Kaplowitz voted board chairman

Following the formation of a bipartisan coalition of seven Republicans and two Democrats, Westchester County Legislator Mike Kaplowitz, a Yorktown Democrat, was elected chairman of the Board of Legislators. Kaplowitz was elected by a one-sided15-2 vote. Contributed photo

Following the formation of a bipartisan coalition of seven Republicans and two Democrats, Westchester County Legislator Mike Kaplowitz, a Yorktown Democrat, was elected chairman of the Board of Legislators. Kaplowitz was elected by a one-sided15-2 vote.
Contributed photo

By ASHLEY HELMS

There has been a change of course on the Westchester County Board of Legislators.

On Monday, county Legis-lator Mike Kaplowitz, a York-town Democrat, replaced Ken Jenkins, a Yonkers Democrat, as chairman of the Board of Legislators for the 2014-2015 legislative term following the formation of a bipartisan coalition of nine legislators that wrestled control from board Democrats.

Kaplowitz secured the chairmanship by a 15-2 vote with Legislator Alfreda Williams, a Greenburg Democrat, and Jenkins voting against the change. New county Legislator Catherine Parker, a Rye Dem-ocrat who replaced the retiring Judy Myers, voted in favor of Kaplowitz.

Legislator Jim Maisano, a New Rochelle Republican, was elected to serve as vice-chairman by a 9-8 vote and will be replacing Lyndon Williams, a Mount Vernon Democrat.

The bipartisan coalition of seven Republicans and two Democrats—Kaplowitz and Virginia Perez of Yonkers—was formed to bring change and cohesion to the board after two years of lawsuits and tension between the two parties under Jenkins’ leadership, members of the coalition said.

The coalition will provide the Republicans with a majority on the Board of Legislators.

Kaplowitz said the level of support for him sent a message that almost all of the legislators are on board for a new, cooperative tone and he was heartened that support for him was broad.

“We don’t want to solve our problems in a courtroom, we want to solve them in the legislative room,” he said.

Jenkins’ tenure as chairman was a combative one with the Astorino administration.

During the 2013 budget process, which took place in late 2012, Jenkins put a walkout by Democratic legislators into motion after Kaplowitz and Perez sided with Republicans to reach a budget agreement. Matt Richter, spokesperson for board Republicans, said the walkout was the fuel in forming the coalition.

Jenkins has also filed three lawsuits against the Astorino administration, including two in 2012, one over cuts to childcare funding and the other following Astorino’s decision to end a Rye-and-Port Chester bus route.

Westchester County Legislator Jim Maisano, a New Rochelle Republican, was elected by a 9-8 vote to become the vice-chairman of the Board of Legislators. He will replace Legislator Lyndon Williams, a Mount Vernon Democrat. Contributed photo

Westchester County Legislator Jim Maisano, a New Rochelle Republican, was elected by a 9-8 vote to become the vice-chairman of the Board of Legislators. He will replace Legislator Lyndon Williams, a Mount Vernon Democrat. Contributed photo

The third suit, filed in May 2013, challenged the county executive’s authority to sign an asset management agreement with Sustainable Playland Inc. to operate the county-owned amusement park in Rye.

Jenkins said going forward, it will be interesting to see how the new leadership plays out. He said there needs to be a lot of work done within the Democratic Party and Republicans will no longer be able to use their minority status to explain why issues are not being solved.

“I’m sure we’re going to have a lot of conversations about [the Democratic Party],” Jenkins said. “Jim Maisano spoke a lot about ensuring that the legislative body would still be the checks and balances it’s supposed to be, so it’ll wait to be seen.”

Thomas Staudter, spokesperson for board Democrats, said the Democratic caucus has received reassurance that Kaplowitz and the Board of Legislators will still be a watchdog over the Astorino administration.

“They’re going to remain a separate entity, not a rubber stamp and they’re going to continue to conduct a rigorous review,” Staudter said.

Maisano, who stepped onto the scene in county politics with Kaplowitz in 1998, said he wants communication on the board to be friendly and has always been someone who supports bipartisanship.

“Just because we have a bipartisan team doesn’t mean we’re going to stop doing checks and balances over the county executive. That’s not going away,” Maisano said.

The new vice-chairman also said he and Kaplowitz plan to allow Republicans to hold chairperson positions on the board’s various committees again, which Maisano said tailed off starting in 2003 and completely ended during Jenkins’ tenure. This will give more legislators a voice, he said.

“We’re kind of going back to the future in our practices,” Maisano said. “We’d like to bring back some of things we saw disappear.”

Jenkins refuted Maisano’s claims and pointed to Bernice Spreckman, a Yonkers Repu-blican, who served as chairwoman of the Generational, Cultural and Ethnic Diversity committee under his administration. Any lack of Republican committee leadership is due to a lack of participation, he said.

“Republicans weren’t always around. People had full time jobs, they were attorneys and they had to take a day off to be in Westchester,” Jenkins said.

According to committee archives on the Board of Legislators website, Spreckman was chairwoman of the Generation, Cultural and Ethnic Diversity committee from 2008 to 2011. Jenkins began his first term as chairman in 2010, according to Staudter.

Phone calls to Parker were not returned as of press time.

Contact: ashley@hometwn.com