Clarkstown GOP looks to kick out committeewoman/blogger

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

letter1In the latest internal strife between local Republicans, the Clarkstown GOP is seeking to excommunicate a local blogger and committeewoman with a history of speaking out against party leaders.

Jeanine Vecchiarelli, an elected member of the Republican Committee, has been charged with disloyalty by the Clarkstown GOP. Town Committee Chairman Bob Axelrod accuses Vecchiarelli of attacking and attempting to sabotage fellow Republicans, specifically Duncan Rogers Lee II, a former candidate in the Upper Nyack village justice race.

Vecchiarelli made the critical comments on a Facebook page called “Save Our State” in March. The blogger slammed Lee, claiming his candidacy as judge was no more than a reward for his doing party leadership’s bidding.

Lee is representing GOP leaders in a lawsuit against Vecchiarelli’s friends and fellow political travelers Michael Hull and Anthony Mele. The two were sued for what has been characterized by party leaders as defamatory reporting against Republicans on local blogs.

Hull, Mele and their supporters counter that the lawsuit is an unethical instance of SLAPP (a strategic lawsuit against public participation). Notably, Mele has ran for town supervisor of Ramapo and for Congress as the official GOP nominee and claims the party subverted his campaigns in both instances.

According to Vecciarelli, the attempt to penalize her and other bloggers is an example of her party’s attempt to scare dissenters. Axelrod countered Vecciarelli’s censorship accusations by arguing she opted to attack Reda and Lee rather than discussing the matter with them.

“I tried my best to get her to be a team member and leader for us, but she has consistently gone public in her criticisms of the party leadership,” Axelrod wrote. “I told her this can only cause dissension and negative public opinion. I asked her to air her concerns from within and help to do what’s best internally.”

Vecchiarelli also posted a cartoon which suggested Lee was acting as a tool for Rockland GOP Chairman Vincent Reda. The depiction shows Lee nestled inside a gun holster strapped to an infantile depiction of Reda as a cowboy. She referred to Lee as Reda’s “pet.”

“My opposition springs from the reason Lee was to be rewarded with this effort on his behalf: he willingly signed on to handle an illegal frivolous case pro bono for Reda…The sole purpose of this legal action is to strip bloggers of their First Amendment protected right of free speech,” Vecchiarelli stated in an open letter to Rockland’s political community. “As a fellow writer, my opinion is that any lawyer with such a flippant attitude toward constitutional rights he should be protecting, as well as ambivalence toward the danger such a precedent would pose on a broader scale should the case proceed does not possess the proper qualifications to be a judicial arbiter.”

Axelrod said he had given consideration to Vecciarelli’s freedom of speech, but was forced to act when she “crossed the line” by targeting Lee during his campaign. He concluded there was no other recourse except to pursue a vote to remove her from the board.

“It is something I do not feel good about but I believe to be necessary,” Axelrod said to the Rockland County Times.

Vecciarelli is set to appear before the Committee on Wednesday, but announced she did not intend to appear at what she believed would be an unfair proceeding.

This is the third time since 2011 that Clarkstown Republicans pursued a disloyalty charge against one of their own. Ralph Sabatini was almost expelled for attending a fundraiser benefitting Clarkstown’s Democratic highway superintendent candidate Dennis Malone, who was facing off against Republican Wayne Ballard. The accusations against Sabatini were dropped.

Later in 2013, Clarksown Councilman Frank Borelli was booted from the committee after audio and video tape recorded by County Legislator Frank Sparaco showed Borelli working with Democrats to cut a deal to the detriment of Ballard. At the time, Ballard was running for Clarkstown highway superintendent.

Vecchiarelli and others accuse the GOP leaders of hypocrisy and selective prosecution, noting that Rockland’s GOP leaders sometimes work closely with Democrats, even cross-endorsing them in certain instances. As one example, recently Sparaco sent an invitation to an Independence Party event honoring District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, a Democrat. Zugibe received the GOP endorsement in 2011.