June 8, 2023
REAL TALK From AJ Woodson

Mount Vernon – Divided We Stand!!!

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Ok, so I took a brief hiatus, and while I watched what unfolded in 2020, to much criticism, I have been quiet on what’s been going on. One thing I’ve learned during the end of the Davis Administration and the entirety of the Thomas Administration is when you talk all time, write about everything that is going on, even when you present the facts, people eventually stop listening. So I decided to speak less and make it count when I do. If ever there was time for some Real Talk, that time is now!

Almost two years ago, in February of 2019, Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard ran on being the candidate that ‘can restore Mount Vernon to its prideful reputation,’ and bring healing to the city of Mount Vernon. After a year in office – which did consist of a once in a lifetime pandemic – the dysfunction in City Hall continues.

“United we stand, divided we fall” is a phrase used in many different kinds of mottos, most often to inspire unity and collaboration. In the city of Mount Vernon where things run a little differently, it’s more like Divided We Stand! Much like it is in the nation, but the difference is, it is not Republicans and Democrats in Congress governing like the Bloods and Crips, its Black Democrats that cannot get along and move the city forward.

Since Black Westchester was founded in 2014, we have had four mayors, two comptrollers and about ten different council persons. While the players have changed or switched positions in some cases, the one constant in the almost seven years is the Civil War in City Hall. Each election has been billed as the worst or dirtiest election in the history of the city, with each election getting worst. While in most cities you do not hear or read about the city comptroller in the news and probably cannot name many of any other comptrollers in Westchester County, Mount Vernon’s comptroller is almost as well known as the mayor and appears in the headlines nearly as much if not more sometimes.

Some neighboring cities have leaders who run unopposed or with little opposition, but in a city that is only four point two square miles big, we have at least four to six candidates running in each of the last two mayoral races. Now in 2021, we have dozens of candidates vying for three city council seats and possibly four or more candidates running for comptroller. If there is an election in Mount Vernon, it is the most publicized election in the county.

Does it matter who we vote for this year? Is there any reason to think things will change? Before we get ahead of ourselves and point the finger at the elected officials only, let us not let the residents, the voters off the hook. Thomas Jefferson nailed it when he said “The government you elect is the government you deserve.” Democracy can only work if a majority of the people do their civic duty and work hard to make sure that they understand the political debates, issues, and candidates before an election so that they can vote wisely and choose good leaders that support their values. Maybe these words should be painted on the wall of a civics class in Mount Vernon High School. Maybe we need to reach and teach a new generation of educated, more informed voters.

It’s pretty clear voters in Mount Vernon care more about who they are friends with, maybe who they went to school with or who spits the best Hip-Hop Quotables in their campaign speeches, than who is actually the best candidate for the job. Too busy voting a politician out of office, to pay attention who they are voting in office. There were shouts of ‘Ernie has to go’ in the summer of 2015. ‘We need a change,’ the people said, but did not defined what kind of change they wanted. Then Richard Thomas got in office and many people weren’t happy with the change they got. I have to include myself in this equation.

It’s gotten so bad the family members and longtime friends make permanent enemies over temporary situations. Treating those they have been cool with for years like Immortal Enemies because they chose to support an opposing candidate. We all have to do much better.

For at least the second or third time in the last decade we have another mayor calling for the feds, the state or district attorney to investigate another comptroller. I think it is time to take a long hard look at the man or woman in the mirror and realize there is enough blame to go around.

Then there’s the MVPL. Four elected Mount Vernon Library trustees can not vote on a fifth member to appoint, to replace the one who resigned. If they do not before the deadline, the state is coming in to take over. Yes, you heard me, Mount Vernon Public Library might have the state come in to take over its Board of Trustees. I called the four trustees to join me on zoom to discuss it, a few hours before writing this. And 45 minutes into the private zoom discussion, they couldn’t agree on who to appoint, what day they would meet or the day they had to report back to the state. I said goodnight and ended the meeting. Damon told me not to waste my time, but I had to try, especially since I know each of the trustees and had a personal relationship of some sort with each one. Another example of Divided We Stand!

It’s not like Mount Vernon can not come together. When word spread that the Mount Vernon Public Library could lose its status as the central library of Westchester, the community came out in full force in support of the MVPL, March 29, 2018. Elected officials, community stakeholders and residents heard the rallying cry to stop the Westchester Library Systems (570 Taxter Rd #400, Elmsford) from voting to strip the MVPL of Central Library status, responded.

Then on Thursday, July 13, 2018, the Westchester Library Systems Central Library Study Committee held a meeting in the Mount Vernon Public Library’s Grace Greene  Baker Community Room. The purpose of the WLS Central Library Study Committee was to gather information about the role the MVPL plays in achieving the goals of the Central Library program. The committee said they were attempting to answer the overarching question: What should the Central Library be in order to best serve the WLS member libraries and their patrons? Again, Mount Vernon showed up and showed out, united for a common goal, to save the Central Library status of the MVPL.

The city also came together to fight a pipeline running through Mount Vernon and Montefiore Health System from closing MV Hospital and building a glorified urgent care on Sandford Blvd, these are just a few incidents that come to mind real quick. The opening of the Sandford Blvd location may have been prevented, but the fight to keep the hospital open continues. But we cannot come together to elect candidates and those elected cannot seems to work together to do what we need them to do.

Do you know how many cities that have protested the killing of African-American call for what Mount Vernon already has. Persons of color in leadership positions. We have had a Black Mayor since Ronald Alexander Blackwood made history as the city’s first Black Mayor on January 25, 1985. We had our first elected Female and Black Female Mayor, January 2020 in Shawyn Patterson-Howard. We have a mostly African-American City Council. Something many cities are fighting for so they can create legislation with us in mind, because we voted to get them in the room where it happens. And let’s not forget the major demand, persons of color in leadership positions in the police department. Mount Vernon has the only Black Police Commissioner in the 43 municipalities of Westchester County.

This is a Black-run city and we can’t get it right. This is a Democrat-run city. We cannot blame our problems on the Republicans or the white man, when your city is run by Black Democrats. We should be the model of criminal justice reform and police reform looks like. We should be the Wakanda of Westchester, but our elected officials keep giving away our Vibranium.

Instead, we have decades of corruption in the Mount Vernon Police Department. We have police brutality and criminality like everywhere else. We also have one thing BLM protesters demand. A whistleblower cop. The main demand is for the good cops to speak up against the bad cops. Guess what Mount Vernon has that. But instead of being protected and celebrated and supported, he is retaliated against and threatened. He did what we ask and now he stands alone on an island by himself, hoping back up shows if he makes the call. His claims were not even thoroughly investigated by the former district attorney, who has failed the city he comes from.

“United we stand, divided we fall” is a phrase used in many different kinds of mottos, most often to inspire unity and collaboration. In the city of Mount Vernon where things run a little differently, it’s more like Divided We Stand!

Mount Vernon, I leave you with the words of Lauryn Hill;

It could all be so simple
But you’d rather make it hard
Loving you is like a battle
And we both end up with scars

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