The Mayor Built a Strong Voting Bloc: City Workers

The revelations regarding how many members of the Mayor’s family work in city government brings to light an electoral strategy of solidifying voters-hire them. A few thousand city workers may not seem like enough, but Yonkers has an abysmally low turn-out for municipal elections. The last Democratic primary for mayor only had about 8,000 votes. While people can vote for whomever they choose, employees will likely opt to keep their jobs by maintaining the status-quo. And keeping the status-quo raises the issue of term limits.

Requesting and analyzing documents

In the November 2022 fight to extend term limits in Yonkers, residents submitted testimonials in support or against. During this week-long process, the City Clerk received over 800 letters. We submitted a FOIL request for them, and after a month of waiting, a five pound stack of papers dropped in our laps.

There were three distinct batches of the 460 letters in support of extending term limits. The first batch of 80 letters were wholly original text. These supporters started from a blank slate and penned their justifications to dismiss the results of prior voter referendums. Next, were another 80 letters which lazily copied only two sentences.

β€œI urge you to vote to extend term limits to allow our mayor 4 more years. Let’s keep the progress going.”

Lastly, the majority of the letters in support were a 5 paragraph defense of the City’s progress under Mayor Mike Spano. About 65% of those in support of extending term limits submitted the copies of the following letter.

Term Limits testimonial form letter

The administration muddies the waters by turning the term limits question into a referendum in support of Mike Spano.

Anthony Merante – City Council Member

Who signed these letters?

After examining the signatures in support, there were many familiar names. So far, we’ve been able to match almost 40% of the letters supporting the extension of term limits to employees of the City and their immediate family living in the same household. Notable names include City Council aide and contender for the 1st district council seat, Deana Robinson. She stated that she received a call during the day from someone who requested that she sign it. And she wasn’t alone in being directed-or possibly pressured-to sign. Some of the emailed letters accidentally included these instructions as well.

Dear friend,
Please have your family and friends send this email along with their own name and mailing address to the city clerk of Yonkers at [email protected] thank you!

Tom

Despite our research, we do not yet know which Spano-supporting β€œTom” sent these instructions to sign and further distribute this plea to extend the mayor’s term limits.

While we know Tom solicited signatures for this letter, we don’t know if he authored it. Using plagiarism detection software, the text of this letter kept matching similar statements made by the mayor’s office itself. There were contemporaneous tweets, press releases, and other statements all echoing identical phrases-especially about Yonkers being in a β€œrenaissance.”

When were these letters delivered?

The term limits legislation was first introduced at a City Council rules committee meeting on the night of November 15th, 2022. At this meeting, the council agreed to a public hearing and first instructed the public to send the City Clerk any testimonials for or against extending term limits if they could not attend the hearing.

Another letter in support was signed by Wilson Kimball. Kimball is the President & CEO of MHACY who also serves as the chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals. She emailed her letter on the same day as the rules committee meeting on Nov 15th. Though it was dated at 5pm, an hour before that meeting even started. But, what’s even more obvious that there was prior knowledge and coordination within the city is that some letters-only in support-were emailed on Monday the 14th. That’s an entire day before the council announced that the public could even submit these letters.

Is this wrong?

No evidence presented here proves that any specific city official explicitly abused their government power to campaign for a fourth term for Mayor Mike Spano. But, what is clear is that before the public was aware of the possible extension of term limits, a letter sounding like an official press release was distributed to city workers with the instruction to sign-and have their family sign-in support of keeping the incumbent mayor past what the law allowed.

This coordination may be akin to a 2017 case where Westchester County employee Phil Gille led a campaign using government workers for the re-election of County Executive Rob Astorino. Gille’s defense stated that these were personal communications, not conducted on tax-payer time. And that may be the case here in Yonkers. Though, an oversight agency like the Inspector General, Board of Ethics, or NY Comptroller could investigate to determine if city workers violated the ethics provisions of the charter which prevents engaging in-or directing others to engage in-any political campaign activity, on city time, on city property, and/or using city resources. However, these local agencies do not appear interested in any internal investigations as of late.

The City can rebut that no political campaigning existed as Mayor Spano was not running for office at that time. Well, he couldn’t run because the term limits prevented him from doing so. It was only this outpouring of supposed support that the mayor used as justification for a legislative change that then allowed him to campaign. But, regardless if this letter-signing campaign was orchestrated within city hall or not, Mayor Mike Spano has created a steadfast voting bloc-his own employees. Would you dare to not publicly support your own boss, especially if they asked you to?

If you have any information regarding city resources being used to extend term limits and/or further the mayor’s political campaign, please contact us at [email protected]

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