Another Shoe Drops in Claxton Corruption Case

Another Shoe Drops on Claxton

The problems just got worse for Drew Claxton in her corruption case. The Journal News just uncovered a second illegal grant awarded to her. The latest discovery, a $25,000 federally funded grant, now brings the total of funds collected by Claxton to $40,000!

When the story first broke a couple of weeks back a Journal News reporter spoke with Claxton and she readily admitted to acquiring the funds and being the owner of 110 Fremont Street in Peekskill. All public records, including the contracts signed with The Preservation Company, show she started as sole owner and then made her son Frederick a co-owner three years later. Claxton must have consulted a lawyer recently and was advised to deny any connection to the grants since possible federal charges are looming. Even Mayor Catalina, a lawyer, offered her friendly advice in a recent work session to stop commenting on the issue without a lawyer present. It was too late by then.

She has no defense. She admitted to receiving the grants. She signed the agreements. She is listed and signed as an “OBLIGOR.” This means she agrees and pledges she owes an obligation to the “Mortgagee.” She is legally responsible. She can deny all she wants to try and save herself but it is of no use in the eyes of the law. The eyes of public opinion are not on her side either.

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The heading of the grant document shows that Claxton was an “Obligor” of the funds.

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Claxton signed the document as an “Obligor” of the transaction.

Click here to read full pdf version of the grant document

Now, as Claxton and The Preservation Company desperately attempt to pin it all on her son Fredrick, they seem to leave out a few important facts:

  • The Conflict of Interest provisions exclude both elected officials and immediate family from receiving these funds.
  • The “obligor” must occupy the property as their principal place of residence. Drew lives on Kissam Road and Fredrick lives in California, so the terms are violated on this provision too!
  • The structural improvements outlined to obtain the funds in the first place were not made on the property!

Even a HUD representative quoted by the Journal News declares that “…Claxton was ineligible to participate” in the grant program.

Representatives of the agency facilitating the federal grants through NY State, the Affordable Housing Corporation, state that they “cannot provide records indicating that they followed state and federal rules…”

Read the latest Journal News article here

Besides, these are affordable housing funds. Is Drew Claxton really eligible for affordable housing money? Could it be that her political friends just did her a favor by getting her some free money? The Journal News also points out that just six months after receiving the money Claxton spearheaded legislation benefitting The Preservation Company in the River Pointe at Drum Hill project. This took place in a hastily called “Special Meeting” in 2008 when Mary Foster’s administration awarded them partnership in the project.

As we mentioned in earlier posts the Claxton case is very similar in nature to cases in Yonkers and Rockland County where elected officials were found guilty after many months of them defiantly proclaiming their innocence. InsidePEEK would not be surprised to see the same outcome in Peekskill.

InsidePEEK predicts more is on the way for this case. The State and County DA are investigating. Could the Feds be close behind? There is also the break-in and the two staff suspensions that have not been clarified yet. Don’t forget the lawsuit regarding the illegal budget meeting and vote. Could Claxton not be the only council member required to resign soon? Time will tell.

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Public Calls for Claxton to Resign

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Drew Claxton and her handlers must think the general public is stupid. They think that attempting to obfuscate the truth will help them convince people that she is not culpable in the illegal transfer and use of State and Federal funds. In typical fashion, they are actually trying to make Claxton look like the victim of activity by both The Preservation Company and her own son. Sad but true.

It’s not going to work for many reasons. There are too many documents and too much evidence that clearly shows her guilt. SHE is the owner of the Fremont Street property that was used to obtain the grants. Even if she added her son as a co-owner many years later, she is still an owner and would benefit from the improvements made from the funds. That is, if the improvements were even made on the home. Something that has not been proven since she cannot produce any evidence of payment for any work and has refused to allow anyone to observe the work done.

Claxton also signed all the documents relating to the grants. In those documents are clauses that clearly explain who is and who is not eligible for the grants (see below). She is either lying that she didn’t know or she is totally incompetent. Or maybe just arrogant and bold enough to think that she is not one who needs to care or worry about such things.

ConflictImageLast night was the first Peekskill Common Council Meeting since the story broke in the Journal News. It was the first time the public had an opportunity to face Claxton in person. The crowd overwhelmingly demanded her resignation. Curiously, that afternoon The Preservation Company put out a statement to the press that they contacted the DA and would “fully cooperate” with the investigation and that they were totally to blame. WAIT, the claim was that there was no investigation. At least they finally admitted to that. The truth is both are guilty. Claxton and The Preservation Company obviously knew what they were doing. The investigation will also clear up any additional illegal activity committed over time.

There was one person at the meeting, however, that seemed to be Claxton’s main defender – Ted Bitter. Who is he? He is the husband, boyfriend or live-in partner of Claxton. We don’t know exactly which he is since we have heard him mentioned as all of those. He also happens to be the operator of the Bean Runner coffee shop that is in the building owned by Claxton (yes, this is a different building owned by Claxton).

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Body language experts always point out that if someone is closing their eyes while answering questions or making statements it is a tell tale sign of attempting to avoid the truth. (Image Credit: Lohud.com)

Mr. Bitter went before the LoHud camera and didn’t help Claxton at all. He basically tried to defend her by blaming everybody but her. Not a good strategy. Members of the public can be heard challenging him as he lied to the reporter. He then attempted to deflect the conversation to the recent break-in of the City’s Building Department. Another bad idea since there has been no connection made to the Claxton case. In another attempt to deceive the public the Claxton camp is trying to insinuate that the maintenance supervisor who has been temporarily suspended staged the break-in. The reason he has been suspended has not been made public. The investigation is ongoing.

Read the recent Lohud article here and watch the video

But wait, Mr. Bitter seems to know why he was suspended. He even posted it on Facebook. Thanks to one of our readers InsidePEEK has obtained an image of his post the very day of the suspension! Was he told confidential inside information? Did Claxton now break confidentiality responsibility regarding a City employee? More troubling activity to ponder. Was she the one who shared with the press the actual email that was sent to council members from the City Manager informing them of the suspension? That was done within an hour of it being sent.

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InsidePEEK thinks Mayor Catalina, in a published statement, described the events following these discoveries correctly. Claxton and her political handlers are “circling the wagons” in an attempt to protect her and the Democratic majority on the Common Council. Oh, it may work temporarily but the evidence is too great and more is supposedly on the way.

The pattern is very common among elected officials caught in their corruption; deny, deny, deny, claim innocence and declare that vindication will be forthcoming. Then, a few months or more down the road comes the plea deal and the resignation. It has happened time and again from people in all levels of government and for Democrats and Republicans alike. It will most likely happen again in this case.

At the very least Claxton should step down during the investigation. She should spare the citizens of Peekskill the circus that she has created and will remain as long as the investigation continues. If she agrees with the maintenance supervisor being suspended during HIS investigation then why shouldn’t SHE do the same? Is it because she feels she shouldn’t be held to the same standards as everyone else? That is the attitude that got her into trouble in the first place.

InsidePEEK will continue to bring additional information on this story to our readers as it becomes available. We appreciate invaluable tips, documents and other material we are receiving. Please keep them coming!

ClaxtonGate – Break-in at Peekskill City Hall

Break-in photos

The Drew Claxton corruption case took a bizarre turn Thursday when a break-in of the Building Department offices was discovered in Peekskill City Hall.

Something else happened too:

The predictable game of semantics is also in full force by Claxton and Democratic Party operatives. InsidePEEK has received numerous tips that in a desperate attempt to change the narrative of the corruption story certain political forces are working overtime to squash any further reporting or investigations from continuing. Pressure is being put on the reporters and law enforcement agencies to downplay the facts and seriousness of the corruption.

Even the Westchester DA office’s comments are manipulated for political spin. The Journal News reported two days ago that the Westchester DA’s office was looking into the Claxton case. That is how all investigations take place. Once a possible case is brought to their attention the DA’s office begins the process of gathering the information and determining a course of action. That is how it is always done. Now, there are those who will use this process to their advantage by playing the semantics game claiming that no actual investigation is taking place. Of course there is, that is why the DA’s office said there was. It just happens to be in the early stages of it.

Back to the break-in:

According to City Hall staff, sometime during the overnight of Tuesday, January 19th and early morning of Wednesday the 20th the door leading into the Building Department was pried open by force. InsidePEEK is curious about the timing of this break-in, which occurred the very night when the Mayor requested during the Council Worksession that the documents be secured. In looking at the photos of the door it is obvious that some sort of heavy screwdriver or pry bar was used. Whoever did the break in also knew what they were doing.

The questions remain – who and why? What was taken … or added to the files? Whose files were the target? All questions that may never be fully answered.

InsidePEEK believes this may very well be related to the Claxton case but not necessarily to her specifically. Based on all reports the documentation that is fueling the Claxton corruption charges are mostly from sources not in City Hall. Although there are some Building Department records that show the absence of work done at Claxton’s Fremont Street building and questionable Bean Runner activity that has not been reported on yet, there may be other people involved. The documents related to Claxton are most likely already in the possession of the investigators. It is too late to alter them.

According to preliminary reports in the press there are a number of other individuals who may be involved in the same misuse of grant funds. Could this break in be related to one or more individuals nervous about their funds being exposed? Is it a City of Peekskill employee or an employee acting for a friend or family member? Anything is possible at this point.

The Peekskill Police Department is investigating and hopefully will come up with some of the answers. This brings up another important question – why wouldn’t the security cameras inside City Hall record anyone involved in this incident? Is there a way to enter this area of City Hall by avoiding being caught on camera? That would take intimate internal knowledge of the coverage areas of the City Hall cameras.

Many more questions than answers at this point. InsidePEEK will bring any further information to our readers as the investigation progresses.

Read the Journal News story on the break-in. Use the links below to read online or download the pdf version:

http://www.lohud.com/story/news/investigations/2016/01/21/break–reported-peekskill-building-department/79111420/

Journal News story pdf version

Claxton/McKenzie Attack Mayor on Calling for Measures to Protect City

McKenzie_Claxton Attack Mayor

As Glenn Frey would have said, “the heat is on!”

Tuesday night was the first time the entire Peekskill Council came face to face since the groundbreaking coverage of the Journal News on Drew Claxton’s illegal financial dealings. It just so happened, that very afternoon a new story hit the press that the Claxton investigation, just as InsidePEEK predicted, became criminal with the Westchester DA’s office announcing they were now involved.

At Tuesday’s meeting and with only the City of Peekskill’s interest in mind, Mayor Catalina stated he wanted to be sure any related records to Claxton’s case were secure and that the Council became informed of any other present or past employees of the City that were involved with Preservation Company programs. He also wanted a past decade report of all transactions, dealings or legislative interaction between the City of Peekskill and the Preservation Company. He additionally prepared a letter to send to the Preservation Company officials requesting their assistance in the probe. All justifiable, reasonable and prudent actions. As Mayor, Catalina (and the entire Council for that matter) has the responsibility for bringing all the facts forward and making sure the City’s best interests were secure. No individual is above the law and especially not above the City’s best interests.

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McKenzie and Claxton didn’t see it that way. With vitriol, sarcasm and anger the two attacked the mayor for his suggestion to take steps to protect the City. It was obvious that both were more interested in protecting Claxton than anything else. McKenzie was especially demonstrative in her attack on the Mayor claiming that the newspaper reporter and the DA’s Office were “his friends working hard for him.” She even challenged Catalina by saying he “wasn’t man enough.” It is obvious the walls are closing in and they are lashing out.

McKenzie continues her conduct truly unbecoming of an elected official. She not only caused, but welcomed a lawsuit over their illegal meeting and budget vote – and now this. InsidePeek has also been reminded of her direct verbal threat to a member of the public last year.

InsidePEEK will continue to keep our readers updated on the developments of the Claxton case as it continues closer and closer to her resignation.

Catch up with the articles with the links below:

http://www.lohud.com/story/news/investigations/2016/01/20/mayor-requests-report-non-profit-amid-criminal-probe/79079104/

http://www.lohud.com/story/news/investigations/2016/01/19/ds-office-probe-grant-politician-son/79012386/

Claxton Has No Choice – She Must Step Down

Claxton4

It has only been two days since the blockbuster story on the exposure of Drew Claxton’s Corruption appeared in the Journal News and the outrage by the Peekskill community has been strong, steady and unrelenting. They want her gone – and well she should be. They are disturbed and disgusted with what she did.

What has fueled the outrage is that Claxton has publically admitted to the wrongdoing. The question of her intentional breaking of the laws involved is settled. She did it. She admits it. Case over. If there are criminal investigations ahead they will take some time and will most likely involve multiple law enforcement agencies. This investigation may balloon to an extensive list of Claxton cohorts and associates.

ConflictImage

This is the section of the agreement Claxton signed that shows she or any member of her family was not eligible to receive the money. No waiver was granted either.

She claims she did nothing wrong!

Yeah, right. Soon after this story broke a number of InsidePEEK readers contacting us predicting the defense would be two pronged – a sympathy angle and, of course, the vast Republican conspiracy angle. Congratulations to those readers. They were right on!

What she fails to mention is that the Journal News reporter exposed her wrongdoing through very careful and prolonged investigation that took many months. He clearly wanted to be sure he had all the facts and presented them in a thorough manner. Besides, the Journal News is hardly a Republican tool. Quite the opposite.

She claims she and her son own the home together but that is not true (see below). She also claims it was her son that obtained the grants, also not true. He lives in California now and has no ties to the grants or the property. Claxton is now throwing everybody under the bus, including her own son. Bad enough she blames the agency for screwing up by awarding her the grants but now her son is at fault. Plus in her recent claim of innocence she says she will pay back the $15,000. That’s so nice of her but it is a total of $45,000 she needs to pay back. The amount of hubris and entitlement is astounding. She probably really feels she did nothing wrong. Her attitude is “ok, I got caught so I’ll just pay it back and go on my merry way.” Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

110.Fremont

This report shows that Drew Claxton is the sole owner of the Fremont Street property. The grants that were obtained by Claxton were to be targeted to first time home buyers and used only for primary residences, not income properties.

Besides, what deserving residents did she prevent from getting those funds? There are plenty of Peekskill families who are looking for a way to buy their first home but just can’t seem to accomplish their dream. She should be ashamed.

Remember Sandy Annabi from Yonkers? Just a few years ago she was exposed in a similar case to Claxton’s. She accepted inappropriate funds to vote a certain way and violate the law and the public trust the same as Claxton. For months she went in front of the cameras and assured reporters and the public she did absolutely nothing wrong. The truth will exonerate her soon enough she said. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way did it? Claxton is following the same pattern.

So where did the money go?

It has been proven that no work was done on the Fremont Street home as was stated in the grant request. No paper work exists that any of the procedures were followed to assure the funds were spent in the place and for the reason for which they were borrowed. It was a sham from the start. No waiver was ever obtained as required!

So where did the work take place then? No record of that either. Many are now realizing what might have happened. Around the same time as these improper grants agreements were taking place Claxton was involved in a stalled project she started a number of years before but just couldn’t get enough money to complete. She lost her business partner when he moved away and was now stuck to do the whole project alone. Then, all of a sudden, in 2008 the project started up again and work commenced. It must have been a miracle. Strange how that happens.

BeanRunnerConstruct

Nice that the project was able to continue. Is it legal to store construction material or a portable bathroom on a City sidewalk?

Our readers have provided much more information that InsidePEEK will bring to the public’s attention over time. Evidently, Claxton used her position in city government to gain advantage in many other ways, including special treatment for her business and family members. More on that later.

Drew Claxton has only one way to go and that is to step down. Oh, she can use the ruse of health if that helps her but she still must prevent the circus that is sure to come from keeping the City from moving forward. Even Shelly Silver did that. So did Anthony Weiner. She shouldn’t wait like Annabi did and be forced out by law enforcement. Peekskill doesn’t need a repeat of Yonkers or Spring Valley. She at least owes the citizens of Peekskill that.

Peekskill’s Claxton Caught in Illegal Financial Deal

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Wrut wro, looks like Peekskill Councilwoman Drew Claxton is in more legal trouble. She and one of her and the Democrat Party’s long time friend and collaborators Jeannette Phillips conspired to funnel over $45,000 to Claxton via illegal mortgage loans. Besides getting money she was not qualified for, Claxton didn’t use it where she said she was collecting it for. No records exist – either from Claxton or the lender, The Preservation Company, the Phillips run arm of the Hudson River Healthcare organization.

InsidePeek congratulates Journal News investigative reporter Lee Higgins for what looks like was a long and in depth look into this obviously improper series of transactions between Claxton and Phillips. What must have been months of FOIL requests and investigation turned up what amounts to Claxton and Phillips breaking State and Federal laws. Now, the investigations are beginning on the criminal level.

In the article Claxton blames everybody but herself. She even throws Phillips under the bus in an attempt to shield her own actions. It is clear in the reporting that BOTH knew what took place was wrong, it is clearly outlined in the documents obtained and provided by LoHud (click here for online version of the story to see documents). They admitted to being caught and agree that the money has to be paid back. The wink, wink between the two bore fruit for Phillips when just a short time after receiving the money Claxton moved a City Council resolution and voted to turn over the control of the River Pointe at Drum Hill project over to The Preservation Company, costing the City hundreds of thousands of dollars in administrative fees for the 43 units in this section eight program. The other Democrats in attendance voted yes as well.

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So, if the funds were not used for Claxton’s Fremont Street house where did it go? Seems that she had another project in the works at that time. A building she just couldn’t seem to get finished after years of trying to raise the funds to finish. Around this same time of getting this grant money it seems she was able to continue and finish the work on her new business. Strange. No, she wouldn’t borrow money for one property but use it on another would she? That would bring things to an even higher and more disturbing level. Stay tuned…

Read the Journal News article online or by pdf:

Online version of article here

Download pdf here

Town of Cortlandt Faces Another Lawsuit

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Cortlandt Town Board (L-R): Francis Farrell, Seth Freach, Supervisor Linda Puglisi, Debra Costello, and Richard Becker.

The Cortlandt Town Board has found itself sued, again, by a group looking to move forward with a project in the town. This time the $15 million discrimination suit hinges on a moratorium that is meant to prevent the Hudson Ridge Wellness Center from opening at the former Hudson Institute property on Quaker Ridge Road.

Once again Supervisor Puglisi and her rubber stamp board are in hot water from instituting a moratorium, their favorite tool to stop projects and the people proposing them they don’t like. The moratoriums always seem to come AFTER the project is proposed, which is a legal no-no. You would think they would be wary of continuing to use this tactic since they lost a similar suit just last year. According to the Journal News, there are also emails from Puglisi to local activists showing the intent to stop the project.

Read the entire Journal News article at their LoHud online site:

http://www.lohud.com/story/news/local/westchester/cortlandt/2015/12/30/hudson-ridge-cortlandt-lawsuit/78073612/

This lawsuit comes soon after the town lost its appeal to a suit successful against them from May 2013 in the NYS Supreme Court. The appeal failed in the NYS Appellate Division on October 21, 2015.

Green Materials of Westchester brought this action against the town when the Zoning Board acted on an amendment to the Town Code to deny the company to operate. There was also a moratorium imposed by the Town Board specifically intended to prevent the business from moving forward with the proposed activity. Actions by the various town officials was deemed “arbitrary and capricious” in the eyes of the law. The Cortlandt ZBA also independently determined and claimed the company intended to conduct activities that were not stated in their application. Basically, they made up stuff as to find a way to deny the application. The accusations by the board were found by the court to be “…nothing more than baseless rumor and suspicion.”

Green Materials Appellate-cover

Click on page to see entire document

InsidePEEK will continue to follow the developments of these actions and bring them to our readers.

Evidence Clear Council Majority Acted Illegally

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As the Article 78 lawsuit against the Peekskill Common Council majority moves forward it is clear that the evidence against them is overwhelming – much of it by their own admission.

Earlier today InsidePEEK received a copy of the Petitioner’s reply to the City of Peekskill’s Opposition to the suit. The facts show the council majority clearly violated numerous City Charter provisions and may be forced to comply, including the forfeiting of their offices. Darrin Rigger is already off the council due to not running for reelection this fall but the remaining ‘cabal’ of Claxton, McKenzie and Talbot may soon join him.

It has been shown in the legal documents submitted to the court that all council members and administrative staff agreed with Corporation Council Ferraro’s conclusion that the November 30, 2015 budget vote was done improperly thus being null and void. The problem then arose of how to correct the situation – here is where the council majority got themselves in trouble.

MOL in Reply to Opposition with Exhibits 1-12-16-1

Click on image to view full document

The Acting City Manager decided that a Special Meeting was in order. There are emails and affidavits that show this to be the case. At 4:55 PM on December 1st the Acting City Manager’s secretary began calling members of the council majority to see if they were available for a meeting that evening. This process violated the City Carter in two ways. Specifically, two members of the council or the Mayor alone can call a Special Meeting, not the City Manager or his/her secretary. Secondly, the notice must be given at least two days in advance, not 3 hours. See Code section below:

“Special meetings of the Common Council are all those Council meetings other than regular meetings. The Mayor or any two Council members upon notice to the entire Council may call a special meeting. Notice shall be given by telephone, in person or in writing so that it is received at least two days prior to the date fixed for the meeting…” Code of the City of Peekskill Ch. 20 §20-3.

Even during the actual meeting the majority members showed in their own words that they did not call the meeting properly. During the short time the Mayor was at the meeting he attempted to determine the legality of the meeting before the majority proceeded. He was methodical and poised in his questioning of the majority members. Councilwoman McKenzie took offense that the Mayor would be attempting to determine whether the meeting was legal or not. She didn’t seem to care, calling it “nonsense” and “if it is an issue as to whether we are having an illegal meeting, sue me.” Her arrogance and total disregard for the law and City Charter is shocking. Upon publically stating that it was an improperly called meeting the Mayor left the chamber. Unfazed, the Council majority proceeded with the illegal meeting and illegal budget vote.

We will all anxiously wait for the court to rule on the actions by the Council majority and what possible outcome will be the result. If the court rules against the majority it is probable that further court action will be needed to enforce the key Charter provision below:

Charter Chapter C

Race for NY 18th Congressional Seat Full of Contenders

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Diana Hird                          Phil Oliva

The 2016 18th Congressional District race is set to be an all out battle – on both sides.

The seat is presently held by Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, representing parts of Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess and Orange counties. Redistricting was last done in 2010 (which took effect in 2013) and saw New York’s Congressional spots reduced from 29 to 27. Peekskill, for example, was switched from the 19th district, represented at that time by Rep. Nan Hayworth, to the present 17th district held by Nita Lowey.

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The GOP sees this seat as winnable, which is shown, by the number of candidates already announced. The field grew to 6 this past week with Westchester County resident Phil Oliva tossing his hat in the ring. Oliva, is not stranger to political campaigns and has experience on the state level with the Assembly Republican caucus and also with former Governor Pataki. For the last few years he has been an aide to Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and worked on his failed race for governor in 2014. Oliva has never run for political office before this announcement.

The other GOP contenders are John Lange of South Salem, Kenneth Del Vecchio of Warwick, Frank Spaminato of Newburgh, Dan Castricone (former Orange County Legislator) of Tuxedo and Samika Brown (former School Board President) of Poughkeepsie.

For the Democrats, Maloney will be challenged by Diana Hird. She is an attorney who lives in Cold Spring and has experience on Wall Street working for the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Both sides are unhappy with Maloney’s representation, or lack of it, while in office. Democrats see him as a tool for rich donors with very few small donors. The GOP sees the seat as a swing district that can be won. Both sides see Maloney as someone who doesn’t even live in the district. The charge is he actually lives in NYC and maintains a Cold Spring address for political purposes. Plus, Maloney narrowly beat Hayworth by 3,333 votes winning 47.7% to Hayworth’s 45.9%. That was with Independent Scott Smith on the ballot and receiving 2.3% of the vote. It is a Presidential election year so those statistics will have to be looked at very closely. Things change dramatically in Presidential elections because so many more people vote. That is how Maloney unseated Hayworth in the first place.

Maloney_Hayworth 2014

Regardless, it will all come down to money. That’s how it is with most campaigns but especially when running for Congress and Maloney seems to have a big advantage.

The Maloney/Hayworth rematch of 2014 saw a total expenditure of the race a record $11 million. Maloney spent roughly $4 million and Hayworth spent $3.4 million with $1.6 million of it coming from her personal funds. Outside groups spent roughly $3.5 million on the race. So far Hayworth is not running so there is no candidate from the GOP side that can contribute that much personal wealth to their candidacy. In 2014 the Democratic Congressional Campaign devoted $740,000 to Maloney while the National Republican Congressional Committee only contributed $26,000 to Hayworth. Was this because Hayworth had her own funds to use? Maybe, but the GOP candidates have a big disadvantage to overcome and a long, expensive primary won’t help.

InsidePEEK will keep an eye on this race and will update our readers as the campaign progresses.

Peekskill Council Majority Sued Over Illegal Meeting

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Councilwoman Vivian McKenzie should be careful what she wishes for. Her public statement at the improperly called December 1, 2015 “Special Meeting” just might come back to bite her and her collaborators in the illegal meeting, Councilmembers Claxton, Rigger and Talbot. What did McKenzie say when challenged after the illegal vote to adopt the 2016 City of Peekskill budget? – “Sue me.” Well, someone did.

Local residents Robert and Catherine Sullivan had enough. They had enough of the outright disregard for the City of Peekskill Charter and the law. Like many of Peekskill’s residents who follow the local government meetings they have been outraged by the common council majority’s attitude over recent years. Not only have they ignored the provisions of the city charter but may have improperly altered it for their convenience. The Sullivans first gave the council majority an opportunity to understand his concerns by sending the entire board an email outlining his observations and why the meeting and vote on December 1st were illegal and not in compliance with the charter. They also sent the email to Acting City Manager Richard Leins. The email was never responded to so the Sullivans had only one way to have the issued addressed and that action also granted Councilwoman McKenzie’s wish.

It all started when the Common Council met on November 30, 2015 to vote on the 2016 budget. The Sullivan email to the council describes it best, “…the fiasco that was the November 30 Meeting made it clear that the majority caucus caballed in order to make a public show allowing members Talbot and McKenzie to validate their improvident campaign promises. Talbot and McKenzie first voted against any tax increase and then purportedly   “compromised” for the good of the City by passing the Council’s Amended Budget which exceeded the tax cap. The problem, as astutely stated by Mr. Vesce, is that when   ”…people don’t do their homework,” and want to engage in clever parliamentary and political tactics, they can commit procedural errors. Such as what occurred relative to the adoption of the budget on November 30. Being “cute” foreclosed them from achieving their real legislative objective. Here, the majority caucus, which apparently planned the defeat of the original resolution adopting the Council’s Budget, did not have the aforethought to properly plan on how to lay a resolution on the table which would achieve the object of their cabal.”

At least the council heeded their corporation council’s warning the next day when they were told the budget vote they conducted the previous evening was improper and invalid. It had to be done over. The problem is they proceeded illegally again when they attempted to call a meeting behind the mayor’s back and without proper notice. The Sullivans warned the council of this as well: “…having reviewed the video of the purported “Special Meeting” of December 1 and the pertinent provisions of the City Charter, it is our view that based upon what was said at the meeting the meeting was not properly convened in accordance with the Charter, specifically Section C-20-3. Moreover, the majority caucus never sought an opinion from the Deputy Corporation Counsel that the meeting was properly called. In fact, she advised the Mayor that she could not opine that it was legitimate. Nonetheless, the majority caucus opted to proceed. There was no evidence adduced at the meeting that two members of the Council called for the meeting and that they notified the other members of the Council in person, by mail or by telephone. Moreover, there was no evidence adduced at the meeting of exigent circumstances so as to dispense with the two day’s notice required by the Charter.” They go on to point out the inappropriate behavior of the four council members who conducted the illegal meeting and vote: “…the conduct and demeanor of members of the Council at the December 1 “Meeting” was not in accord with the Rules of Decorum that were enacted by the Council and not what the citizens and taxpayers of this City expect and are entitled to. When the mayor, acting as a citizen (which he was since there was no legal meeting) sought to address the Council, one member walked off the dais and refused to listen to his comments. After the Mayor left the Chamber, the same member re-took the dais and shouted a sarcastic “Bye” to the Mayor. Such conduct is boorish at best, more consistent with an argument in a school yard rather than a meeting of the legislative body of the City, and is wholly inconsistent with the Council’s own rules of decorum.”

So what now? What if the lawsuit is successful and shows that Claxton, McKenzie, Talbot and Rigger blatantly disregarded the Peekskill City Charter and the Law? The Charter is clear on that:

Article V., Section C-43 of the Charter of the City of Peekskill provides that:

“Any member of the Common Council who shall knowingly or unlawfully disregard any provision of law applicable to the member thereof, or who shall vote for any ordnance or measure in violation of law, or any appropriation unauthorized by law… shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and liable to the punishment and penalty prescribed therefor… and every member voting in favor shall be individually liable to refund the amount to the City at the suit of any taxpayer…”

In addition, Article IV, Section C-25 of the Charter entitled “Penalty for Violation of Duty” states, in pertinent part:

“ Any officer (which includes the Common Council) who willfully violates or evades any provision of law or this Charter…. Shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and, in addition to the penalties imposed by law, shall on conviction forfeit his/her office or employment…”

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InsidePeek has also discovered that this is not the first time these articles of the City Charter have come into play. It has come to our attention that based on previous actions by council majority members, citizens have independently brought this directly to the council and the public. They were ignored just as the Sullivans have been most recently. InsidePEEK is committed to gathering this information and will bring it to you in a future post.

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