By CHRIS EBERHART
The tenure of Ken Jenkins, a Yonkers Democrat, as chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators appears to be over following the formation of a bipartisan coalition that will wrestle control away from board Democrats.
County Legislator Mike Kap-lowitz, a Yorktown Democrat who is expected to be voted in as chairman, promised, the newly formed, bipartisan coalition of nine legislators will bring a “new spirit and a new approach” to the Board of Legislators after two years highlighted by lawsuits and political tension under Jenkins’ leadership.
“The new spirit is an optimistic spirit,” Kaplowitz said. “The new approach is bipartisanship and working together through negotiation and coming to compromise and focusing on the goals, the issues and the legislation.”
The coalition of seven Repub-licans and two Democrats, wh-ich includes Kaplowitz and Legislator Virginia Perez, a Yonkers Democrat, announced at a press conference on Dec. 19 that Kaplowitz and Legislator Jim Maisano, a New Rochelle Republican, will replace legislators Jenkins and Lyndon Williams, a Mount Vernon Dem-ocrat, as chairman and vice chairman of the board for the 2014-2015 term.
The coalition will provide the Republicans with a majority on the Board of Legislators, which Jenkins said will result in less checks and balances on County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican.
“I think there should be some level of concern moving forward,” Jenkins said. “The Republicans…[have] been in lock-stop with [Astorino].”
Jenkins’ term as chairman, which ends in January, was one full of battles with the Astorino administration.
During last year’s budget negotiations, Jenkins orchestrated a walkout by Democratic legislators after Kaplowitz and Perez sided with Republicans to reach a budget agreement.
Perez said it was that walkout that gave birth to this coalition.
“Unfortunately the coalition was created out of frustration,” Perez said. “After long, long intense hours of negotiating and deliberating and getting no where [during last year’s budget talks], the nine of us got together and said we have to do what’s best for our districts and our constituents and the county as a whole.”
In addition to the walkout, Jenkins also filed three lawsuits against the Astorino administration; two in 2012 over childcare funding cuts and the county executive’s decision to cancel a Rye-and-Port Chester-based bus route, the third, filed ealier this year, challenged Astorino’s authority to sign an asset management agreement with Sustainable Playland Inc. to operate the county-owned Playland amusement park.
Despite the animosity with the Republican administration during his term as chairman, Jenkins said he is proud of his accomplishments.
“We passed some great legislation,” Jenkins said. “During my time, we provided tax relief for the Westchester taxpayers, passed environmental legislation, including anti-fracking laws, protected social services and opened up transparency among the legislators.”
While Kaplowitz and Mai-sano won’t officially be named to their new positions until after a vote by the full Board of Legislators on Jan. 6, the nine-member majority coalition that supports the duo all but guarantees them the positions.
Maisano, who began his career in county politics with Kaplowitz back in 1998, said the Board of Legislators “can’t continue down this road of political warfare and lawsuits.”
Instead, Maisano said, there will be a new procedure, one that allows for discussion, negotiation and compromise.
“We aren’t going to block things in committees and never let legislation even be voted on,” Maisano said. “That’s gone on now. Astorino sent down legislation, and it just sits there in committee and never gets a vote. [An example is] Playland. It’s sitting in committee and hasn’t had a vote. I guarantee you there will be a vote on Playland. I don’t know what the vote will be, but there will be a vote.”
Five of the Republicans—legislators John Testa, Michael Smith, Sheila Marcotte, Gordon Burrows and Maisano—and the two Democrats attended the meeting announcing the coalition. The eight remaining county board Democrats were not present.
The Democratic caucus, which met on Monday, Dec. 23, also decided on new leadership selecting Legislator Catherine Borgia, of Ossining, to replace Peter Harckham, of Mount Kisco, as its next majority leader, and Williams to replace Mary Jane Shimsky, of Hartsdale, as majority whip.
The majority leader and majority whip represent the county board’s Democrats, though they will technically be the minority on the board given the new coalition.
Borgia said, “I am grateful for the support of my colleagues in the Democratic caucus, and look forward to working with the full board to best serve all of the people of Westchester. Important values like job creation, smart spending and protecting our environment should guide this board’s decision-making in the upcoming session.”