The Noam Bramson Ethics Transcripts Part IV: Mayor Seeks to Install Former Campaign Manager as Puppet City Manager

The Noam Bramson Ethics Transcripts Part IV: Mayor Seeks to Install Former Campaign Manager as Puppet City Manager

NEW ROCHELLE, NY (August 12, 2022) -- The New Rochelle Board of Ethics divided their line of questioning into my third allegation into two parts: Who is Alisa Kesten? Did the Mayor discuss with Council members adding non-profit experience to the job qualifications for City Manager?

The simple answers are “yes”.

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Alisa Kesten is a well-known figure in the New Rochelle Democratic Party who ran Noam Bramson’s failed campaign in 2002 when he ran unsuccessfully for Ronald C. Tocci’s seat representing the 91st New York State Assembly District. Bramson has since seen to it that taxpayer funds were channeled to her non-profit organization.

The Mayor proposed adding non-profit experience to the job qualifications for City Manager, which would pave the way for Kesten’s appointment.

As readers of the series know by now, when it comes to Noam Bramson’s deceptive behavior, there is no such thing as a simple answer.

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His answer here is a straight up, knowingly false, material statement.

Q. And at any time, did you ever discuss with any (Council members) changing the qualifications for the position of city manager?

BRAMSON: Of city manager?

Q. Yes.


The Mayor employs another deceptive practice — repeating a question to buy time to come up with an answer he thinks the ethics board wants to hear — before saying “no”.

He hesitates to answer because he would rather not lie on the record and under oath, but upon realizing he has no choice but to lie, he does so.

That discussion did occur, with 6 witnesses present during a “secret” meeting of Council.

The Ethics Complaints

My ethics complaint filed on March 20, 2022 focused on two issues: Mayor Noam Bramson pressuring City Manager Charles B. Strome to appoint him as Development Commissioner despite an utter lack of qualifications under the City Charter; Mayor Noam Bramson (along with Council members Sara Kaye and Yadira Ramos Herbert) attempting to pressure Strome to rescind the appointment of Corporation Counsel Kathleen Gill to the additional position of Deputy City Manager.

I filed an amended complaint on March 28, 2022 to add an additional issue: Bramson’s efforts to install his former campaign manager, Alisa H. Kesten, to the position of City Manager despite an utter lack of qualifications under the City Charter.

This third ethics issue first surfaced during a Super Executive Session on March 8, 2022 after City Manager Charles B. Strome formally notified Council that his last day would be December 31 in Executive Session. After the Strome announcement, the City Manager (and Kathleen Gill) left the room. The meeting continued with only Council members present, becoming discussion on choosing a replacement for Strome.

Having been exposed on Plan A — to pressure City Manager Charles B. Strome to appoint him as Commissioner of Economic Development — Mayor Noam Bramson has moved on to “Plan B” in which he hopes to install his former campaign manager as his puppet City Manager, sources say.

There is even a Plan C.

Bramson hopes to replace the current City Manager with a loyal former subordinate who would, in turn, either appoint Bramson as Development Commissioner (Plan B) or Deputy City Manager (Plan C), creating a path for Bramson to someday become City Manager, sources say.

The Super Executive Session

Proposing to hire a person from the non-profit sector to run a municipal government tends to get the attention of politicians and professionals alike.

It was during the March 8 Super Executive Session that the Mayor told Council members about his idea to expand the job qualifications for City Manager to include non-profit experience.

I know.

I was there.

I was standing just outside the conference room when the meeting ended. As they exited, Council members were agitated. Some had choice words for the Mayor. They did not know what Bramson was up to with his “non-profit” proposal but they were sure he was up to something. They openly discussed that question in the hallway.

The City Manager testified about the Mayor proposing to consider a person from the non-profit sector in the March 8 Super Executive Session.

STROME: I wasn't in the executive session when he made that suggestion or when he talked to the recruitment firm. This one hire, the city manager, is the city council's hire so I would say it is unusual. I was surprised.

Ivar Hyden testified about the Mayor proposing to consider a person from the non-profit sector in the March 8 Super Executive Session — some of which was redacted.

HYDEN: And then the other -- the only other thing that I made a note of here, and I don't know if I'm allowed to talk about what happened in executive session.

Q. You are encouraged. Well, we would mark it as confidential, and it would have to remain confidential.

HYDEN: Because the other thing that troubled me was I think -- I think it was the March city council meeting, but I'm not sure exactly REDACTED
REDACTED ...And then, of course, I didn't think anything of it until the next Talk of the Sound article when, you know, it turns out that, according to Cox, you know, Noam had in mind Alisa Kesten for that job. I've known Alisa just casually for many years, and that made sense to me. That this was some -- he already had some idea in his head, and I remember thinking it was -- it was weird because why would you want somebody who has no experience in municipal government running a $200 million company? I mean, it makes no sense to me at all. She's a competent woman, smart woman. That's not the issue, but there's no experience at all. So -- and then I just -- you know, this harkens back to a lot of stuff over the years where Noam has -- what should I say? Noam is very -- thinks strategically for himself in the long term -- in a long term fashion, and every once in a while it gets caught up in his own narcissism. I don't know how else to put it.

Elizabeth Fried testified about the Mayor proposing to consider a person from the non-profit sector in the March 8 Super Executive Session — some of which was redacted.

FRIED: So it all began on March 8th, the City Council meeting. We went into executive session which is just the seven of us, the mayor and the six council people to discuss REDACTED

Al Tarantino testified about the Mayor proposing to consider a person from the non-profit sector in the March 8 Super Executive Session — some of which was redacted.

TARANTINO: I don't remember the exact time frame, but after that happened, if I remember correctly, after that happened we had a council meeting and in our council meeting Chuck announced-- before the council meeting Chuck announced that he was going to retire this year, so at the council meeting Chuck, well, had just announced there was a move immediately go into executive session to discuss a new city manager which I thought was a little odd because he just told us he was retiring but he is not retiring until December 31st so, you know, am I allowed to say anything that was discussed?

Q. Exactly what we want to know.

TARANTINO: You know, executive session, we usually aren't allowed to discuss executive session information outside of the executive session —

MR. BLUMENTHAL: If that's a matter of privilege we probably shouldn't discuss it.

MR. MEISELS: That's the question. This is not a public proceeding and we have been asked to give an opinion as to whether or not there is a charter violation, and I think that the way to deal with this is that we mark the transcript of what you are saying as confidential and subsequently make it non-foilable.

TARANTINO: All it was, the conversation was about REDACTED
REDACTED ...the meeting was finished and we moved on.

Noam Bramson, Yadira Ramos-Herbert and Sara Kaye did not testify about this meeting or say the Mayor brought up the idea of adding non-profit experience to the City Manager experience. David Blumenthal actively discouraged testimony about this meeting when Tarantino broached the subject saying “we probably shouldn't discuss it”.

This suggests another avenue for the DA to explore witness tampering by the Mayor.

Writing Non-Profit Experience into the Job Description

Q. Who suggested looking into the not-for-profit sector?

TARANTINO: The mayor.

There is no question that Noam Bramson suggested the Council considered adding non-profit experience to the job description for a new City Manager — and when asked about he lied under oath.

Bramson even wrote non-profit experience into the informational questionnaire submitted to GovHR, the executive search firm hired by Council to find candidates to succeed Strome.

NOTE: I have repeatedly requested a copy of this document. If I get it I will add it here and send a message about it on my social media platforms.

Human Resources Commissioner Robert Yamuder was asked about this at length.

Q. Now, I just want to make sure I understand, in terms of what are requisite qualifications to be the city manager in the city of New Rochelle. Am I correct that the inquiry starts with Section 39 of the charter, and then, consistent with that, more details are developed as you prepare to make a search for the new city manager?

YAMUDER: That is correct.

Q. Now, as the new -- the more detailed and more specific qualifications are developed pursuant to Section 39, who needs to approve those new specifics?

YAMUDER: I would imagine it would be the -- and the way the proposal was written, it's says the mayor and the board of trustees or council members or whatever the case may be; here in the city of New Rochelle, the council members. So basically, it's a board approval. That was my understanding.

Q. Now, at the moment, is it correct that the city is considering doing a national search for a new city manager?

YAMUDER: Yes. That's the way it was presented to me, yeah.

Q. And did there ever come a time that an informational questionnaire was filled out for the benefit of the search company?

YAMUDER: Yes, it was.

Q. And when it came to the question of qualifications, who actually filled that in and executed it?

YAMUDER: My understanding was the mayor, working with GovHR. There's a sample, fill in the blanks, and then they discuss. And again, that's where I basically -- administratively, I put them together. So my understanding was the mayor filled out that form.

Q. When it comes to the qualifications, do you know what that form now says?


Q. Could you tell us what it says?

YAMUDER: I have a copy here, but for the most part --

Q. First of all, feel free --


Q. -- to refresh your recollection.

YAMUDER: I appreciate that.

Q. You can read it.

YAMUDER: I just wrote a couple of notes, but in particular, basically, it has a couple of bullets -- a bachelor's degree from a credited college or university with major field of study in public administration, public policy or government. And again, I put my own notes on here 'cause when I start -- the next one, especially, says a minimum of five years experience in a government corporate or -- maybe corporation, but it's corporate or -- or not-for-profit organization. That in particular, it's -- I found it unusual because, typically, you're looking for somebody with extensive experience honed in on public administration and management. Not-for-profit is separate, and anything non-government, private is separate as well. So I always look to see how much experience do you actually have working your way through getting your professional degrees in public administration, working in the public sector. Obviously, we have our own fiduciary laws and other things, and our own codes. So there's a big difference between the public and private sector. Good managers probably on both sides, but you need to have that specialty, in my opinion. I put my own little note there that I would've questioned that. The other stuff looks pretty much boilerplate -- ability to develop strong work relationships and interact with elected officials, and there's six or seven bullets here. Basically, it's more like standard information. So that would be my experience with that.

Q. Now, as it's drafted, would the experience in working with not-for-profits be a substitute for government experience?

YAMUDER: Substitute, no; supplement, maybe.

Q. As it's drafted now, could someone be qualified for the position through having worked through not-for-profits rather than government?

YAMUDER: That would have to be vetted a lot more, but on the face of it I would certainly raise flags and ask more questions about the qualifications for that individual or candidate what work experience did they have. But again, it's not a substitute for the pure, you know, governmental, you know, local municipality management.

Q. And in reference to the way it's drafted at the moment, including the language about not-for-profits, did the search firm comment on that draft?

A. After it came to my attention, I called the principal of the firm, who I understand has a management background as well. So we were talking. I think she might've raised the question with the mayor. I wasn't part of their conversations and filling out that form. But when it came to my attention, that's when I called her. I wasn't sure where this came from, and she said, you know, the mayor was given out a blank to fill out, and that was the response. So I guess it raised her eyebrows as well.

Q. Did she explain why it raised her eyebrows?

A. For the same, similar reasons. Why would somebody search for a city manager at a high level, and then diminish some level of the qualifications and the criteria? So as she is a professional doing what she does in professional recruitment, I guess she would point that out. And my understanding was she might've mentioned it to the mayor, but I wasn't part of that conversation.

Q. When the application is finalized, will it need to be approved by vote of the city council?

YAMUDER: I would imagine so as a contract, and again, they'd be doing the hiring, so I would say yes. And there is a previous process where the finance department has, like, a routing sheet that goes along with it, making sure the money is there to pay for the firm. It goes to various departments, including myself, winds up at the manager's desk. It's a contract making sure everything is tied up, and then I would imagine it would ultimately go to the board for approval.

Q. And when the board votes on it, the board will know what qualifications are being required.

Q. Is that right?

YAMUDER: Correct. First there's a proposal for them to do the work, and then they fill in all the blanks to make that whole recruitment brochure. So I would imagine that that would be part of it, yes.

The City Manager shared the concerns of his HR Commissioner as did HRGov, the search firm hired by the Council.

MR. BLUMENTHAL: When the most recent foray with the recruitment firm for your job, the mayor seemed to have inserted comments about adding not-for-profit in that search document. Is that something from your perspective would be really unusual, partially unusual or normal?

STROME: Well, I would say it is unusual because I don't think there is any not-for-profit, a not-for-profit running the government. Now, what I have said offhanded to a few of the council people it might be difficult to find a manager only because of the timing. Next year is an election year and the whole city council is running for election so if I were applying for a job and seven people hired me and they may all be gone the next year I would be hesitant so, you know, there are ways around that. You can name an interim person and the next council can hire him. I haven't been through this before. My profession is pretty standard in what the qualifications are and we are the largest city in the State of New York with a council manager form of government so I don't really get why we would be adding not-for-profit experience to the qualifications required.

Changes to the City Charter

In their questions, the ethics board conflates the allegation in my complaint that the Mayor wanted to install Kesten as City Manager despite her lack of qualifications and my citation of Article VI Section 39 of the City Charter in my ethics complaint so that they repeatedly ask the wrong questions, if the Mayor wanted to change the City Charter to alter the qualifications for City Manager not change the job description based, in part, on the charter.

There is no need to change the City Charter because the Charter does not specify levels or types of experience for a City Manager only that the person shall be hired “on the basis of his executive and administrative qualifications”.

The issue is not changing the City Charter to suit Alisa Kesten but changing past job specifications and RFPs to suit Alisa Kesten.

This explains why Lopez, Ramos-Herbert, Tarantino and Hyden all denied hearing anything about changing the City Charter to accommodate Kesten.

Martha Lopez was asked about changes to the City Charter.

Q. Do you know whether there's been any discussion about amending the city charter to alter the qualifications for the position of city manager?

LOPEZ: I never had that discussion with anybody. No. I don't know... I didn't know about this woman, Kesten.

Yadira Ramos-Herbert was asked about changes to the City Charter.

Q. Have you heard from any source that there's a consideration of amending the charter to alter the qualifications to be the city manager?

RAMOS-HERBERT: No, no. This is the first time hearing that sentiment.

Al Tarantino was asked about changes to the City Charter.

Q. Do you recall there ever having been any discussion about changing the requirements that are required in the charter for city manager to include experience with not-for-profits?


Ivar Hyden was asked about changes to the City Charter.

Q. Are you aware of any efforts being made to amend the charter to change the qualifications for the position of city —

HYDEN: Just a rumor that I heard that Noam in his -- in preparing to reach out to to a head hunting firm to look for a new city manager, I had been told was interested in dumbing down the requirements, if you want to put it that way, for a new city manager. Al told me this recently that he was considering taking out the part that you had to have a masters. He had already mentioned the idea to bring in somebody from a not-for-profit, but that's all I know, and I'm not sure. I don't know how true that is. That's just -- that was an offhand comment that Al made in one of our conversations the last few days that this was what he had heard. I don't know from whom.

There is no requirement in the Charter that a candidate for City Manager have a Master’s degree of any kind.

Kesten has a B.A. in Political Science from Emory University and an M.A. in childhood education from College of New Rochelle. She has no experience or academic certification in government, public administration or public policy.

When Hyden said he was discussing “dumbing down the requirements” with Tarantino he was referring to what is in Yamuder’s notes: a candidate must have a B.A. in government, public administration or public policy. Such a requirement would disqualify Kesten.

Bramson was asked about changes to the City Charter but (mistakenly?) asked about changes to “qualifications for the position of commissioner of economic development” not City Manager. He truthfully replies he did not have such a discussion.

Q. Did you ever have occasion to have a conversation with any member of the council about broadening the charter qualifications for the position of commissioner of economic development to include experience with not for-profits?

BRAMSON: No, never.

Alisa Kesten

Five of seven Council members were asked about Alisa Kesten. Sara Kaye was not asked about Kesten. The Mayor was never asked about Kesten although he brought her up on his own towards the end of his testimony.

Martha Lopez was asked about Alisa Kesten.

Q. Do you know a person by the name of Alisa Kesten?

LOPEZ: I do.

Q. Who is she?

LOPEZ: I know -- I know her. I know her name, but I don't know her as a -- it's like I have never been, like, with her having a conversation or have gone out to lunch like that; right? So I don't know her that well, but I know that she was a director of Volunteer New York.

Al Tarantino was asked about Alisa Kesten.

Q. Does the name Alisa Kesten sound familiar to you?


Q. How do you know that name?

TARANTINO: I know Alisa Kesten. I know I have been around a long time. Alisa Kesten was involved with the United Way. I was on the Board of Directors of the United Way back in the early 2000's, 2007, 2008 and she was involved at the time. She is a local. I know her for a long time, and then, of course, she sort of disappeared from the landscape. She went into a job in a not-for-profit. She worked for a number of them and I never heard her name again until I heard through individuals that she was the person that was the one that was going to be, you know, put into the position of city manager so that's the next time I heard about Alisa. I didn't even know she still lived around here because I hadn't seen or heard from her.

Elizabeth Fried was asked about Alisa Kesten.

Q. Can you identify a person by the name of Alisa Kesten?

FRIED: Sure.

Q. Who is that?

FRIED: She most recently was head of Volunteer New York. She is an activist in New Rochelle. She is an old friend of mine. She worked together in the League of Women Voters. We raised our kids together. She is a really good person in Democratic politics in New Rochelle.

Yadira Ramos-Herbert was asked about Alisa Kesten.

Q. Can you identify a person by the name of Alisa Kesten?

RAMOS-HERBERT: So Bob Cox's blog has identified her as the --

Q. Do you know her?

RAMOS-HERBERT: You know, I feel like we -- I think we did a community park cleanup at Lincoln Park maybe. I know her through Volunteer New York, so she's helped facilitate, like, getting volunteers and partners to do, like, cleanups in the neighborhood. So I know her through that mechanism. I've probably have met her socially at different New Ro fundraisers and things like that, but I can't -- I can't recall, like, any major conversations that I've had with her.

Q. And did you hear from any source that she is in the running for the position of city manager?

RAMOS-HERBERT: The only source is the source that has brought us all together, Bob Cox.


The Mayor sought to include non-profit experience in the job description. He discussed it with Council — and lied about it under oath. He wrote it into the HRGov informational questionnaire.

The transcripts fail to establish that Bramson was seeking to install a particular person as City Manager by adding non-profit experience to the job description.

To establish this point, the ethics board would have needed to ask Noam Bramson and Alisa Kesten questions about it.

They never asked Bramson about Kesten at all.

Alisa Kesten, the person in the best position other than Bramson to answer questions did not participate in the investigation.

The DA should add her to the grand jury witness list.

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