland Board of Elections, he violated state election law by claiming those people could vote in last night’s election.
And finally, he used an illegal list to call the roll for the vote. His list had the 32 illegal voters.
Joseph Meyers made objections to each of these names as they were called up to vote, and Josh Ehrlich, St. Lawrence’s attorney waved off each with a "Yeah, yeah--noted," and one of his strangely awkward gestures.
Without the uncertified and unelected vacancies, St. Lawrence’s candidate for new Chairman would have lost last night as they lost at the first two reorganizational meetings. The actual tally, if the meeting had been legally conducted, would have been 154 votes for the Ramapo Democrats for Change and about 115 votes for St. Lawrence’s candidate. Meyers’ group had 154 committee people represented in person or by proxy based on their check-in outside the hall.
What Mr. Valenti of Airmont was referring to was an area totally enclosed with curtains. The curtained area stood 20-25 feet away from the table where town employees were checking the proxies brought in by committee members. You handed your proxy sheet to Chris Sampson (Town Clerk) or one of the others, he then walked away and disappeared into the curtained area for several minutes and then came back.
Quite a number of the proxies (approximately 38) from the reformers were rejected by whoever was behind those curtains. If you asked for it back (perhaps to show it to a lawyer later, or judge) you were told you couldn’t have it. You were just told there was a problem with this or that aspect of the proxy and it would not be allowed.
When I talked to the Journal reporter about what was going on behind the curtain he said it reminded him of a scene from The Wizard of Oz. Yeah, except instead of intimidating a farm girl and her friends, the people behind this curtain were throwing out votes using arbitrary criteria with no basis in the rules of the party or New York State election law.
When I noticed the Supervisor scurrying in and out of the curtained off area it occurred to me that it would be important for future review to find out who was making these critical decisions about who could and could not vote.
I asked Chris Sampson at one of the proxy tables if he could tell me who the people were. He refused to say who was there behind the curtains. Not a surprise. Although Sampson is described as a public information officer in his role as Town Clerk, in matters that are important he more often acts as a firewall between St. Lawrence and the public.
I then found the Supervisor and asked him who were making the decisions. He started to explain some generalities about the proxy process, and I told him that’s not what I asked. Who is throwing out the votes in there? Like Sampson, St. Lawrence refused to say who they were.
One more try with a person who emerged from behind the blocked area, and when he also refused, objecting instead to why I would want to know, I decided to just part one of the curtains, take a photo, and identify the people later. At that point I was confronted by one of the private security people hired by St. Lawrence and was told that I would be thrown out if I tried to take a photo. Since the meeting had not yet started, I decided my vote might be more important than this information.
[Note: It has since been reported in the Journal that one of the people inside was Terry Reeck, the town’s computer specialist. Reeck sat amongst three of the attorneys who have been opposing the reformers efforts in court and at meetings—Josh Ehrlich, Esq., Rick McKay, Esq., and Gary Lipton, Esq. Deputy Town Attorney Alan Berman was also behind the curtain. At one point in the meeting St. Lawrence was heard referring to the people in the curtained area as his attorneys. We have also been told that there was a running count of how many votes/proxies would have to be disallowed to ensure a machine win. No proxies from the St. Lawrence faction were disallowed that we can determine. There were no representatives in the curtained area from the reform group. None at the sign-in tables, none on the dais, and none at the table of those calling the roll and registering the votes.]
The person who checked my ID and signed me in was Pat Withers. You might remember that Pat lost a contentious Legislature election to Joe Meyers by a landslide last year. Now he was helping to decide if Joe Meyers would become Party Chair. Incredible. At one point, Airmont Mayor Dennis Kay was having trouble getting credentialed but was quickly approved when Pat Withers came over and said, "He’s OK." Who decided that these old guard loyalists had more credibility at the meeting than a respected and current village mayor? It dawned on me that the entire affair was staffed and controlled by town employees and other loyalists of Mr. St. Lawrence. Many were candidates in the September 9th primary who lost their seats, which made their control over the meeting even more ironic. Sources sitting near St. Lawrence in the audience tell us that the Supervisor was in constant touch by cell phone with Larry Toole and others on the stage as well as his loyal "tellers" calling for votes and counting the votes at a table in front of the stage.
One question I had was, Are these sign-in sheets being kept as part of a permanent record that could be made available via Freedom of Information Act or court requests? I went to every table, and no one knew whether they were being kept or whether anyone else could see them afterwards. That or they weren't saying anything.
At one table, Janet Burnet, once
an activist and now a St. Lawrence employee
Janet, who is a neighbor of St. Lawrence, was a committee member but she lost her seat to a reform candidate in the September election, and therefore could not vote in this election. It surprised me, then when I saw her sitting at the table for those calling the roll and registering the vote count. During the long call-and-then-mark process I saw her take cell-phone calls—not once, but twice as the voters continued to come up to vote. Were these among the calls from St. Lawrence seated 10 rows away?
Didn’t help my perception of the process, but then neither did the fact that she frequently applauded for the voter after she marked down another vote for St. Lawrence’s candidate. Applauded!
It was just one other absurd moment in what was a truly disgraceful night for the Ramapo Democratic Party.
Oh, the fact that she voted illegally for St. Lawrence’s candidate as one of the 32 vacancy appointments came in second (in my perceptions) to her applause, and just slightly ahead of the cell-phone calls.
Illusions vs. Reality
I guess after three successive losses (the election, Sept. 17, and 25) last night’s desperate machinations might have been expected, but the awful stink left hanging in the room at the end of the night, unfortunately, will cling to the local Democratic Party for quite a while.
On November 21st, New York State Supreme Court Justice Margaret Garvey is scheduled to rule on the three elections, the stolen vacancies, and, hopefully, on the outrageous behavior of the machine politicians in Ramapo.