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Claims Of Political Retaliation Against Astorino And The County Of Westchester Headed To Trial

A federal judge has denied the County of Westchester’s motion to dismiss Dhyalma Vazquez’s claims that she was fired from her long-time position with Westchester’s Department of Social Services (DSS) because she refused County Executive Rob Astorino’s request that she assist him in obtaining the support of the Westchester County Independence Party in his 2013 bid for re-election. In addition to her role at DSS, Vazquez was the Independence Party’s Vice Chair. The Independence Party had backed Astorino in his first successful run for County Executive in 2009, and afterward Astorino thanked Vazquez for her assistance.

The County claimed that Vazquez’s January 2014 termination had nothing to do with politics, but instead was a cost-saving measure. Vazquez had worked at DSS for over twenty years and at one time was the director of the department’s fraud unit. Judge Cathy Seibel rejected the County’s arguments, finding that there is sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that Vazquez was fired in retaliation for her refusal to assist Astorino gain her party’s support, in violation of the First Amendment.

In opposing the County’s motion, Vazquez’s lawyers pointed to several strands of evidence supporting her claim of political retaliation. By 2013, Vazquez had become a vocal critic of Astorino, because of what she viewed as his administration’s unlawful practice of favoring Republican Party political operatives in hiring and personnel decisions.

In May 2013, the Westchester County Republican Party Chair, Douglas Colety, met with Vazquez on behalf of Astorino and told her that, if she got the Independence Party to endorse him, Astorino would give her “anything she wanted,” a reference to her employment at DSS. After Vazquez refused and the Independence Party endorsed Astorino’s Democratic opponent, Noam Bramson, Astorino told former Westchester Guardian publisher, Sam Zherka, that he planned to “decapitate” Vazquez and the Independence Party Chair, Giulio “Doc” Cavallo. Zherka secretly tape-recorded that conversation, which was submitted as part of Vazquez’s opposition to the County’s motion. Within a few months, Astorino orchestrated Vazquez’s termination.

During the discovery phase of her case, Vazquez developed evidence showing that the minorities, there was a jobs pipeline from the Republican Party to DSS, with Astorino campaign operatives, all of whom were white, virtually assured a job if they wanted one.

Westchester Republican Party places a premium on receiving the Independence Party endorsement for its candidates, including for County Executive, because Westchester Democrats outnumber Republicans by two to one. After the Independence Party endorsed Bramson, Astorino and the County Republican Party attempted to take over the Independence Party by registering several thousand friends, family and political associates with that party, a move later declared unlawful and voided by state court.

“Astorino’s administration has taken political patronage in its personnel practices to new lows,” said one of Vazquez’s lawyers, Christopher Watkins. “At the same time that the County was busy laying off and demoting long-time civil servants, many of whom are racial and ethnic minorities. Unfortunately for him, and the County of Westchester, what he did violates the law.”

Trial in the case is anticipated to proceed some time after November.

SJ BRIEF by Black Westchester Magazine on Scribd

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About AJ Woodson (2373 Articles)
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester and Co-Owner of Urban Soul Media Group, the parent company. AJ is a Father, Brother, Author, Writer, Journalism Fellow, Rapper, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian and A Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine and several others.
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