Sign Wars and Accusations of Intimidation, Vandalism Mar Haverstraw Campaign Season

BY MARC MOSS

This improperly-placed Rita Louie signed caused Haverstraw Supervisor Howard Phillips great consternation. It is against code to place signs on the property of village and town landmarks. Louie removed the sign promptly at the request of Haverstraw Mayor Michael Kohut.
This improperly-placed Rita Louie signed caused Haverstraw Supervisor Howard Phillips great consternation. It is against code to place signs on the property of village and town landmarks. Louie removed the sign promptly at the request of Haverstraw Mayor Michael Kohut.

It’s the campaign season to end all campaign seasons in the Town of Haverstraw. The six-decade long Democratic coalition that has produced such leaders as Democratic Chairman Fred Miller (in office since 1965), late Supervisor Phil Rotella and currently serving Supervisor Howard Phillips, among others, has shown signs of fracture this year, as a war between former party coalition supporter and trailer park owner John Piperato, his brother County Clerk Paul Piperato and the Democratic Committee led by Miller and Phillips, has commenced.

John Piperato is running for highway superintendent against Phillips’ choice George Wargo, a longtime employee of the Rockland County Highway Department. Adding to the mix is the candidacy of progressive Democrat Rita Louie, a trustee of the Village of Pomona, for the position of supervisor. Louie has been one of the leaders in the fight against the Haverstraw desalination plant, which Phillips has supported in hopes of attracting a taxable enterprise to his town.

Accusations are flying as John Piperato said he found a Wargo sticker placed on his parents’ headstone at the local cemetery. Wargo supporters said their guy would never have anything to do with such a stunt and some even implied on social media the sticker may have been planted by a Piperato supporter in order to frame Wargo.

Rita Louie has complained that her supporters do not feel comfortable placing signs up for fear of retribution from Phillips’ well-oiled political machine. She told the Rockland County Times that on more than one occasion a supporter had placed a Louie sign up on their lawn, only to ask that it be taken down shortly after because of negative reaction they received.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Phillips told the Rockland County Times that Louie was not following the sign ordinances in town, inappropriately placing signs where they are forbidden, such as on library property. He said this showed her lack of understanding of how to run her campaign and by extension the town.

Earlier this month, highway superintendents candidate Barry Berman, a longtime active member in community organizations such as the Ambulance Corps and former member of the town’s Architectural Review Board, was arrested for allegedly soliciting $3,000 from John Piperato in return for leaving the race for highway superintendent.

All told, it’s been a wild election season in the normally tame and controlled environs of Haverstraw politics. Miller and Phillips’ Democratic Committee has not faced such turbulence in perhaps multiple decades. Chairman Fred Miller has been the boss of the committee since 1965, speaking to long-term stability of the town’s political coalition.

The results of the 2013 election, more-so than any other in recent history, promise to shift politics within the Town of Haverstraw for years to come.