Surprise Candidates Join Democratic Slate in Last-Minute Shake-Up

Councilman Vishnu Patel, town supervisor candidate Ilan Gilbert, town justice candidate Aviah Cohen Pierson and town council candidate Alice Roker Credits: Gabrielle Bilik

YORKTOWN, N.Y. – The Yorktown Democratic Committee endorsed its slate of candidates Monday, April 17, during a meeting held at the Yorktown Cultural and Community Center.

The committee endorsed Ilan Gilbert for supervisor, incumbent Councilman Vishnu Patel and former town clerk Alice Roker for council, and Aviah Cohen Pierson for town justice. Gilbert previously interviewed for council and Roker had not interviewed prior to the nominating meeting.

No candidate was endorsed for highway superintendent, although an unenrolled candidate, David Bonino, sought the nomination. Mike Kaplowitz (District 4), a 20-year incumbent and chairman of the County Board of Legislators, also received the nomination from Democrats.

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The candidates will contend with a team of mostly incumbent Republican candidates in November, including three-term Supervisor Michael Grace, as the committee looks to reclaim Yorktown after being the minority party on the town board since 2009.

Ron Stokes, co-chair of the committee called the meeting a “wonderful demonstration of the living and breathing spirit of democracy in both America and Yorktown.”

Acknowledging Roker’s surprise announcement and Gilbert’s sudden shift, he added, “We’re thrilled to have such good folks to put themselves forward. We’re thrilled with the ticket that we have and we think it’s one that the voters will appreciate also in November.”

As of March there were five known candidates seeking the Democratic nod for the November elections: Melvyn Tanzman for supervisor; Cohen Pierson for town justice; and Patel, Gilbert and Susan Siegel for council.

Roker claimed her decision was sudden and made just the evening prior. After a two-year absence from local government, the former long-time town clerk said she has been considering a return “for a while.” A video of the most recent televised town board meeting was the catalyst she said prompted her to seek an impromptu nomination.

“I don’t like the way people are treated,” Roker said, adding that she believes the current board disregards public comment, is condescending and she disagrees with “the degradation of the amendments to the code.”

Gilbert said that once he heard Roker was gunning for a seat on the board, he felt his name recognition would strengthen the ticket with himself vying for supervisor and Roker for council.

Gilbert served as town justice for five years until 2011, when he lost the seat to current Town Justice Gary Raniolo. Two years ago, he ran for council and lost by nine votes. During his five minutes to address the room, he said he persists in his efforts to join the town board in order to “right the ship.”

“Government is about values and balance. In the last several years we have lost our balance and we’ve forgotten our values,” he said, citing initiatives by the current board to “eliminate the open space fund,” “abandon the tree ordinance” and threaten the wetlands safeguards.

Following recent amendments to the town code, a common criticism of the current town board has been the perception that developers are favored over taxpayers. Gilbert said he intends for the town to be business-friendly while prioritizing constituents.

“In short, our town can be open to business without sacrificing this beautiful bucolic nature that makes our town so special,” he said.

After he spoke, the idea was suggested to postpone the vote by two weeks while district leaders learn more about the newer candidates.

While the unanticipated shuffle left some nominees and committee members admittedly ruffled, Stokes said it is well within the rules for someone who didn’t announce prior to the meeting to be nominated then, and that notification is not required.

Matt Slater, chair of the Yorktown Republican Town Committee, issued a press release the following day, describing an alleged scene of “chaos and internal rifts.”

“When a party is so purposeless it should come as no surprise that their process has turned into a muddled mess,” Slater said. “We simply cannot afford to return Yorktown to the failed tax and spend policies of the past when the Yorktown Democratic Committee briefly controlled the town for two years a decade ago.”

Tanzman said he was surprised by the change; however, he advocated for the committee to proceed with the vote that evening, adding that the Democrats couldn’t afford to lose that time, as the Republican Party had already announced its slate in March.

“My priority is to change the administration and get a Democratic supervisor and a three person majority on the board,” he said.

After a discussion and vote, the committee moved forward with choosing its line-up that evening.

Patel, a retired IBM scientist, was first elected to the town board in 2009. He is the lone Democrat on the current Town Board and seeks a third term.

“I am going to make you proud again,” he told the crowd.

Cohen Pierson, attorney and senior director of human resources for ENT and Allergy Associates, was the only candidate seeking the endorsement for town justice, following in the footsteps of her father, former town justice and current state Supreme Court Justice Jeff Cohen.

“It would be my honor and my privilege to serve in this capacity,” she said, adding that her energy and experience as an attorney make her a good candidate.

Neither Siegel nor Tanzman plans to mount a primary challenge, however. Tanzman said he has been approached by members of the Democratic Committee to consider an attempt to unseat incumbent Republican County Legislator John Testa (District 1). He has not made any commitments at this time.

Bonino, who is not enrolled in any party, could not get access to the Democratic nomination without a majority vote from the party, Stokes said. Bonino said he has not decided whether he will campaign independently.

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