The scene this week in the Westchester County Legislators Chambers was deceptively cordial.
In a rare appearance before the county’s legislative body, Mayor Richard William Thomas once again displayed many of the qualities that helped him become the youngest man to ever lead Mount Vernon. The intelligence and command of action, engaging manner and the ability to seem candid even under difficult circumstances — all were apparent as he stood before the packed room, the focus of everyone’s attention.
Mr. Ben Boykin chairman of Westchester County Board of Legislators let Thomas speak for about four minutes — he discusses the need for the county’s intervention to reform homelessness, poverty and building a stronger bridge with the county. According to Thomas, there are about 900 homeless youth which translates to 30 families in Mount Vernon. The offspring of a powerful family — he said be can relate to being at home as a kid not knowing where the food is going to come from and remember seeing roaches crawl out his iron. Thomas appeared with ease, but not taking a bit of blame for some of the problems Mount Vernon is facing.
The mayor has failed this city and the voters who put their trust in him. His credibility is in tatters and his reputation indelibly stained. And as a result, this beleaguered city has become the punch line for other municipalities across the state from New York City to Buffalo.
First Lady Cherish Thomas, who is rarely seen in public, is now forced to step stone-faced into the harsh spotlight and stands by her man.
Mayor thinks he’s on a mission from God.
But it is not just about him. It is about this city, and the people who live and work here, the taxpayers who pay the mayor to represent our interests and improve our lot.
In 2016, Richard Thomas, then 32, strode into the office carrying a world of promise on his little shoulders, a young, charismatic politician whose future seemed to have no bounds. The voice of a new generation, he vowed that his recovery plan for the city would gain even more momentum under his youthful and energetic leadership.
Thomas’s fall from grace is a heartbreaker for many of those who once believed in him.
But there is an even greater tragedy underway — the tragedy of a city that has long struggled to lift itself from urban decay and disinvestment only to find yet another massive impediment on its uphill road to recovery. The tragedy of a city that suddenly finds its attention focused not on revival efforts but rather speculation about whether its mayor is going to be charged with grand larceny, speculation about using taxpayers money to pay for personal legal bills, investigations, the morning’s headlines about the city’s ongoing soap opera.
The city officials need to be focusing their attention on these very important issues:
✔what to do with the poorly paved streets
✔the issue of abandon houses and home foreclosures
✔ multiple lawsuits
✔ memorial field
…. and many more.
The climate has been challenged by trust issues and integrity issues. The atmosphere in City Hall is very heavy with tension and drama. Business has not stopped, but it is a real challenge getting around surrounding this crisis.
These are the questions occupying the minds of people not just in Mount Vernon but throughout the city: Will Richard Thomas remain in office? And if he does, how effective a leader can he be after sustaining the immense political damage that continues to boil?
Opinions vary as to whether the mayor can retain his office. Thomas might still defy the odds and keep calling the Mayor’s office home. But doing so would not be in the best interests of Mount Vernon.
Thomas says he would never quit on this city. But what he fails to realize is that he has already failed us. Our city — has been dubbed the lawless city.
We can’t afford the financial costs of Richard Thomas administrations blundering, bad judgment and arrogance. We can’t afford his lies and cover-ups. We certainly can’t afford the divisiveness he fosters, and how to divert blame for wrongdoing.
Let’s be clear about one thing: We would not be calling upon Richard Thomas to resign if he’d listened, did the right thing and followed the law.
We don’t expect our politicians to be saints. We do, however, expect them to tell the truth and serve with integrity.
We do know this: the city is swimming in red ink – having to cash out nearly $2 million in legal payouts.
No one should be surprised by all this.
When running against Former Mayor Ernest Davis for mayor in 2015 -16, Thomas lambasted his rival for theft and campaign violations. That proved to be a mistake because we now know during that same election, the then-candidate was illegally taking money out of his campaign fund and spending it at lavish restaurants and purchased a Chanel pocketbook amongst other goodies.
The most blatant example of disregarding the law came in June of this year when he sent a convicted felon Michael Figueroa to illegally shut down and destroy the property of Kela Tennis Center and use the #MVPD as a cover. This is when the memorial field was reduced to rumble and the tennis court was the only good thing left.
What fueled the outrage was the fact that the pure disregard for the law and the negative impact it infected.
When Thomas first ran for office, part of his promise was that his youth would help him break down the barriers that keep Mount Vernon so terribly divided from the rest of this region.
A lot of people were really enthused by the mayor’s rhetoric when he was running for office. That rhetoric may have even helped lead to some coalition-building.
But once Thomas got into office, the tune changed.
If Thomas were to leave office early, Council President Lisa A. Copeland would move into the mayor’s office (on a temporary basis) and crowd favorite Andre Wallace would become council president.
There are a lot of Thomas supporters that is finding it hard to accept the fact that their mayor is facing 8 years in prison if convicted. They now have to be on the opposite side. Although its hard to switch sides, it is the decent thing to do. It is the right thing to do since some say this administration has institutionalized arrogance.
This is a guy who had the whole city stage at his beck and call. Instead, a lack of “moral fiber” has caused that future to flame out.
A lot of residents are disappointed, and acting on that disappointment by speaking out.
Some residents I spoke with at a neighborhood coffee shop speculates that one reason Thomas is refusing to resign now is to hold a bargaining chip; if Thomas is found guilty for grand larceny, he could use his exit as a way to negotiate a lesser sentence or lesser penalties. Others speculate he’d rather fight the potential charges as mayor than as a private citizen.
What’s sad from a taxpayer perspective is that most of the $2 million that has been paid out in legal settlements so far could have stayed in the city’s coffers instead of going into the pockets of attorneys.
There are plenty of people who believe that our mayor could remain in office at least until he’s up for re-election again in 2020.
The mayor can still count on a certain level of support from black churches, black activists but very little media who has been prone to the facts. There have been no large shows of support for the mayor — at least not yet — like he had in the last election. “He’s an embarrassment to this city and to his supporters and that’s just the reality of the situation,” said one resident.
If he does stay in office, how effective can Thomas be?
No one I’ve talked to predicts the city will grind to a halt, but many worries about how much a city facing enormous challenges can get things done with the multiple distractions of courts, investigations and newspaper headlines.
But, getting anything achieved for the foreseeable future is, at very best, going to be a much more difficult task for the Thomas administration than it has been in the past.
There’s no way he can continue to exert power and influence the way a popular mayor could.
What’s the incentive for people to cut a deal with a mayor whose longevity is suspect, and whose word is suspect? Where’s the incentive to do business with him if he might not be around to close the deal?
There’s no telling what surprises the coming days and weeks could bring. The courts could issue its ruling at any time.
And then there’s the City Council, which could be the real wild card in this deck. According to the City Charter, council has the ability to hold “Watergate-style hearings, complete with subpoenas,” and that if the mayor is found to be in violation of the charter — by using public office for private gain, to cite just one example — council could force his removal from office by sending a request to Governor Mario Cuomo.
The mayor, in this regard, has shown absolutely no reaction about wasting our money.
Yet he continues to vow that he won’t quit on us. Even though he has failed us in so many ways.
The question of whether Richard Thomas violated the law remains unanswered until a jury decides. But one thing is obvious: he is a huge embarrassment and in a way, it would just be much better if he would simply resign.