Democrats still at odds over East Ramapo monitor, full Legislature rejects replacement for Sparaco

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Body still divided over Multi-Services vote, fails to approve pro-monitor appointee


NEW CITY – Though a memorializing resolution expressing support for state intervention in the East Ramapo Central School District failed in committee last week, the issue remains divisive among the largely supportive legislature.

The matter has become so heated that a potential Democratic appointee to a vacant legislative post has accused three fellow party members of stonewalling his appointment on the basis of his advocacy for public school students.

Richard Diaz, a Congers resident and business-owner, was recommended by the county’s Democratic caucus as a temporary replacement for former 11th District Republican Legislator Frank Sparaco, who vacated his post to serve jail time for election fraud. However, Diaz’s appointment was blocked when the appointment failed to gather the necessary nine affirmative votes to pass.

The vote resolution failed on an 8-6 with three absent. A mixed, bipartisan pool of legislators voted against the appointment, with Democratic Legislators Ilan Schoenberger, Phillip Soskin and Aron Wieder joining Republican Legislators Christopher Charey, Lon Hofstein and Patrick Moroney to oppose the measure.

Carey and Hofstein expressed more hope for discussion before an appointment had been agreed upon, with Carey specifically mentioning his desire to consider Diaz’s opponent Republican Laurie Santulli.

The opposition from Diaz’s own party was more ambiguous as Democratic legislators explained their votes only by referring to unspecified, unresolved issues. Calling the rejection an “unfortunate situation,” Schoenberger stated the vote was introduced prematurely and added that he intended to call Diaz after the meeting to express his regret the matter failed in the way that it did.

“I would like to have been able to vote for Mr. Diaz,” Schoenberger said. “I asked our colleagues before we came in tonight to not push it tonight, to let it go because we had other issues that needed to be discussed and resolved and they insisted upon going forward.”

Though Schoenberger would not publicly discuss the substance of the unresolved issues he felt should have been addressed prior to the vote, Diaz maintained his rejection was based upon his advocacy for East Ramapo’s public school students, particularly a trip to Albany with a contingent of local activists and officials last week where he helped petition state lawmakers for a pair of East Ramapo fiscal oversight bills proposed by Rockland’s Albany reps.

“I think, bottom line, the motivating factor was my stance for the children of the East Ramapo School District,” Diaz stated.

While Republican opposition could be a product of a partisan effort to prevent a Democrat from taking a seat formerly held by a Republican, Diaz’s rejection by members of his own party did mirror opposition to the oversight proposal. Schoenberger, Soskin and Wieder are the same Democratic legislators who blocked the memorializing resolution in committee.

Even beyond the vote, East Ramapo remained a looming issue for the Legislature as its members and other Rockland officials have expressed both support and opposition to the prospect of fiscal monitor with veto power over the school board. 13 legislators signed onto a bill in support of a pair of bills sponsored by State Sen. David Carlucci, Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee. A minority contingent made up of Schoenberger, Soskin and Wieder issued their own letter favoring increased state fiscal support and a revised aid formula over a state monitor with veto power.

Consequently, the body’s Multi-Services committee-and particularly the minority contingent-drew some legislative ire on Tuesday when it failed to pass a memorializing resolution in support of the bills.

According to Legislator Joseph Meyers, who represents constituents in the ERCSD and strongly supports oversight, legislative inaction reflects negatively on an issue with which constituents are intimately familiar, especially when a small minority of legislators are able to block an up-or-down vote.

“The sentiments are clear and people understand these issues,” Meyers said.

Critics of the resolution, however, remained adamant, characterizing its recommendations as disenfranchisement of school board voters. Schoenberger argued that though he does not oppose oversight, he believed the bill would set a “bad precedent” and argued voter engagement was superior to a state monitor who would hold what he characterized as dictatorial power.

“What this bill…proposes to do is to dilute and diminish the statutory authority of the duly elected school board and replace it with a state monitor,” Schoenberger said. “This will replace a democracy with an autocracy.”

According to legislators, a compromise was sought during a closed-door meeting prior to the general session, but language for a new memorializing bill could not be agreed upon. At the same time, most legislators agreed something had to be done in East Ramapo and that legislative input was expected.

“It’s a countywide issue,” Legislator Toney Earl stated. “We’re here grappling with some kind of language that we can all live with so we can move on.”

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