Pomona Villlage race heats up with big town friction; splash of celebrity

The normally neighborly political scene of the Village of Pomona this year has taken on the flavor of politics seen in some of the contentious town elections in Rockland County. Accusations and counter-accusations are rife and the village has dealt with a rash of resignations of officers who blame incumbent Mayor Brett Yagel for pushing them out of service and/or employment to the municipality of just over 3,000 persons situated in parts of the towns of Ramapo and Haverstraw.

Longtime public servant and community stalwart Rita Louie was among those filing resignations. She blamed her departure from the Board of Trustees on her former running-mate Yagel. Louie opened up about her experience with Yagel, claiming that the man who she still considers a longtime friend and neighbor had become increasingly “paranoid” beginning two to three years ago.

Louie, an owner of construction firm RJL Development, recently earned a contract overseeing development of part of the new World Trade Center. She said the stress caused by her neighbor Yagel had become something she could no longer tolerate in light of her increased workload.

Said Louie, “Before I stepped down as trustee I pleaded with him to stop the witch hunt against people working for the village, good people.  Been acting recklessly the last two years, a little like a bully. I was forced to step down. I could not deal with the drama he was creating in the village.”

One incident that both Yagel and his foes cite for their own purposes is the refusal of mayoral opponent Ian Banks to do anymore gratis (free) work for the village, be it through his musical band or his contracting company, until a new regime comes into play. Yagel cited this decision by Banks as evidence of political manipulation on his part, while Louie stated, “That’s one more person who will not do business with the village because of the mayor. That says more about Yagel than it does Ian.”

Yagel was not available for comment due to his busy last minute campaign schedule, but did send the newspaper letters explaining why he believes he’s still the best man for the mayoral job.

Yagel supporter and community activist Susan Montemorano said she believes Yagel is a fighter who is the man needed to stop the incursion of the three-headed development dragon that is Tartikov, Wal-Mart and Patrick Farms. “We feel that he will very much help keep Pomona what it is – a nice little rural village.”

She also said she believed that the disagreements at Village Hall all had potential explanations in the favor of Yagel, including her belief he was fighting excessive patronage and cronyism in village government.

Rita Louie’s opinion of Yagel has not always been negative. She said, “He suddenly changed.  He was really good the first few years. But then, I could not reason with him. He was making up stuff about me. Lies. I told him to stop making up stuff about me.”

May Pang, record executive and famous one-time girlfriend of John Lennon, is amongst those running for the Board of Trustees in Pomona
May Pang, record executive and famous one-time girlfriend of John Lennon, is among those running for the Board of Trustees in Pomona

Within four months the village lost its clerk, treasurer and one of its trustees, all ostensibly due to conflicts with the mayor. “When the rats are jumping ship, there’s something wrong with the ship,” Louie quipped. “He just took all of the village spirit out of the village.”

One thing all sides agree on is the need to continue legal battles resisting the proposed Tartikov rabbinical college, Patrick Farms development and Wal-Mart on Route 202 in Mt. Ivy (bordering Pomona). However, the foes of Yagel, running on the Preservation of Pomona party line, state that Yagel has not been conscientious of legal costs and has allowed law firms to charge the village at will.

There also is campaign disagreement over whether Yagel has allowed taxes to spike in recent years and his record dealing with mountain roads that have yet to be properly paved, remaining in various states of gravel or loose asphalt. His foes say taxes have spiked 50 percent in four years while they’ve been frozen out of budget talks, while Yagel contends his management has held taxes in check and he has been on top of the road situation. The state comptroller recently ranked Pomona as one of the most fiscally stressed villages in New York.

Adding a celebrity aura to the race is the candidacy of May Pang, famous for being John Lennon’s girlfriend during his “lost weekend” split from Yoko Ono in the early 1970s and also an executive in the music business in her own right, as well as ex-wife of musician and producer Tony Visconti. Pang told the Rockland County Times she never expected to get involved in local politics, but upon asking questions about the going-ons in local government found herself profoundly disappointed in the management style of Mayor Yagel.

Yagel represents the Village Community Party. Running mates: Trustees Leon Harris and Nicholas Wilson.

Banks represents the Preservation Party line. Running mates: Former Trustee Alan Lamer and newcomer May Pang.

The election is Wednesday, March 18.