SHOCKER: New Rochelle Mayor Exonerates Himself in First Statement on Ethics Report Referred to Westchester DA

Bramson twists, cherry-picks report

SHOCKER: New Rochelle Mayor Exonerates Himself in First Statement on Ethics Report Referred to Westchester DA

NEW ROCHELLE, NY (June 22, 2022) -- New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson has issued his first statement since an Advisory Opinion of the New Rochelle Ethics Board was referred last week as a criminal matter to the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office.

In the statement, issued late Tuesday, Bramson predictably but implausibly exonerated himself from any wrongdoing in the matters recently investigated by the New Rochelle Board of Ethics on the grounds that he testified he believed he was the best candidate to be Development Commissioner, and he did not intend to violate the City Charter.

READ: Ethics Board Delivers Final Report on New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson (now unlocked from our paywall)

“Through nearly thirty years of public service, I have always been committed to the highest standards of integrity,” Bramson began.

“I am glad that the members of the Board of Ethics concluded that I perceived my actions to be “in the best interest of New Rochelle” and that “there is no evidence to suggest that the Mayor intended to violate the Charter.”

“While I disagree with several statements in the findings, I appreciate the Board’s constructive criticism and will be more cautious in my conversations about personnel issues going forward.”

The Ethics Board report was not offered as “constructive criticism” to the Mayor on how to discuss personnel issues. It is a legal document required under New York State law to be formally transmitted by the head of agency (the City Manager) to law enforcement (the District Attorney) if the report concludes a crime was committed, which it did.

The report makes clear that “neither the Council nor any of its committees or members shall direct or request the appointment of any person to, or his removal from, office or employment by the City Manager or any of his subordinates.”

Bramson is not permitted to be involved in any discussions about personnel decisions by the City Manager, a point still lost on Bramson.

The report sought to determine whether Bramson violated the City Charter and thus committed a misdemeanor crime under Article 18 of the General Municipal Law of New York State.

The report concluded that Bramson committed two misdemeanor crimes, repeatedly violating the City Charter, and as a result, a criminal referral was made by City Manager Charles B. Strome to the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office.

Bramson, through his attorney, acknowledged as much last month.

In a May 23 letter to Strome, Steven Leventhal, Bramson’s attorney, said a referral to the District Attorney requires a “good faith belief that a crime has been committed.”

Leventhal went on in his letter to threaten litigation in the event of an investigation conducted by the District Attorney.

“I would advise my client, in the strongest terms, to use every appropriate means to defend his rights and reputation, and this would, by necessity, include addressing the circumstances described above,” referring to his allegations of “ongoing consultations” between Corporation Counsel Kathleen Gill and Peter Meisels of Wilson, Elser, the Ethics Board’s counsel and “scripted communications with the Board and its counsel” as a “pretext for referring the matter to the District Attorney’s Office.”

In his statement, the Mayor cherry-picked one sentence from within the two paragraphs which concluded that he did violate the City Charter, a misdemeanor, in pressuring the City Manager to appoint him as Development Commissioner, a job for which he had none of the qualifications required under the City Charter.

The evidence relevant to this complaint is that City Manager first made the off-hand suggestion that the Mayor consider the position of Development Commissioner. Subsequently, the Mayor pursued the appointment despite being advised that the City Manager could not make any such appointment because it would violate the Charter and the ethical standards set for City Managers. There is no evidence to suggest that the Mayor intended to violate the Charter or that he did not believe his appointment to be in the best interests of the City.

Given the plain meaning of the Charter, the Mayor’s motives, no matter how well-intentioned, do not dictate the answer to the question of whether he requested that the City Manager appoint him to the position of Development Commissioner. The evidence is not contradicted that he did. Regardless of his intentions, he did violate the Charter in making and pursuing this request of the City Manager, even though he did not initiate the dialogue. In addition, it was inappropriate under the Code of Ethics for him, while an elected official, to seek appointment to an administrative position and he should have recused himself from consideration of his appointment.

The only question on the first count is whether Bramson requested the City Manager appoint him to the position of Development Commissioner. The Ethics Board determined Bramson did so and, in so doing, violated the City Charter.

The report concluded on the second count that the Mayor violated the City Charter in canvassing for votes to fire the City Manager if he did not rescind Gill’s appointment as Deputy City Manager, a second misdemeanor.

Not addressed within the scope of the ethics complaint, is the possible felony public corruption charge that Bramson used his public office to obtain something of value for himself — a job paying $210,000 a year, reportedly as part of a 5-year, million dollar contract.

Not included in the material released with the Ethics Board report are the testimony transcripts from various City officials, which were reportedly withheld at the request of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office so as not to compromise any criminal investigation. These unfiltered statements — almost none of which made it into the final report — will shed a great deal of light on Bramson’s conduct when they are ultimately made public.

In his statement, Bramson expressed his desire to move on.

“With the ethics review now completed, I will do my part to strengthen constructive relationships with colleagues in City government and to ensure that we are fully focused on the people’s business."

Contrary to the Mayor’s statement, the ethics review is not “closed”. It remains open but now under the jurisdiction of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office which issued a statement Tuesday confirming receipt of the Advisory Opinion of the New Rochelle Board.

We are reviewing the Advisory Opinion of the Ethics Board of the City of New Rochelle. We have no further comment at this time.

The Mayor continues to threaten legal action against his colleagues in City government. The City Council has approved paying for lawyers to represent the City Manager, the Corporation Counsel and others against Bramson’s legal threats.

One way Bramson can “strengthen constructive relationships” in the City government is to formally and in writing accept the decision of the City Manager to refer the Ethics Board Advisory Opinion to the District Attorney by acknowledging that the City Manager and his staff have a good faith belief that a crime has been committed. Such a letter should renounce any basis for the litigation threatened by his attorney and withdraw the existing threat of litigation immediately.

Until the City Manager and his staff no longer have to prepare to defend against a promised Bramson lawsuit it is absurd for the Mayor to claim he has done his part to “strengthen constructive relationships” to ensure City leadership is “fully focused on the people’s business." The opposite is the case, Bramson remains a disruptive force within the City government who continues to place his personal interests — securing a massive pay increase for himself as he approaches retirement so as to double his pension — above all else. And who has threatened and continues to threaten lawsuits against his “colleagues” in City government.

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