While the etymology of the phrase “may you live in interesting times” is in doubt, its meaning is clear. It is used in an ironic sense with “interesting” connoting trouble or suffering. That is a perfect description of life for residents in Yonkers where living in interesting times is a daily occurrence.
The year 2023 started off with Mayor Spano declaring “I am a hardcore moderate.” I am not sure if he thought it up himself or it was fed to him by one of his many lackeys, but he liked it because he used it repeatedly. Obviously, no one in the mayor’s brain trust noted that “hardcore moderate” is an oxymoron–a figure of speech in which contradictory terms appear side by side. That symbolizes the tenure of Mayor Mike Spano–one symbolized by contradictions. His words and his actions are often oxymoronic and point out his discrepant policies.
Spano’s campaign for a FOURTH term featured him in a political ad strutting like a peacock and bellowing “Yonkers is booming.” Indeed, he is right. Yonkers has become Hollywood on the Hudson, Vegas on Central Avenue, and has more delicatessens than Germany, France and Italy combined. But this “booming” also refers to Yonkers taxes which are being raised yet again. Utility (water, sewer) costs are booming too. This is happening while other communities and counties that aren’t booming are not raising taxes or in some cases reducing taxes. If booming is so good for Yonkers, why are the costs of living here skyrocketing? An accurate description of how Spano’s policy works is best gleaned from Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” It is the best of times for developers who pay little or no taxes. It is the worst of times for the hoi polloi who face rising taxes, encroachment of green spaces, more cars with fewer places to park and an ever diminishing viewshed.
If Yonkers is booming, why is the mayor filling so many important positions in government with people who don’t live in Yonkers? These people make decisions that affect us but not themselves. Once again Spano is appointing a Deputy Mayor who doesn’t live in Yonkers. The Yonkers City Charter states that a government officer is “required to maintain a place of permanent residence in the city.” Of course, this is no problem for Spano who deals with every obstacle by writing a waiver or getting the City Council to change the law. And I can’t even count the number of members on boards and agencies who are non-Yonkers residents.
Yonkers is booming. Say it loud and say it proud. Yonkers is the third largest city in New York State. We know this because Spano has put signs on poles throughout the city. It is unbelievable that Yonkers spent money on those worthless signs but didn’t commit enough funding to push for an accurate census count. New York’s congressional delegation shrank by one seat after the 2022 election, because the Census Bureau reported that the state was short by 89 residents. Yonkers could have made the difference, but Spano chose signs.
There is no need for a City Council. Its vote is always in favor of whatever Spano wants. A third term for the mayor – no problem. A fourth term for the mayor – no problem. A raise in salary for the mayor – no problem. A retroactive raise of $72,400 for the mayor– no problem. An administration filled with FONs (friends of Nick) – no problem. A buildings commissioner who isn’t an engineer – no problem. And the list goes on!
Some of us are old enough to remember when Spano first ran for mayor. He promised to reduce the number of government officials with cars. He said this was among his very important priorities. But that was then, and this is now, and the number cars of has not decreased. Why does the City Clerk or Finance Commissioner need a car? How often do they have to leave City Hall? Why are City Council Members allowed to drive cars to photo-ops over and over? A photo-op is not a government event; it is a campaign opportunity. John Rubbo is a fixture at these photo-ops, although he has competition from Tasha Diaz and Mike Breen who are present for photos at openings that aren’t even in their districts.
Mike Breen is my City Council representative. I think part of his job is to conduct town halls to meet with his constituents. I am sure I am not alone in this. He has been in office for over 12 years and I can count on one hand the number of open meetings he’s had with constituents and have five fingers left uncounted. Hey Mike, can your constituents attend the next opening of a hair salon and ask you questions after your photo-op? In his defense, Breen’s emails do wish me a Merry Christmas. And a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy Eid al-Fitr and too many more to mention. Although there are more Democrats than Republicans in his district, he has always run unopposed. How is that? – you may ask. Very simple. Spano’s brother, Lenny Spano, is the Democratic Ward Leader of the district Breen, a Republican, runs in. And Lenny sees to it that someone gets the Democratic Party endorsement but then drops out before the election, because Breen is the mayor’s most fervent supporter.
Mike Spano has also made town halls as rare as a hen’s tooth. Our county executive, George Latimer; the former City Council President, Mike Khader; and the former City Council person from my district, John Murtagh, all have/had town halls and regular meetings with constituents. Could it be that attending openings of pizza parlors is just too time consuming for Spano? No. The answer is “That’s the Spano Way.” Consider the three people I mentioned as having constituent outreach: they are not in the Spano entourage. But Breen is. And my County Legislator, James Nolan is. And while Nolan’s predecessor, Ruth Walter, made constituent outreach an important part of her tenure, Nolan is AWOL. But Nolan won because he, like Breen, is in the Spano camp.
I don’t understand why Yonkers residents aren’t screaming about Spano’s failure to do constituent outreach, his cronyism, his privatization of Hudson River views, his filling of so many decision-making positions with non-Yonkers residents, his giving the city away for pennies on the dollar. Every night we should all open a window and like Howard Beale scream: “I’M AS MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!“