The Year that Was – Rockland County 2013

The Five Biggest Rockland Stories of 2013 
BY DYLAN SKRILOFF

5) Orangetown election — An election decided by two votes and at the whim of judicial decisions is not something you see too often. Following election night 2013, Walter Wettje (R) held a 36 vote lead over incumbent Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart (D), leading to hopes that the GOP had swept the town council election and earned a 5-0 board majority. Instead, after a recount and absentee ballots came in, Stewart had closed the gap. When several of Wettje’s ballots were disqualified by Judge Victor Alfieri in mid-December and the ruling was upheld on appeal, Stewart ended up with a two vote win for the ages. The six weeks of counts, recounts and court proceedings left all involved emotionally exhausted and removed any doubt from the minds of Orangetown residents that one vote can make a difference.

4) The Chris Kirby incident and the arrival of a true East Ramapo political movement — It’s been no secret that the East Ramapo Central School District is experiencing tumult for years, but 2013 marked the year that a full-fledged resistance to the private school domination of the board was launched by public school parents. Movements benefit from symbolic moments and when assistant attorney for the district Chris Kirby tore into district parent Peggy Hatton, mocking her and calling her the “C-word” on tape, it served to unite the community against the board’s status quo. Ed Day promised to use the bully pulpit to address East Ramapo issues, bolstering his electoral prospects.

3) FBI visits Rockland twice — Rockland was the staging ground for at least two major FBI operations in 2013. In Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret were arrested on felony charges of bribery and corruption, while Clarkstown attorney and Bronx GOP Chairman Jay Savino was also arrested on similar charges. The three Rockland officials were among a net of lawmakers conspiring to trade money and favors for various reasons, including an attempt to get State Senator Malcolm Smith the GOP nomination for NYC mayor. Not long after those arrests Ramapo Town Hall was raided, as the FBI sought more information on the town’s financial dealings in the Pomona baseball stadium project.

2) A new county executive for the first time in 20 years and Ed Day rearranges political chessboard — It’s the end of the C. Scott Vanderhoef era and a “New Day” for Rockland, as GOPer Ed Day beat the enrollment disadvantage (over 2-1 Democrats to Republicans in Rockland) and won the county executive election. That alone is a big enough story, but he also rearranged the political deck with his win. The minor party lines (Conservative and Independence), often crucial in swinging close elections, would not support Day, forcing him to forge a new strategy; one that proved better off for his campaign and more fitting to his personality. Day aligned with Preserve Ramapo (now Preserve Rockland) and campaigned against the political establishment and specifically against the Ramapo bloc vote. Day was able to whip up the passions of Rocklanders who had long since grown tired of how the election system plays out in the county, and won with breathing room over Ramapo Democrat David Fried.

1) The Journal News burns down their own empire — While the county executive election will have more impact on Rockland County’s future, the biggest story of the year was the infamous Journal News gun map listing the names of residents who own pistol permits on an interactive map. The map was actually published in late December 2012, but the story really took off nationally in January 2013. It is not often that a local story becomes a true national and international headline issue for a period of several weeks, but the Journal News and publisher Janet Hasson pulled it off, making themselves one of the biggest news story in the world for an entire month.

janet hassonThough the editorial board was attempting to push for stronger gun control, the Journal News unintentionally aided the gun rights movement by taking focus off of the Newtown massacre and onto its own bizarre objectification of its readership, portraying liberal activists in the worst possible light and making conservatives look good in comparison. The Journal News lost multiple thousands of subscribers due to the botched editorial judgement, but its website did see a considerable and sustained uptick in traffic from the controversy.

Of course, the Rockland County Times profited from the Journal News’ folly, earning national spotlight for its coverage of its rival newspaper’s mishap, as well as hero status locally for confronting the wayward agenda-driven editors.

Honorable mention –

The mercurial Spy-Raco — Legislator Frank Sparaco sure knows how to find his way into headlines. The year 2013 was a mix of good and bad for Sparaco, his highlight coming in March when he miraculously organized the liberal-dominated Rockland County Legislature to join the Repeal SAFE-Act movement, thus earning Rockland Democrats the wrath of anti-gun Governor Cuomo.

Sparaco’s fortunes turned murkier when he decided to air undercover films he made of fellow lawmakers apparently attempting to offer him gifts and a better job in return for supporting highway superintendents candidate Dennis Malone. Mr. Malone claims the tapes were edited to take the conversations out of context and he is currently suing Sparaco. The tapes, which feature Malone and Clarkstown Councilman Frank Borelli, appear to back up Sparaco’s story, but the spectacle of an official taping other officials gleaned a mixed reaction from the media and public.

Sparaco also found himself the favorite whipping boy of the Clarkstown contingent of the Preserve Rockland movement. The constant maligning of Sparaco has led him to sue Internet hatchet-man Michael Hull for libel and slander.