BY JEFF GILLIES
With one subtle move in appointing Legislator Aron Wieder to replace Legislator Nancy Low-Hogan on the Budget and Finance Committee, Rockland County Legislature Chairman Alden Wolfe has effectively given his band of Ramapo Democrats the power to block just about any matter of importance in county government.
Wolfe’s appointment of Wieder places five Ramapo Democrats on the most powerful sub-committee in county government. Any item that requires funding needs to be approved within this committee before it can be brought to the floor for an up and down vote before the full legislative body. The Budget and Finance Committee consists of ten members, and a majority vote is needed to move items out of the committee. With Wieder, Soskin, Schoenberger, Earl, and Wolfe holding five of the ten spots, Ramapo now controls the purse strings to Rockland County, as nothing can get out committee without at least one of their crew on board to account for a six vote majority.
Items blocked in committee can still be brought before the full legislature, but need to be introduced as “new business”, which requires a 12 vote super-majority. When Ramapo puppet Legislator Aney Paul is added into the caucus, the Ramapo Democrats now control 6 of the 17 votes, leaving even a fully united bipartisan effort against Ramapo with only 11 votes- one shy of the amount needed to pass any resolutions.
Given that Republican Legislators Douglas Jobson and Patrick Moroney have a curious history of siding with the Ramapo Democrats with notable frequency, there’s no guarantee that even in the event of one Ramapo defection, a 12 vote majority could ever be reached.
To make matters even worse, Chairman Wolfe also ensured that the second most influential committee will remain a choke point for many important matters to die in committee. As was the case with thememorializing resolution voicing approval for an independent monitor in the East Ramapo School District, the Multi-Services Committee already controlled by the Ramapo Democrats can block a wide range of important county matters. For example, many of the non-profit contract agencies fall under the purview of the Multi-Services Committee. Thanks to Chairman Wolfe, the Ramapo Democrats have five of the seven seats on this committee in Soskin, Paul, Wieder, Earl and Schoenberger. Once again, nothing comes out of this committee without the approval of the Ramapo Democrats and the same rules apply about items blocked here being brought forward only as new business requiring a 12 vote super-majority.
In other words, thanks to Legislator Wolfe, who as Chairman of the Legislature is the one designated to make these appointments, most of the business of the Rockland County Legislature is now at the mercy of the Ramapo Democrats. Whether Chairman Wolfe failed to think this through or if he purposely wanted it this way is up to him to explain. However, we do know some key background facts that may have played a role in determining the fate of the county. Sources connected to the Rockland County Legislature confirmed to Rockland Voice that there was a strong opposition within the Democratic County Legislators’ ranks that wanted Aron Wieder out as their party’s Majority Leader.
Specifically, Legislators Jay Hood, Nancy Low-Hogan and Michael Grant were reportedly vocal in advocating for Wieder’s removal from the Majority Leader post. In what might be a lesson in being careful about what you wish for, Wieder stepped down from this mostly powerless position citing his desire to “focus” on the East Ramapo School District only to end up later in two different positions with very real and significant power. Did Wieder exert influence with Wolfe to actually gain power as he relinquished a largely ceremonial title, or did Wolfe simply fail to see the larger picture?
Perhaps not coincidentally, the legislators who spoke out against Wieder were the biggest losers in Wolfe’s reshuffling of the committee deckchairs. Legislator Hood, who took great pride in his role as chairman of the Public Safety Committee was ousted from it and Legislator Wieder was handed this important post.
Ironically, this puts the representative for an area that has a well-earned reputation for ignoring and perpetuating public safety violations in charge of the legislation of these rules for the rest of the county. In other words, Chairman Wolfe has put the cat in charge of minding thecanary. Was this political retribution against Jay Hood for speaking out against Wieder? It certainly looks that way on the surface.
Legislator Low-Hogan found herself booted out of the Budget and Finance Committee to make room for Wieder and to increase the Ramapo Democratic membership from four to five, placing them in effective control of the committee. Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Michael Grant retains his position, but now his influence has been essentially negated in any matter that the Ramapo grouping desires to block.
Are these moves by Chairman Wolfe against the non-Ramapo Democrats who spoke out merely coincidental or are these moves calculated political payback? If they were motivated by the latter, the end result would be petty politics potentially sinking the finances and operations of the entire Rockland County Legislature. A compelling argument can be made that Chairman Wolfe has decided that the interests of Ramapo are above the interests of Rockland County as a whole.
For now, the power shift mapped out above is still a matter of what might happen in theory as opposed to how these legislators will vote in actual matters. On that note, it is important to point out that certain legislators now face an important crossroad in their political careers. On the Democratic side, three legislators can potentially reverse course and begin working for the interests of the county as a whole, as opposed to the self-serving path they have been on until now.
Perhaps Legislator Toney Earl, as the new Majority Leader, might suddenly realize his obligation is to represent the best interests of all citizens of Rockland County and recognize that the minority contingency within his party, led by Hood and Low-Hogan, deserves to have its voice heard? Legislator Earl is believed by many to be nothing more than a patsy of Christopher St. Lawrence whose presence in the legislature is enabled by his complicity in advancing the agenda of the Ramapo political machine. There are many insiders who believe Earl would not have been handed this post unless he was considered to be in lockstep with Wieder and Schoenberger and malleable to their desires. This is Legislator Earl’s chance to prove those people wrong. Does he have the competence to seize this opportunity to retrieve his reputation, or will he simply cement it further to the Ramapo block?
The same opportunity is there also for Legislator Aney Paul whose reputation is possibly even worse than Earl’s. It is not uncommon for Legislator Schoenberger to get up from his seat just prior to votes in the legislature and walk over to whisper in Legislator Paul’s ear. Has he been instructing her how to vote? It can certainly be seen that way. In a recent vote regarding the county’s 2016 budget, Schoenberger approached Paul prior to a vote. Moments later, Paul actually voted against the position Schoenberger had taken. Schoenberger then returned to Paul’s seat and whispered in her ear again. She sported a sheepish grin that led some in the audience to speculate she had accidently voted in opposition to what she might have been told. As the Deputy Majority Leader, Legislator Paul (who somehow managed to run unopposed in 2015) now has yet another chance to show that she is something more than a second vote belonging to Schoenberger.
On the Republican side, Legislators Jobson and Moroney will now be targeted as the potential ‘weak links‘ in the Republican Party legislative ranks. Both have a repeated history of going against their party and siding with the Ramapo Democrats. In supporting the 2015 county budget, Legislator Jobson stated he would never support any layoffs, even though he believed there was nothing for certain county employees to do, but maybe something could be found and things might change. Jobson has accepted the vice chair position in the Public Safety Committee now headed by Wieder. We hope it is Jobson’s intent to attempt to keep Wieder on a path that serves the county as a whole. This is not to say that independent thinking and bipartisan cooperation are not welcomed and encouraged, but in instances such as voting to expend roughly $4 million dollars to wash buses in order to prevent them from spontaneously catching fire, siding with the Ramapo Democrats is ill-advised. Is it a coincidence that these two legislators haverun unopposed by Democrats?
Finally, the architect behind this power shift still has a chance to redeem himself. By breaking with the Ramapo machine, Wolfe can mitigate some of the potential for disaster he has created. There is little indication Wolfe might be willing to put aside his personal and political differences with County Executive Ed Day in order to govern in the best interests of the county, but he might be persuaded to work with those in his own party especially if rumors that he is interested in pursuing wider political office such as a judgeship sometime in the future are true.
In the meantime, the people of Rockland County can only wait and see exactly how the Ramapo Democrats decide to wield their power and if and how any of their Republican colleagues decide to help them.
Thanks to Chairman Wolfe, Rockland is now at the mercy of Ramapo.
Jeff Gillies is a Bardonia resident and is active in local politics