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The Croton GOP's Thin Line Between Cash and Favor

March 17, 2006

Crotonblog: Letters to the Editor, Croton-on-Hudson, New York 10520
Down in Wellington, Florida a few weeks ago, Irwin Katz wrote a $500 check to the Croton Repulican Commitee. A year ago, Floridian Mr. Katz did the same thing. So why would someone in Florida send $1000 to the Steinberg’s campaign coffers?

Mr. Katz owns land in Croton. In fact, he owns the land underneath the Croton Auto Park. He also owns a controversial parcel, the “Katz property,” between the Auto Park and Maple Street—opposite the Black Cow. Last year Mr. Katz sued the village over this parcel.

Why? According to the court papers, he claims that zoning changes prior to 2005 have hurt his ability to make a deal to sell the wooded lot on Maple for a big-box development.

Does Mr. Katz think his contributions will get him a favorable from the GOP—overturning years of careful zoning work? We don’t really know. The Village changed its zoning code—after a great deal of public input—to keep our gateway areas as compatible as possible with foot traffic, cyclists, strollers, and calmed cars.

Crotonites were emphatic in telling the trustees to preserve our village-like streetscapes. Put more bluntly, the zoning changes were crafted over several years’ time to impede strip mall expansion and tip the balance from the car-culture toward walkers and cyclists. In sum, to increase the local “park-and-walk” experience.

Is the Katz suit settled? No. His lawsuit is still pending. Is one of the GOP’s top donors trying to get the attention of the Republican board members in hopes of a favorable outcome for his property?

Why do the Republicans regularly accept these substantial donations from business owners with contested issues before the Village Board? Does accepting this money look like a conflict of interest to you?

Does Mr. Steinberg think that—if he is elected—these contributions will have zero influence on his decisions relating to Mr. Katz’s lawsuit?

Why do the Republicans also feel that they can plant campaign lawn signs (see the comment section in “Color Me RED or Color Me BLUE?”) on the very same Katz property on Maple Avenue? Did they get Mr. Katz’s permission for using his lot as advertising space?

Meanwhile, the village and its taxpayers—you, me, and Jim included—had to spend money to defend the village against Mr. Katz’s lawsuit. Maybe Jim doesn’t care how much we spend on lawyers.

The Katz money is not the only instance of the Steinberg/GOP coffers swelling with large donations from proprietors who are making demands on the village.

Other major GOP donors also seek changes in local laws. Mr. Lou Giordano of Yorktown Heights is a heavy GOP donor. In fact, Giordano donated $500 this month—the very same amount as Mr. Katz, who is coincidentally Giordano’s landlord. The Croton GOP received the Giordano and Katz checks on the very same day. Another coincidence?

Over the past few years, Giordano of Yorktown has created a monopoly, buying up all the car dealerships in Croton. He also owns strip malls near the biggest dealership.

Now GOP contributor Giordano wants the GOP majority on the Village Board to remove the village prohibition on new auto dealerships or expanding the size of existing dealerships.

Yet many residents who live near his dealerships have made it very plain that Croton already has enough automobile lots. They cited the glaring nighttime lights, the daytime visual blight, and tractor-trailer traffic. Does Giordano want to make Croton Commons an auto mall too?

In sum, every year the GOP takes big money from business owners whose permit applications, zoning appeals or municipal service demands come before the village board. Since Steinberg has been a candidate in 2005 and 2006, these donors now also include a non-resident business owner suing the village.

In the 2006 campaign so far, half of the GOP’s itemized monetary contributions have come from non-residents property owners. In 2005, three out of every ten dollars of the GOP’s itemized monetary contributions came from non-residents or local businesses with claims against the village (see: Croton Republican Committee NYS Board of Election Statement for 02/22/06 to 03/10/06).

The GOP campaigns get more expensive each year—$2600 so far this year for the GOP’s TV spot. The GOP solution seems to be to lean more heavily on outsiders whose corporate interests may not mesh with those of village’s families.

What is next? Is the village for sale?

Leo A. W. Wiegman, Trustee, Village of Croton-on-Hudson

On March 20, 2006 10:24 AM, Just The Facts said:

Mr. Wintermeier:

If the republicans are so honorable and forthright, explain two simple things to me.

1) Why are they violating federal laws and regulations again this year by tampering with mailboxes? It is unquestionably illegal and I find it surprising that no one has repudiated these actions. Perhaps it is because the Croton Republicans have yet again been caught with their hand in the cookie jar and no excuse one again.

2) Why is the Croton GOP running away from the word “republican”? I can’t find one reference to that word on your recently reformatted Croton GOP website. Is this one more election time deception being played on the Croton populace? I think so, and I hope the Croton voters are more intelligent tomorrow than the Croton GOP gives them credit.

On March 20, 2006 9:48 AM, Croton Taxpayer said:

Leo is partially correct. Mr. Katz and Mr. Giordano contributed to this year’s GOP campaign and Mr. Katz gave to last year’s campaign. It’s available in the public records. That’s why we have campaign finance regulations. That’s also their Constitutional right just as it is the right of any citizen so long as the amount remains within legal limits. In addition, Mr. Katz was contacted to gain permission to put signs on his property, which is the annual GOP practice for all signs before being placed. Beyond these facts, Leo’s story is a complete fabrication.

Let’s be real! Mr. Katz’s contribution had nothing to do with purchasing favor with Republicans. People contribute to election campaigns for many reasons. Some may want to curry favor, join the celebrity scenes or just oust an established clique. I doubled my contribution this year because I don’t want to return to the days of yesteryear with repressive tax increases, a decaying infrastructure and restricted freedom of speech. I’m happy with the progress of the Schmidt team and want to see it continue.

In Mr. Katz’s case, it is perfectly clear that his property was singled out for acquisition by Ms. Gallelli’s bureaucratic Comprehensive Plan as a possible site for a future Community Center. She and her cohorts also took specific aim at all local auto dealerships by recommending anti-business and zoning ordnances that would make these dealerships more difficult to establish and operate. That’s certainly not the way to treat some of Croton’s largest business employers and taxpayers. In light of these attacks, did Leo think Mr. Katz would sit idly by or support the same administration that assaulted his livelihood?

Despite my warning to Ms. Gallelli that her actions would lead to a lawsuit (Comments submitted to the Comprehensive Planning Committee on 10/14/2004) when it was published for review, she ignored my advice, as did the Village attorney at the time. Now she and Leo’s obsession with Croton’s auto businesses has produced another lawsuit in addition to the one that occurred when she tried to prevent the installation of a protective canopy at the Exxon station. I’m sure Trustee Steinberg, as a taxpayer, is as incensed about this unnecessary litigation as any Croton taxpayer but don’t blame Messrs. Katz, Giordano or Steinberg for the cost of the Katz litigation …. blame Ms. Gallelli and her Committee. And let’s not forget that it was Trustee Steinberg and the Schmidt administration that reduced last years inherited tax from 17% to less than 10%. He cares!!!!!!!

It is also unlikely that Mr. Katz’s contributions will influence the outcome of the lawsuit. That will be up to lawyers and the court, not the Trustees. If Trustees had any influence on the ultimate outcome, Leo’s recent anti auto-dealer tirade would pose a conflict of interest that would keep him from expressing his opinion and he knows that won’t happen either.

However, I expect to see Leo involved in the Katz litigation as a witness to explain why he so adamantly opposed Messrs. Katz and Giordano’s auto businesses and not others. In fact, if Mr. Katz’s lawyers get wind of Leo’s inflammatory rhetoric about auto dealers, I’m sure they will use it to prove their case against the Village if the suit goes to trial. I’m not a lawyer but I don’t think Leo serves Croton well when he disregards legal advice to remain quiet about this case by giving this type of ammunition to Mr. Katz’s lawyers. Hopefully, he will check out my concern with our very competent Village Attorney and listen to her advice. We can’t afford these types of blunders.

Leo and his clique of anti-business advocates are fully aware of these facts. Regrettably, they are so obsessed with bashing local firms and their opponents that they forgot that we need “strip malls” and stores to pay for some of those wonderful features that residents want like “foot traffic, cyclists, strollers, and calmed cars”. Their failure to comprehend this is the reason that businesses left our Village and taxes kept rising during Mayor Elliott’s administration.

It is also true that the Croton Democratic Committee has not accepted any reported revenue from local businesses. However, during ex-Mayor Elliott’s campaign efforts to unseat Rep. Sue Kelly, his Political Action Committee had no problem accepting thousands of dollars from local realtors. One realtor’s family exceeded legal limits and their contribution was eventually reduced to $4000. Subsequently, the property of two realtors was excluded from inclusion in one of Ann Gallelli’s Comprehensive Plan Gateways and thereby relieved from the repressive anti-business ordnances associated with the Gallelli Plan. That should make their property worth more in comparison to those in the Gateways, which must comply with the restrictions. Does that mean that Croton Democrats were influenced by the contributions or does it just mean that these realtors preferred Democrats to Republicans? There is no way to determine. If we follow Leo’s train of thought, however, one might try to make a case for Mayor Elliott to have excluded himself from approving the Comprehensive Plan that barred both realtors from the onerous Gateway regulations. Donations do not imply an automatic quid pro quo and Leo is smart enough to know this. Perhaps this is why he didn’t ask Mayor Elliott to exclude himself from voting on Ms. Gallelli’s anti-business Comprehensive Plan. I could go on but I think readers have had their fill of election time fairy tales.

Finally, the Village is in no danger of being sold as long as the Schmidt team is in place. If that ever occurs, Republicans will be first in line to demand a referendum. Of course, I’m sure this was just another play on words by Leo.

Jim Steinberg has an impeccable character and indicated that he was unaware of the contributions when asked about the contributions by the Journal News (See “Puglisi can’t vote in Croton” 3/18/2005 – Page 6A). Jim also stated, “We’re not going to make a decision based on a $500 donation. We’ll do what’s in the best interests of the Village.” I believe him!

Shame on Leo and his ilk for suggesting that Jim Steinberg would be influenced by a $500 political contribution! Sounds like the other phony rumors that anonymous bloggers created to impugn Jim’s character and reminds me of the old adage, “Desperate strokes for desperate folks!”

Fortunately, recent voter feedback indicates that voters have seen through these trumped-up insinuations and unsubstantiated allegations and have expressed great anger when there are no facts to back up this type of defamatory rhetoric. We’ll see next Tuesday. A vote for Jim will show voter confidence in his integrity and their anger at Leo’s unfounded insinuations and allegations!

Don’t forget to vote. Every vote counts.

Robert Wintermeier

On March 19, 2006 11:17 AM, Just The Facts said:

CROTON GOP RUNNING FROM THEIR OWN PARTY AFFILIATION!

Anyone else find it funny how the Croton GOP is trying to hide the GOP portion of its name?

What do I mean, well, if someone goes to their site, you would be hard pressed to find the word “republican” or “GOP”, instead all such references have been replaced by “progress for croton”. It would appear that the same people who campaigned (actively) for George W. just over a year ago and brough the supposed “war on christmas” to croton (by posting “merry xmas” on that very croton gop website — aparenty croton republicans are all christian) are now running away from the dubious record of its party.

My guess is that the connection between the contribution scandal plaguing the GOP national party (Jack Abramoff) and this one now plaguing the local GOP was too close a connection — thus they now are running from their own party.

Seriously Croton GOP, are you that much ashamed of your own political party?

On March 18, 2006 5:14 PM, Reality Check said:

Time for another Reality Check.

We now know that special interest money has been flowing to the coffers of the Steinberg/Gonzalez/Cudequest campaign. Is anyone really surprised?

Mr. Red and other supporters of the current majority would like to cloud the issue by asserting that any revelation of the issue is ‘divisive’ and ‘vitriolic’.

Bunk.

So long as there are two major parties people will be divided. That is why we have a choice on election day.

The question is whether special interest money is a corrupting influence on the political process. Many people think it is. I know I do.

If elected, will Mr. Steinberg or Mr. Gonzalez recuse themselves from voting on any decisions concerning the Katz property and the litigation brought by their contributor Mr. Katz? I hope so — but I doubt it.

As an attorney Mr. Steinberg surely knows that he is obligated to avoid not only true improprieties but even the appearance of impropriety.

Don’t we deserve a Village Board where all of the members can participate in discussion of and voting upon important issues? I think we do. My guess is that Mr. Steinberg and Mr. Gonzalez if elected will not be troubled and will go ahead and vote on the Katz property’s future and the conduct of their contributor’s litigation against the Village.

Personally, I think we deserve better.

And that, my friends, is a Reality Check.

On March 17, 2006 11:41 AM, Just The Facts said:

Mr. Red, I think it is you who should give your fellow Crotonites a break. These are mere facts that get to heart of the issue of selecting village trustees. It is clear from your response that you do not contest the claims, you merely are embarrassed by the company that your party’s candidates are keeping and wish to keep this (like so many other things) hidden from the Croton populace.

What could be more important in selecting and evaluating a candidate then getting a full picture on each candidate’s agenda and where there interests lie? NOTHING. With such facts, Croton residents can make up their own mind and determine whether Mr. Steinberg and Co. stand for “open government” as they claim or are instead puppets of out of town, special interest groups who clearly have an agenda for change in Croton’s business district (whether such chage is good or bad is for the voters to decide).

Mr. Wiegman’s questions are not ugliness or vitriotic. For a lesson on pure ugliness and vitriol, why don’t you scan back on the blog to a posting on January 31, 2006, and see the venom ness ugliness that your GOP chairman spewed out with personal attacks on the democratic candidates (see: “Croton Dems Nominate Failed Mayoral Candidate Gallelli to Run for Trustee”). And please don’t say that such attack wasn’t sanctioned by Steinberg, Brennan, Gonzalez and Schmidt, because, despite being asked, none of such individuals repudiated the divisive and uncalled for attacks by their party chairman.

On March 17, 2006 11:40 AM, Mr. Red said:

Georgianna,

I appreciate your wise points. I did not intend by my comments that I condone this type of activity. However, I have read enough about this on the blog in recent days to be aware of the situation and to have Leo use the blog to further speak of the situation leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I do think that it divides regardless of the veracity of the situation since it comes from a sitting trustee. That’s my opinion and it’s okay to disagree. It’s part of the democratic process.

I think you posted while I posted my last comment. As I said, I will use my vote to voice how I feel about our village leadership.

Thanks for being civil and not resort to name calling.

On March 17, 2006 11:27 AM, weewill said:

Mr. Red,

I respectfully point out, without vitriol, that there is nothing in Leo’s comment above that is not 100% true and accurate. His expressed concerns about what influence these financial contributions might have on future decisions made by the board may be speculative on his part, but they are not unreasonable. What would be unreasonable would be to ignore the possibility of conflict when the perception is so evident.

I cannot, therefore, agree with your conclusion that by raising these very accurate and documented facts in any way fans fhe flame. Your suggestion that it does, suggests that you might even agree on the inapropriateness of accepting these contributions.

Georgianna Grant X Trustee

(Incidentally, for the record, the Democratic campaign committee will not accept any monetary contribution from local businesses who MIGHT have occasion to become an applicant before the board.)

On March 17, 2006 11:24 AM, Mr. Red said:

Dear Fabian and Devil,

Don’t confuse my tag line (which was developed for the purpose of writing a column on the blog. you should read them Mr. Blue vs. Mr. Red, they are entertaining) with my political affiliation. My “2 wrongs don’t make a right” comment was a denouncement of the GOP in town. I just chose not to join the fray and start insulting them and saying “guilty” as some would and do. My vote will speak about my distaste for the candidates running, not what is written about in this blog. My initial post was to express my distaste for this type of politics in the village.

Oh and Devil, calling me names (“ONLY A FOOL WOULD THINK OTHERWISE” to quote you) without knowing me at all is rather childish. Use your vote, weed out those who do not act in the best interests of the village and keep the rhetoric to a minimum.

On March 17, 2006 10:48 AM, Fabian Gonell said:

Mr. Red,

I could not disagree more. Campaign finance disclosure laws are in place specifically so this kind of information can be collected and distrubited to the public. Personally, I want to know if someone running for office or in office is accepting contributions from SOMEONE WHO IS SUING THE VILLAGE.

It is far too late in the day for the GOP, now that it is in power, to complain about sharp politics given the past attacks on former mayor Elliot and former Trustee Grant. Indeed, even in the current election cycle the GOP chairman put out some a letter referring to Ann Gallelli as a “failed candidate” on this very website. Your failure to denouce that while at the same time you are denoucing Leo suggests that you are motivated more by partisanship than by concerns about civility.

If you are truly concerned about “two wrongs making a right”, perhaps you can attend to the wrongs on your side of the aisle as well.

On March 17, 2006 10:47 AM, Devil's Advocate said:

Mr. Red

You have got to be kidding! This is a very serious issue. The work that went into the comprehensive plan and the subsequent zoning changes represents the will of the people. There is only one reason why Mr. Katz and Mr. Giordano would contribute to any local political party, and that is to serve their business interests, particularly since they do not even live in town. ONLY A FOOL WOULD THINK OTHERWISE!

This issue should be the tipping point for voters. If Steinberg and Gonzalez were truly interested in representing the interests of Croton citizens rather than business, they would have refused the money in the first place. They are only interested in one thing … GETTING ELECTED AT ALL COSTS!

I am a republican urging all in Croton to vote the democratic ticket next week. The Croton dump is gone, but someting still smells foul in Croton.

On March 17, 2006 10:05 AM, Mr. Red said:

Leo,

Please give us all a break! You are deliberately fanning the flames to make the GOP party guilty by association. Enough already. Small town politics should not descend into the ugliness that occurs in national or state fundraising. Your passive aggressive “questions” only bring more animosity to an already divided and sometimes nasty public.

People should vote with their conscience on Tuesday and let the chips fall where they may. In a town this size, their should be no party line splits, only looking out for the best interests of the public. If I were a sitting trustee, I would be embarrassed to play this kind of game.

People want solutions not vitriol. You turn moderates away from your platform when you play this kind of politics. I know that the usual cast of characters will say that the GOP are secretive, nasty, etc., etc.

Do 2 wrongs make a right??



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