Councilman Ed Lachterman has an unbridled First Amendment right to critique actions of the new Town Board majority and administration (Feb. 22, “An ‘air of hypocrisy’ at town hall”). But in the court of public opinion, his comments will fare poorly before those who respect objective truth.
The councilman’s political self-interest in the manufacture of non-issues must be the starting point for evaluating his claims. Councilman Lachterman complains the new town attorney temporary hire is thus far done without interviewing other applicants and without consulting minority members of the board like himself and Councilman Tom Diana.
But, where was the councilman’s complaint about these same procedures a mere two years ago, in 2016, when he was a first-year councilman? The 2016 hire of Michael J. McDermott as town attorney was accomplished without interviewing any other candidates and without prior involvement of the lone minority, Democratic Councilman Vishnu Patel. That was not a problem for Councilman Lachterman then, but somehow it is now. If he would review the local press coverage in the last week of January 2016, perhaps it would jog his memory.
The councilman proclaims this hire is “political cronyism.” But, he makes no mention that in 2016, McDermott was an elected Republican office-holder in a neighboring community who had a personal connection with the then-supervisor.
This is a new year, and after a new election. Yorktown voters in 2017 ousted the incumbent Republican administration of which Councilman Lachterman was a part. They swept in instead a new Democratic majority with a new mandate and what a breath of fresh air that has been. Already the new board has reinstituted measures to make the people’s voice more easily and conveniently heard, and those citizens who exercise their right to speak are not challenged and browbeaten by the holder of the gavel.
New administrations are supposed to bring in new personnel to help them serve their new mandate. That is not called “political cronyism.” It is called democracy and good government. President Trump brought in a new cabinet. So did County Executive George Latimer, as well as Rob Astorino before him. But, according to Councilman Lachterman, Supervisor Ilan Gilbert should not have the same privilege.
A new cabinet to serve a new administration is routine and, in fact, responsive-to-the-people good government. Councilman Lachterman’s assertions to the contrary are transparent balderdash. The town attorney needs to be someone who holds the implicit trust of the serving administration.
The councilman also asserts that Yorktown will be somehow disadvantaged with the replacement of a sole practitioner by an attorney associated with a major law firm with broadly varying areas of practice and, in fact, extensive municipal law background. Sorry, but this is just crazy.
The front face of the new town attorney system is Richard Abbate, a distinguished attorney with 26 years of varied experience, an active litigator, NYU undergrad, Pace Law, admitted in New York, Connecticut and the Southern and Eastern federal New York districts, not to mention a civically active Yorktown resident, taxpayer and homeowner.
And, lo and behold, this is the same Richard Abbate who so recently served gratis and victorious as a tribune of the people in successfully defending their right to vote against the voter-suppression efforts of the rejected outgoing administration represented by none other than their then-town attorney, the aforementioned Mr. McDermott.
Yes, Mr. Abbate, along with many others, worked with great diligence and dedication to elect the candidates he believed would best serve the real interests of the residents of our town. So, too, did Councilman Lachterman and his Republican brethren, and good for them.
All of our local residents of both sides deserve commendation for their local political and civic engagement, not condemnation. Devoted service to the civic partisan or non-partisan cause we choose is service to American democracy. Try having a democracy without it. But that service must never constitute a disqualification for posts for which the applicant is otherwise objectively well-qualified.
The good councilman complains of an “engraved nameplate” for the new town attorney, which apparently was, in fact, a hastily prepared temporary piece of paper. A non-lawyer, the councilman also ventures to render a legal ethics opinion, which is not surprisingly quite wrong. Contact and engagement by citizen lawyers with and on behalf of candidates for elective office is not only not unethical, it is a positive social good.
So, when it comes to hypocrisy, Councilman Lachterman, it looks like your house is made of glass.
Ron Stokes is co-chair of the Yorktown Democratic Committee.