Author Archives: Christian Falcone

About Christian Falcone

Christian Falcone is the editor-in-chief for the Hometown Media Group chain of weekly newspapers covering cities, towns and villages throughout Westchester County. He took over the seat in April 2013. Prior to that he spent more than six years as an associate editor of The Rye Sound Shore Review. Known for his investigative brand of journalism, Christian has collected numerous awards for his reporting. Most notably, he took home honors for his coverage of the 2007 floods as well as Tropical Storm Irene. Most recently, he uncovered the alleged corruption at Rye Golf Club that led to an ongoing criminal investigation by the Westchester County District Attorney’s office. Prior to joining HomeTown Media Group in February 2007, Falcone reported for the Long Island Press and Queens Courier. He is a graduate of Hofstra University. Christian can be reached at 914-653-1000 x19 or at chris@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @christfalcone.

John Verni

Verni campaign gains momentum with primary win

New Rochelle’s John Verni will be the Republican challenger in the race for Judy Myers’ District 7 seat on the county Board of Legislators. Photo/Bobby Begun

John Verni

By Christian Falcone
Now that John Verni’s Indepen­dence primary victory is certified and official, the Republican candidate turns a confident eye toward November.

Verni, a New Rochelle native in the midst of moving to Mamaroneck, has defeated his Democratic opponent in the race for the District 7 county legislator seat, Rye City Councilwoman Catherine Parker, for the right to carry the Independence Party line in the general election in November.

“I’m happy to have the line and have a broad base of support,” Verni said.

Verni said winning the Independence line—the county’s third largest political party—gives him added confidence heading into the heart of the campaign, as he will now appear on the ballot as the candidate of three parties.

Verni, a real estate developer and attorney, was also endorsed by the county Conservative Party and will appear on that line on the ballot, as well.

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Catherine Parker

“I think it’s important because, in this district, it has been hard for Republicans to win without the Independence line,” he said.

Republicans face a registration disadvantage of more than 100,000 voters in Westchester County, so the ability to carry the Independence line in the general election is considered crucial for GOP candidates.

Meanwhile, the news also proves to be another hurdle to overcome for Parker who, after being anointed as County Legislator Judy Myers’ successor back in May, has faced several obstacles in her run.

Over the summer, Parker received the endorsement from county Independence Party leaders, but Verni petitioned for it and mounted a successful write-in challenge triggering the Sept. 10 primary.

Although he was able to access a primary election for the Independence line, Verni faced an additional challenge at the polls as his supporters had to write his name in on the ballot. Parker, as the officially endorsed candidate, was the only name printed on the ballot.

According to final tallies by the Westchester County Board of Elections, Councilwoman Parker amassed 34 votes, while Verni was able to garner 61 votes.

Verni’s Independence win could prove a springboard for him as, according to filings with the state Board of Elections, he has more than $22,000 in his campaign war chest. Conversely, Parker has roughly $3,200 after spending nearly $8,000 on her tightly-contested Democratic primary against Mamaroneck’s Tom Murphy.

Parker concentrated her energies on outlasting Murphy’s candidacy to secure the Dem­ocratic nomination instead of focusing her efforts on the third-party Independence line. She beat Murphy by approximately 100 votes.

“While disappointed that not enough focus was given to getting out the vote for the Independence primary to ensure that I held the line,” Parker said, “I, nevertheless believe I will win in November.”

Meanwhile, Verni is optimistic following the primary win.

“Certainly, the distraction of the Democratic primary has helped my campaign,” he said. “But I can’t really worry about the Democratic campaign. I’m worried about my own [campaign] and I think I’m very well positioned for the
general election.”

Westchester’s seventh legislative district includes the entire Town of Mamaroneck and Rye City as well as portions of New Rochelle and Harrison. Myers has held the seat, which is considered a Democratic stronghold, since 2005, and the seat has been in Democratic hands dating back to 1992 when state Sen. George Latimer, a Rye Democrat, was in county office.

Contact: chris@hometwn.com

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Parker, Verni await Independence results

Catherine Parker’s primary goal Tuesday night was securing the Democratic nomination for county legislator, she did that with a victory over former Village of Mamaroneck Trustee Tom Murphy. In a smaller battle, Parker also sought to fend off the challenge of Republican John Verni for control of the Independence Party line. Results of that primary for the county’s District 7 seat, however, are yet to be determined.

Voting machines were impounded countywide last night, according to county election officials. Therefore, write-in votes are not expected to be tallied for several days, which means a final result will not be announced for some time.

At press time, Parker, a Rye City councilwoman, secured 26 votes from Independence voters with 80 percent of the 55 voting districts reporting.

New Rochelle’s Verni, the Republican nominee for District 7 county legislator, collected signatures from Independence Party members in order to trigger an opportunity-to-ballot challenge. He remained confident the day after the primary, even though he was a write-in candidate for the Independence line.
“I am encouraged by the numbers of those I know that came out to support me,” he said.

Parker, when reached on Wednesday morning, wasn’t overly concerned with the state of the Independence race. She was still reveling in her victory over Murphy in what was viewed as the marquee primary race in the area.

The efforts of Republicans countywide to trigger primaries for the Independence line came after county Independence Party chairman Guilio “Doc” Cavallo pulled support from Republican County Executive Rob Astorino over fallout from the Republican’s 2009 victory. According to Astorino’s camp, Cavallo endorsed nearly all Democrats for county office this year after the county executive failed to give patronage jobs to Cavallo designees after being elected into office in 2009. Cavallo endorsed Astorino during that election.

That leaves Republicans hard-pressed to win election to county office without Independence Party support due to an approximate 100,000-voter disadvantage to Democrats in Westchester.

The District 7 seat is currently held by Judy Myers, a Mamaroneck Democrat who decided not to seek re-election this year. The legislative district includes Mamaroneck, Larchmont, Rye City as well as portions of New Rochelle and Harrison.

–Reporting by Christian Falcone

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Republican divide leads to unprecedented primary

By CHRISTIAN FALCONE

Infighting within the city’s Republican Party is not uncommon. But the current strife has led a faction of GOP members to primary for election district leaders and that is unprecedented.

On Sept. 10, registered Republicans will have the option of voting for district leaders. In total, six election districts are being challenged.election_circle1

Publicly, party officials say the reason for the primary lies with the recent nomination of a registered Democrat to the Republican Party’s November City Council slate.

Back in June, Kirstin Bucci was selected by Republican district leaders to run on the party’s ticket at its annual nominating caucus.

But, at the time, there was significant disagreement over the selection, according to sources.

Matt Thomas, president of the Rye Republican Club, said many members in the club felt it was a failure of leadership that the party endorsed a registered Democrat.

“There was a lot of frustration,” he said. “It really is frustration with the current management leadership of the committee.”

Soon after, a group o-f- Republicans began circulating their own petitions for district leader and collected enough signatures to trigger primaries‑in what are typically unopposed contests‑in six districts.

The primary goal is not a change in party leadership as much as to send a message that the dissenting group wants its voice heard, according to Thomas.

The dissident group is spearheaded by John Alfano, a former city judge, Matt Fahey, a former city councilman, and resident Pat MacCarthy.

“I think a lot of them want to have a seat at the table regardless who is at the end of the table,” Thomas said.

The Rye Republican Club was resurrected two-and-a-half years ago after decades of dormancy. Thomas said it was restarted after the Republican success in 2009, when the “Change for Rye” ticket headlined by Mayor Douglas French swept into office, winning four City Council seats.

However, since that time, there has been some conflict between the two GOP groups.

The committee is the legal entity that endorses candidates, while the club’s mission is to raise the political narrative, according to Thomas.

“I didn’t sign any petition. I’m not running for district leader and I have no desire to become [party] chair, he said.

But, members of the Rye City Republican Committee believe the dissident group actively recruited candidates for City Council in a back door attempt to primary the GOP-endorsed ticket. Unable to field a slate, however, the group is then believed to have decided its only recourse was wrestling control of the party by taking over districts, according to committee members.

“Why can’t they be men and stand for principles instead of being weasels,” said Republican committee chairman Tony Piscionere, adding he doesn’t believe Bucci’s nomination was the driving force behind the dissident group’s actions.

Instead, Piscionere believes the divide between the opposing sides of the Rye GOP goes much deeper than what has been made public, and is an attempt to overthrow him.

“I think this is nothing more than [Doug] French and [Peter] Jovanovich trying to exact revenge for the fact that I didn’t support French for his failed policies and administration,” he said. “It was a power play. That’s what this is.”

Indeed, Piscionere and Republican Mayor Douglas French have been at odds since the outset of French’s administration, which began 2010. Piscionere has been a strong backer of Republican Councilman Joe Sack‑a consistent French detractor and the party’s 2013 mayoral candidate‑during French’s time in office.

Piscionere and Sack have also clashed with Republican Deputy Mayor Peter Jovanovich, a French ally who launched his own independent mayoral run last month.

City Manager Scott Pickup has often been at the center of the conflict between French and Sack. Pickup has been criticized by some in the community for his role in both the Rye Golf Club and Rye TV controversies. French and Jovanovich have been ardent supporters of the city manager, while Sack has been highly critical of Pickup’s performance since 2011.

Piscionere said Jovanovich’s candidacy is nothing but an attempt to continue French’s policies by thwarting Sack’s mayoral run. He also said the connection between Jovanovich and certain Republicans are too evident to ignore. According to Piscionere, Fahey carried petitions on behalf of Jovanovich’s mayoral candidacy and Thomas has been asked to run the councilman’s fall campaign.

But French said the issues at play within the Republican Party have nothing to do with him or Jovanovich and are driven by elements of the party turning against the chairman.

“I’ve decided, for my own career, not to run. It has nothing to do with the politics going on,” the mayor said. “For [Piscionere] to associate that with me is grasping. This is within his own party.”

French pointed to the history of infighting that has besieged the Rye Republican Party for years under Piscionere’s watch. In 2005, a faction of Republicans split from the GOP and launched its own party, the Rye Citizens First Party, which ran its own slate of City Council and mayoral candidates that year.

In 2007, Republicans, still reeling from the divide, were unable to field a full slate for City Council, forcing a controversial merger with city Democrats and an uncontested election.

Then, in 2008, French approached the party chairman about running for mayor. He said the conflict with Piscionere started shortly after he took office in 2010 after winning the mayor’s seat in the 2009 election. According to French, he had an agreement in place with the party chairman that was very clear.

“I thought he was the wrong leader with the party in 2008 given his track record,” French said. “I said ‘I will rebuild the party, but you step down.’ He agreed to that, but never stepped down.”

French has since accused Piscionere of using his political influence to sway votes or have specific people appointed to boards and commissions.

“I’m the one that has fought him every chance,” the mayor said. “The days of Boss Tweed are over. He wants to have political influence on all the decisions.”

Piscionere called French’s comments delusional and said there was never any such agreement in place.

“He came to me begging to run for mayor,” Piscionere said. “He was chasing me. Why do I have to have an agreement with him to step down as party chair? That is absurd.”

Piscionere said, in his 20 years as party chairman, he has rarely spoken at City Council meetings until the French administration took office.

“Our mayor was doing things so terrible that I refused to be quiet and sit down and let people have the opinion that he was supported by the Republican Party. This is revenge because we wouldn’t blindly go along,” he said.

In the end, this all may be much ado about nothing. Even if the dissident faction’s candidates win each district they are contesting, the group still will not have majority control of the Rye Republican Party.

Contact: chris@hometwn.com

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Jovanovich to run as independent

Peter Jovanovich

Peter Jovanovich

By CHRISTIAN FALCONE
Republican Councilman Peter Jovanovich, who walked away from potential runs with both of the city’s major political parties, has decided to go the independent route in an effort to become mayor.

Jovanovich announced his decision in an email to family, friends and supporters this week, declaring his intention to challenge Councilman Joe Sack, a Republican, who received the GOP nomination for mayor earlier this summer and had been the only mayoral candidate, to date.

The news has certainly stirred what was panning out to be an otherwise dull election cycle in Rye.

Four seats are in play this election cycle, including that of the mayor since incumbent Douglas French, a Republican, announced he would not seek re-election months ago.

Jovanovich planned two prep sessions, after press time, on Aug. 1 and Aug. 3, to determine the effort needed to run an independent campaign.

“Rye deserves a choice in November, and I’m counting on you to help me make that happen,” Jovanovich, 64, stated in the email.

As an independent candidate, the one-term councilman needs to collect signatures by an Aug. 20 deadline in order to appear on the general election ballot in November. Jovanovich’s term on the City Council expires at the end of 2013.

In order for Jovanovich to appear on a party line, he would have had to submit petitions by July 11, according to a representative from the state Board of Elections. Since he didn’t pursue that route with either major party, Jovanovich was left with no other option than to run as an independent candidate.

In Rye, more than 2,300 of roughly 10,000 registered voters are unaffiliated with any political party.

“I believe that the City of Rye can only be made a better place through the collaboration of Democrats, Republicans and independents,” Jovanovich said. “The challenges we face are practical, not partisan, and we need volunteers from all points of the political spectrum.”

In announcing his run, Jovanovich referred to a seven-point plan as the focus of his campaign. The plan touches on issues like infrastructure, union negotiations, financial sustainability and the Rye library.

However, any election in Rye this year is likely to include a lengthy debate over recent scandals that have engulfed the city and what culpability the current administration may hold.
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But over the past year, as the city has endured ongoing criticism for its handling of a Rye Golf Club management fraud scandal and a Rye TV controversy in which senior city officials were accused of concealing a videotape, Jovanovich has become increasingly outspoken in defense of the city administration and City Manager Scott Pickup‑an ongoing target of scrutiny for his role in both scandals‑in particular.

There was speculation Jovanovich was not physically capable of serving another four-year term due to ongoing health problems. During a period from October 2012 through the end of last year, Jovanovich missed six of 11 City Council meetings.

However, the councilman has, in fact, been keen on running for mayor for the past few years, according to sources.

Earlier this year, Sack, a political rival of Jovanovich, announced that he would run for mayor. Sack, in his second term on the City Council, easily won the GOP nomination. At the time, Jovanovich considered a challenge to Sack for the Republican line, but backed out when it seemed clear that GOP leadership, particularly chairman Tony Piscionere, was firmly in Sack’s corner.

“Peter Jovanovich’s position on so many issues has been so wrong for the City of Rye that I believe he is unelectable,” Piscionere said. “People who live in Rye deserve better than to have him running for office, let alone elected to office.”

The Rye Democrats, who were ultimately unable to field a mayoral candidate of their own, did consider running Jovanovich as their mayoral choice, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. But in the end, the Democrats are only running two City Council candidates, Meg Cameron and Shari Punyon.

When notified of Jovanovich’s candidacy, Sack said he welcomed his City Council colleague to the race.

“I believe that I have been on the right side of the issues over the past few years,” Sack said. “Unfortunately, as a result of some of the scandals during the outgoing administration, people have lost confidence in the way government has run.”

Sack is running on a “Rye United” ticket with Republican Councilwoman Julie Killian and political newcomers Kirsten Bucci and Terry McCartney.

Jovanovich, who also serves as Mayor French’s deputy, was first elected in 2009, running as a Republican on the “Change for Rye” ticket with French, Suzanna Keith and Richard Filippi. The quartet touted a platform of transforming city government, increasing transparency and restoring the tone and tenor of City Council meetings. The message was highly effective and resonated with the voters as the quartet swept in office in decisive fashion.

Today, Keith is no longer in office and Filippi has no plans to seek re-election, having never officially declared his intentions.

Jovanovich made his first political run in 2005 as a Republican, but was defeated. That year saw a faction of the GOP break off and form its own coalition known as the Citizens First Party. It was the first sign of a public rift within the party.

Jovanovich is a former textbook publisher with Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Pearson Education and MacMillan/McGraw Hill School Publishing and currently heads a nonprofit, the Alfred Harcourt Foundation, which provides college scholarship money to disadvantaged students in the metropolitan area. Currently, the foundation gives approximately $650,000 a year in scholarship money.

Jovanovich is a graduate of Princeton University and has lived in Rye for more than 20 years with his wife Robin, who is the publisher and editor of The Rye Record, a local newspaper to which he sometimes contributes.

The mayor of Rye is elected to a four-year term, and serves with no compensation
or benefits.
email: chris@hometwn.com