The Noam Bramson Ethics Transcripts Part II: Mayor’s Pursuit of New Rochelle Development Commissioner Position

Second in a multi-part series

The Noam Bramson Ethics Transcripts Part II: Mayor’s Pursuit of New Rochelle Development Commissioner Position

NEW ROCHELLE, NY (July 13, 2022) -- As I announced in my first article in this series, Ethics Investigation Transcripts Raise New Questions About New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, et al, simply dumping all the transcripts online would be like inviting readers to drink from a firehose. I wanted instead to offer readers an organized way to get deep into a complicated stack of documents. Without structure, it would be like trying to complete a blank jigsaw puzzle.

To get started I decided to work on the most important issue — the one I believe caught the attention of Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah and is now the subject of a Grand Jury investigation — Mayor Noam Bramson using his public office to obtain something of value, the position of Development Commissioner which carried with it an annual raise of $100,000 a year for five years ($500,000) and a corresponding pension increase, together worth an estimated (by me) $2,750,000 above his current salary and pension package.

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This work turned out to be a much bigger project than I envisioned (67 pages and counting). It took two full days to first use OCR to convert the transcript PDFs with tiny font to annoyingly imperfect editable text then copy/paste that text into a word processor, clean that up, then pull dates out of the transcripts to create a timeline, then group different sections of testimony from different witnesses under the dates and events in the timeline so, as best as I was able, every witness account of a specific event on the timeline was arranged in proximity to that event and other accounts of the same event. This was especially difficult because some witnesses had imperfect recollections and some witnesses were not telling the truth.

I will be updating the timeline as I gather more information, mostly make additional FOIL requests but also (hopefully) witnesses coming forward to add details. The timeline is a large, living document so I decided to post it separately and link to it from this and future articles so it can be updated without breaking the continuity of the articles in the series.

For now, the timeline is from the perspective of the Mayor’s pursuit of the Development Commissioner but that will evolve as the series expands.

I am not unaware that all my work might save some ADA working on the Bramson case a good deal of time by offering a roadmap to use to create interrogatories for Grand Jury witnesses prepared by someone intimately familiar with the details and the broader narrative. This would hardly be the first time that prosecutors and plaintiffs’ lawyers utilized my research, knowledge of a case and my presentation of the material to advance their case. I am always happy to help put the bad guys away.

While reading these articles, keep in mind what this entire investigation has been about — an attempted coup d’etat by the Mayor who was frustrated by his lack of power in New Rochelle’s form of government.

As Peter Miesels, the lawyer for the Board of Ethics, told Council member Ivar Hyden during his hearing, “as I'm sure you noticed, one of the very first allegations that Robert Cox made was that this was part of a rather involved effort to destroy this council manager form of government.”

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At the end of the day this story about money, power and ego is ultimately about Noam Bramson’s frustration that he was stuck in a dead-end political track as a weak-form Mayor with stunted dreams of glory and his attempt to find a way out by subverting the will of New Rochelle voters who have repeatedly rejected a Strong Mayor form of government.

The story begins in an elevator on the penthouse level of Trump Plaza in downtown New Rochelle in October 2019 when then-Development Commissioner Luiz Arágon grabbed a building employee and shoved him off the elevator. Having accepted a plea deal on a reduced charge, Arágon was sued for a million dollars in October 2020 (the case settled out of court). Our timeline starts one month later, on November 19, 2020 when Luiz Arágon announced his retirement effective December 31, 2020. The reverberations of his retirement are still being felt today.

As a guide to reading through the timeline. I have added notes to highlight issues, questions, contradictions or dubious statements contained within the transcripts.

As the transcripts show, the Mayor testified implausibly that the City Manager “approached me to suggest that I take a serious look at the position”. The City Manager never says that, only that he made an offhanded quip out of frustration in not finding suitable candidates in his first attempt to find a new Development Commissioner.

The Mayor then contradicts his own testimony in a way the is entirely consistent with the City Manager’s testimony when he says, “We literally joked about (it) initially, you know, started as almost a joke...”.

So, which is it, “serious” or “a joke”?

The Mayor testified that his interest and the interest of the City Manager in the Mayor as Development Commissioner “waxed and waned” and “ebbed and flowed” but there is no time when the City Manager is waxing or flowing in his enthusiasm for the idea. He repeatedly expresses regret at having made a quip about it and repeatedly expressed to the Mayor he did not want to appoint the Mayor as Development Commissioner.

After the Mayor told the City Manager that he was "intrigued" by being the Development Commissioner, the City Manager, and Corporation Counsel, took the Mayor out to lunch to explain the reasons he would not appoint him as Development Commissioner: charter violations, bad optics, a violation of the ICMA code of ethics but the Mayor persisted for another eight months.

The City Manager testified he told (and the Mayor knew he told) various people that the Mayor wanted to be appointed Development Commissioner and those people included Martha Lopez, Al Tarantino, Ivar Hyden, Joe Apicella, Mark Weingarten, Steve Altieri, Steve Pappalardo, Peter Korn and Tim Idoni and none of those people supported the idea with most outwardly hostile to the idea. The City Manager said the managers — Steve Altieri, Steve Pappalardo, Peter Korn — “were ready to slap me in the face for even considering it”.

The Mayor pinned his future on his desire for appointment as Development Commissioner and he was not going to take no for an answer.

Throughout his testimony the City Manager says he was uncomfortable and felt pressured over almost a year knowing he could not appoint the Mayor, knowing the Mayor was persisting despite numerous direct conversations, all while realizing that his apparent strategy of widely back-channeling the Mayor’s efforts so others would go to the Mayor to get him to back off was not working, It is why he sought both a legal opinion and an ethics opinion, put both into a memo then took the unusual step of notifying Council of the Salgado appointment by sending out a press release and copying Council members.

When Councilman Hyden confronted the mayor about the inappropriateness of pursuing the Development Commissioner position and pressuring the City Manager, Strome testified that when he heard about it he was pleased. “I felt pretty good,” Strome said “I felt the more people that told him it wasn't a good idea the better for me.”

As noted in my first article, the Board of Ethics members expressed mystification as to why the Mayor did not submit an application to be Development Commissioner. The answer is obvious: he wanted to keep what he doing secret. His job application would have been subject to FOIL. He was concerned that I would hear about it, obtain his application and publish it causing all hell to break loose. How do we know that would happen? Just look what happened when I did find out. There has been an ethics complaint, an investigation, an Advisory Opinion sustaining my complaint, a DA investigation, Grand Jury investigation and some — not enough — but some media stories. It would seem obvious and in keeping with his prior history of trying to sneak things through that the Mayor hoped to secretly get the position first then ride out the storm that would certainly ensue leaving with him a job paying double his current salary as Mayor and a massive pension windfall, a bump worth an estimated $2.75 million above his current pay and benefits package.

There a lot of questions for former Development Commissioner Luiz Arágon. He was not a witness in the ethics investigation but should certainly be brought before the Grand Jury. Arágon called me on March 20 to deny any involvement after I sent out interrogatories to all of the key people in the matter. The transcripts show otherwise. The Mayor said he discussed his pursuit of the Development Commissioner with Arágon. He told current Development Commissioner Adam Salgado not to apply for the job because he and the Mayor would be running the Development Department with Kathleen Gill. He had a consulting contract with the City from the day after he retired on December 30, 2020 until September 2021. He remained in communications with the Mayor even past the termination of his consulting contract. On the day Adam Salgado was named the new Development Commissioner on March 17, 2022 the Mayor told Salgado he needed to work with Arágon and to “call Luiz and make it right”, referring to Gill and Salgado’s termination of Arágon’s consulting contract. When Salgado refused to make the call the Mayor told Arágon to call Salgado. When the City Manager heard about it he was furious. He called Arágon and told him “you have no business being involved here in New Rochelle at this point."

This is meant to be a guide for readers to explore the transcripts and discover much of it on their own so I better stop for now before I give everything away. This took 4 full days to put together so I am going to take a break before getting into the efforts by the Mayor to pressure the City Manager to rescind his appointment of Corporation Counsel as Deputy City Manager. In the mean time, dive in and please use the comments section to discuss (if you are not a paid subscriber considering becoming one so you can join the discussion).

Timeline of Mayor Noam Bramson pursuing New Rochelle Development Commissioner Position
The following is a timeline of the events investigated by the New Rochelle Board of Ethics of my ethics complaint filed on March 20, 2022 resulting in an Advisory Opinion released on June 16, 2022 which sustained the allegations in my complaint. I will be updating the timeline as I gather more information, mostly through additional FOIL requests but also…

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