The Journal News has come out early with its endorsement of the New Direction for Ramapo candidates—Bill Weber. Shani Bechhofer and Grant Valentine.
”The Town needs a fresh start, with new leadership that recognizes that the visions of the various Ramapo communities may sometimes conflict, but always need to be heard and respected.”
“We endorse Bill Weber for town supervisor. Weber, a CPA, offers financial knowledge and a strong commitment to ethics and transparency.”
”This is a town that needs a fresh start.”
The Journal News October 25, 2017
Ramapo is a town of economic and ethnic diversity that too often is defined by its divisions. The town’s reputation is stained, not only by so many officials’ malfeasance, but from a deepening community divide that was milked by past leadership to amplify power. The town needs a fresh start, with new leadership that recognizes that the visions of the various Ramapo communities may sometimes conflict, but always need to be heard and respected.
We endorse Bill Weber, a Republican who leads the New Direction For Ramapo ticket, for town supervisor. Weber, a CPA, offers financial knowledge and a strong commitment to ethics and transparency.
Democrat Michael Specht, who leads the Ramapo For All ticket, has worked as a deputy town attorney and demonstrates a core knowledge of municipal government. But this is a town that needs a fresh start.
Town residents have suffered the embarrassment, and fiscal fallout, from a series of corrupt acts by various town officials. Former Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence was convicted of federal charges stemming from cooking the books to make the town’s finances look rosy; in the same securities case, a former deputy town attorney pleaded guilty to fraud and testified against St. Lawrence. In an unrelated case, the town’s chief building inspector admitted fudging town records. A former town board member admitted official misconduct when he was on the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals; he had previously been convicted of mail fraud, but was still elected to the Town Board. And that’s just the record since 2016.
Weber, though, is not just a default candidate. We find his accounting background especially valuable at this juncture. Town finances are a mess and a mystery. “We still don’t have audited budgets from 2014,” Weber said during an Oct. 18 debate at Rockland Community College. “We don’t even know what our fund balance is.”
Remember that in the town’s recent past, St. Lawrence served as supervisor, town finance director and head of the town’s local development corporation — all at the same time. As Specht said during the Oct. 18 debate, the town’s fiscal records are considered suspect by current auditors, who are working “from scratch.”
Amid Ramapo’s tense ethnic and racial divides, Weber has made more than just gestures toward bridge-building. He leads a ticket that has representation from different party affiliations and various backgrounds, with Democrat Grant Valentine and independent Shani Bechhofer running for town board seats. Valentine, a Chestnut Ridge village trustee and Rockland Community College trustee, is retired from the New York State Division of Parole, where he worked on re-entry standards; he has been active with CEJJES Institute, a Pomona-based foundation dedicated to improving the lives of disenfranchised people, especially children of color. Bechhoffer is a professor at Touro College Graduate School of Jewish Studies and a consultant to Jewish day schools and yeshivas. “We look like Ramapo today,” Weber said during our Oct. 18 debate.
Specht’s Ramapo For All ticket includes Ramapo’s current acting Town Supervisor Yitzchok Ullman, a Democrat who is seeking re-election to his town board seat. While Ullman now strives to set the town on a better path, we cannot ignore the seemingly blithe neglect of board members in the past. Ramapo For All’s other town board candidate, David Wanounou, served as an appointed member of the East Ramapo School Board for a period.
Development, or rather overdevelopment, takes a front seat in any discussion about Ramapo’s future. Both candidates make clear that the town’s current master plan — adopted in 2004 and perpetuating problematic “develop as right” allowances for eastern Ramapo — needs a fresh look.
Specht said his role as attorney for the town’s zoning board was limited to offering advice to his clients, not setting policy. Specht has said he would, as supervisor, update the town’s master plan, and institute a building moratorium while studying the best way forward.
Weber also wants to revisit zoning regulations in town. The New Direction platform acknowledges rapid population growth and insufficient infrastructure as issues that must be addressed together. He calls for well-trained planning and zoning boards (members are appointed by the town board) and more attention to traffic planning.
Both candidates support open access to town parks, including stronger management and use for the run-in-the-red Spook Rock golf course and the Palisades Credit Union ballpark, the home of the Rockland Boulders that was a nexus for St. Lawrence’s fiscal tricks. Weber has been a supporter of a ward system for the town board, with each member representing a district in the town. Specht, who as a town employee worked on legal arguments against a referendum to institute a ward system, said he found a ward system unnecessary.
Weber, a Montebello resident, admitted he doesn’t have all the answers. He pointed to his diverse slate and said, “I’m a good listener and I’m a good learner.” That’s what Ramapo needs now.
The Journal News