NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- On October 26 The League of Women Voters of New Rochelle hosted a Forum for Candidates for County Legislative Office in Districts 7, 10 and 11. The main event was the debate between incumbent Sheila Marcotte running on the Republican, Conservative, Independent and Reform Lines and challenger Haina Just-Michel running on the Democrat, Working Family and Women’s Equality Line.
The full video is available on the City of New Rochelle web site.
Each candidate is an accomplished woman who has shown strong leadership skills in their respective elected offices, Marcotte as a County Legislator since 2010 and chair of the County Board’s Budget Committee and Just-Michel as the President of the New Rochelle Public Library.
The debate featured 10 questions submitted before the debate. On five of them — questions about shared services, sewage, the needs of New Rochelle from a County perspective, communications and environmental sustainability — there was more agreement than disagreement. On a sixth questions about gun shows at the Westchester County Center, Just-Michael supported banning gun shows while Marcotte opposed such a measure.
Three of the remaining questions touched on the Westchester County Budget and one on the New Rochelle My Brother’s Keeper Initiative which had launched earlier that day.
Both candidates agreed on the need to keep taxes down but Just-Michael stated that Marcotte actually raised taxes by borrowing $107 million to fund the operating budget while Marcotte stated that Just-Michael had not only raised library taxes but twice approved a budget that exceed the tax levy cap.
In fact-checking the debate, Just-Michael made two Four Pinocchio claims, one with regard to working across the aisle with the other party, the other about the budget.
When asked about each candidate’s ability to work across the aisle on a bi-partisan basis, Marcotte noted that she is part of a bi-partisan coalition that runs the County Board of Legislators. Just-Michael cited her work with the New Rochelle Public Library Board of Trustees, the League of Women Voters, the Interfaith Council and as a member of the Steering Committee of the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative. She held up a copy of the MBK report to make her point.
A review of that report shows that Haina Just-Michael was not and is not a member of the 9-person Steering Committee which consists of the following persons: Hon. Jared Rice, New Rochelle City Councilman, District 3, Co-Chair, Reginald Richardson, Principal, New Rochelle High School, Co-chair, Gustavo Barbosa, House 1 Principal, New Rochelle High School, Kelly Johnson, Executive Director, New Rochelle Youth Bureau, David Peters, Community Advocate, Facilitator, New Rochelle Against Racism (NewROAR), Angela Derecas Taylor, Sr. Advisor for Community Relations, Mayor’s Office, Colleen D. Gardephe, MedShadow Foundation, Devron Chambers, L2 Webs Media, Dr. Willie Tolliver, Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, City University of New York.
Even if she were on the Steering Committee, it is not bi-partisan. Eight of the nine members of that committee are registered Democrats, the ninth, Gustavo Barbosa did not respond to our request for information.
- DEM - Hon. Jared Rice
- DEM - Devron Chambers
- DEM - Kelly Johnson
- DEM - David Peters
- DEM - Angela Derecas Taylor
- DEM - Colleen D. Gardephe
- DEM - Reginald Richardson
- DEM - Dr. Willie Tolliver
- UNK - Gustavo Barbosa
The New Rochelle Public Library Board of Trustees consists of six members, 5 Democrats and one non-registered member and no Republicans. The three most previous members, who each vacated their seats early, were all Democrats.
- DEM - Haina Just-Michael, President
- DEM - Emery Schweig, Vice President
- DEM - George A. Walters, Secretary
- NON - Charles Burke, Jr.
- DEM - Gregory T. Varian
- DEM - Quentin Jacobs
Recent Past Board Members
- DEM - Bo Kemp
- DEM - Bernie Nunez
- DEM - Thomas Leghorn
The New Rochelle League of Women Voters is perceived by many as an extension of the New Rochelle Democratic Party and Talk of the Sound has since confirmed that the supposedly non-partisan moderator was campaigning on behalf of Democrats just the week before the debate.
Carolyn Stevens is a former Mayor of Scarsdale and a Democrat. Two days after the debate, I spoke with her about an allegation that she was working on the campaign of County Legislator Benjamin Boykin while moderating a League of Women Voters debate in White Plains in which Boykin was a participant on October 14th.
Stevens stated that she was not working on his campaign this year but had worked on Boykin’s campaign two years ago. She agreed with the suggestion that it would inappropriate for her to moderate a debate involving a candidate while she was working on behalf of the candidate’s campaign.
Stevens went on to say that she was at the Scarsdale Train Station after the Boykin debate, campaiging on behalf of Democrats at the request of Mark Lewis, the head of the Scarsdale Democratic Party.
“Mark Lewis asked me how to hand out literature," said Stevens. "I did not realize who would be there.”
In fact, Boykin was there. In a photo obtained by Talk of the Sound, time-stamped Thursday October 22nd at about 7:30 a.m., taken at the Scarsdale Train Station, Stevens is depicted standing side-by-side with Boykin greeting voters and distributing palm cards.
“Rethinking it, I would not have done it”, she said then adding, “I'm embarrassed by it”.
Some would argue that it would be inappropriate for her to moderate any debate involving any candidate while she is operating on a partisan basis in any campaign, as League policy makes clear in describing the criteria for being a moderator. This would perhaps apply doubly-so regarding debates involving County Board of Legislator races when you are working on a County Board of Legislator campaign. In total, Stevens moderated debates involving at least 6 County Legislative districts in White Plains, Rye and New Rochelle.
“We did not know about her activities in other towns,” said debate organizer Joan Alexander of the New Rochelle League of Women Voters.
Stevens should know as well as anyone the requirement for moderators not to be partisan. She is the First Vice President of the League of Women Voters of Westchester County.
A large part of the debate centered on Haina Just-Michael’s claim that Sheila Marcotte was responsible for a supposed $107 million deficit in the Westchester County budget. Marcotte denied this, calling it a false narrative.
In a prepared statement, Just-Michael cited the Westchester County Citizen Budget Advisory Committee Report, to buttress her claim the Marcotte has been raising taxes by deferring them through borrowing.
“The County has gone over $107 million in debt just to cover the past five years of operating costs,” said Just-Michael.
The Westchester County Citizen Budget Advisory Committee Report, issued in December of 2014, states:
"The 2015 Operating Budget proposes to borrow $15 million from the NYS Pension Stabilization Program, which would result in a total of $107 million borrowed from this program over the past four (4) operating budgets (including the 2015 budget), and will result in an additional roughly $20 million in aggregate interest cost. The CBAC views the required contributions to the NYS pension programs as current operating expenses."
The New York State Contribution Stabilization Program was established in 2011 by Governor Andrew Cuomo to help municipalities deal with rising pension costs in the wake of the Great Recession. The idea was to establish a graded contribution rate system which enables a municipality to pay a portion of the required annual contribution over time, leading to smoother, more predictable pension costs.
The Citizen Budget Advisory Committee is a group of volunteers consisting of political partisans that offer non-binding opinions on the County budget. That these volunteers have a belief that something that is not considered "current operating expenses” ought to be does not make it a fact but rather a wish of those individuals.
Therefore it is not accurate to assert as fact that a $107 million in debt has been incurred to cover operating costs. Bonding to cover operating costs is prohibited to the County.
Ms. Stevens, the moderator, agreed after the debate that Just-Michael had misrepresented the CBAC report during the debate. She should know. In addition to her other roles, she is also a member of the Westchester County Citizen Budget Advisory Committee Report that Just-Michael was waving around during the debate.
Marcotte used her closing statement to raise a controversial issue which had been left out of the debate up until that point — the Westchesster County - HUD settlement. She stated that she would accepted the 2009 agreement but only operate “within the four corners” of the agreement and nothing more. Marcotte declared local control of zoning sacrosanct and vowed to oppose any efforts by James Johnson, the federal monitor overseeing Westchester County's 2009 fair housing settlement, to expand that agreement beyond the limits of the terms agreed to six years ago.
Ms. Stevens also knows a good deal about that as well. She was hired by Johnson as a consultant. In that role she has actively opposed the Republicans position on the settlement agreement instead advocating for the position of the Democratic Party.
UPDATE May 2016: LWV officials tell Talk of the Sound that Carolyn Stevens was expelled from the League of Women Voters as a result of this article.