Noramie Jasmin relished being in the spotlight as she rose from Haitian immigrant to trustee to deputy mayor, and now mayor of Spring Valley.
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"I thank you from the bottom of my heart," she recently told a reporter in a soft voice, but "I was advised by the court and my attorney not to speak with anyone."
The no-holds-barred brashness that has marked her tenure, however, is still in evidence as she cruises to and from her mayoral office in a $60,000, village-owned Ford Expedition Limited. Prominently displayed in the windshield of the black SUV is a large gold shield with the word "MAYOR" emblazoned across the center. The vehicle's front and back license plates screech: "OFFICIAL."
Jasmin, 49, bought the SUV with taxpayer money three weeks after becoming mayor in December 2009. She reportedly equipped the Ford with tinted windows, power running boards, navigation, chrome wheels, leather seats and a rear seat DVD entertainment system, a source noted.
"She calls her car 'Air Force One,'" said the source who did not want to be named. "That was the first thing she did for herself when she got into office. It was just the beginning for her."
FROM 'BEWILDERED' TO 'BULLETPROOF'
Jasmin, the youngest of four children, spent most of her childhood in Haiti before immigrating to Rockland County in the 1980's. She graduated from Ramapo Senior High School, married Ronald Jasmin in 1987 and earned an associate degree from Rockland Community College in liberal arts and sciences, according to a slick videotaped biography produced by Paragon Image Studios and posted on YouTube.
Demeza Delhomme, who has been a Spring Valley trustee since 1999, said he first met Jasmin in 1992, when she joined the United Haitian American Caucus. The group -- formed to unite Haitians across Rockland County -- helped women deal with abuse issues and health care and generally adjust to life in the U.S.
"I took Jasmin to her first [Bill] Clinton election to put posters up, hand out fliers, make phone calls," Delhomme recalled. "I taught them [the Haitian women] how to do things in America - -- that you have to campaign to win."
In 1999, Jasmin launched Women of Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization designed to help immigrants with family and health care needs.
In 2001, she was elected to the Spring Valley board of trustees under then-mayor George Darden.
Philip Rosenthal, who was a village trustee from 1993 to 2010, remembered the day Darden introduced him to Jasmin.
"He said, 'If you think she'd be OK, then we'll go with it,' " Rosenthal recalled.
"She seemed a little bewildered at the time. This was a new idea to her, politics, but she seemed sincere. She seemed like someone who had her heart in the right place and wanted to be involved in helping all aspects of the community," he said.
Delhomme, 65, contends that Darden brought Jasmin onto the Democratic ticket because he knew she would vote with him on the five-member Village Board.
"Darden was running the village with an iron fist. Now he's got her vote, [Anthony] Leon's vote, Phil Rosenthal's vote. He didn't give a crap what the other trustees said. He was doing whatever he wanted anyhow," Delhomme said.
"That's part of her falling down because ... there was nobody teaching her the right way," he added.
Darden, who since has moved to Mississippi, did not return calls for comment.
Jasmin was a trustee for a year before being appointed deputy mayor. She was elected mayor in 2009.
"She rose up through the ranks probably at a little too fast [of] a pace. She started to get that bulletproof feeling," Rosenthal said.
"She just wanted 'yes' people around her," Delhomme said.
Soon, tensions on the board escalated and alliances formed around Jasmin's priorities, he said. Several close to her agreed that she grew haughty and prone to outbursts of temper.
"When she would get mad, she would throw people out of Village Hall and say, 'Get out of my house!' " the political source said. "Another time, there was a meeting and she was just yelling and screaming and said, 'Don't talk to me this way in my house!' She owned Village Hall. The government was hers. The money was hers. Everything was 'mine, mine mine.' "
Jasmin "is very pushy. She's a pushy person. It's her mentality," said trustee Joseph Gross. "She ran it [the village], the way she ran it. Every small thing was the biggest thing to her ... she was a very savvy businesswoman."
Jasmin also bumped up her mayoral salary to $125,000 from $92,000 and remodeled her mayoral office, as well as the trustees' meeting room, Rosenthal said.
A yellow "AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY!" and two signs that read "MAYOR" hang at the entrance of her office. Dark, wooden furniture and high-backed green leather chairs are scattered around the maroon carpeting. Accolades hang on the walls and two golden-colored pens sit atop her large desk.
JASMIN'S CINDERELLA MAKEOVER
Shortly after she became deputy mayor, Jasmin, the mother of two sons, underwent a personal transformation.
"She was very simple and very plain when I met her ... I think her hair was braided," Rosenthal recalled.
Then, about 2003, Jasmin went away for two weeks and "she came back and had a complete makeover," Rosenthal said. "She totally carried herself in a different way; it was almost like someone trained her how to carry herself ... she lost a tremendous amount of weight and started wearing really stylish clothing."
Only after she was elected mayor did she join the French Speaking Baptist Church on North Madison Avenue -- the largest Haitian congregation in Spring Valley, with about 700 worshipers, several parishioners said.
"She would only come for the big, big celebrations," said one man. "She wanted to be seen by everyone."
Jasmin and her husband live on the top floor of a modest, two-story brick house on West Street, dubbed Harriet Tubman Way. They reside with their sons: A.J., 24, and Leo, 16, who attends Spring Valley High School. Jasmin's sister lives on the first floor with her two children. The $286,000 home, which receives STAR tax exemptions, is ringed by a rusted fence, and the doorbells are broken.
HAUNTED BY THE GHOSTS OF HAITI
To some Spring Valley residents, Jasmin is seen as a strong woman who emigrated from one of the world's poorest and most oppressed nations to become mayor and help her fellow Haitians in this village of about 31,000.
"I think she genuinely cares about the community," said Cassandra Edwards, an outspoken resident who has a personal relationship with Jasmin. "I have watched her go in her pocket and pay people's rents. She'd come to people's homes who don't have food ... She has worked to make this a better community ... She's done the best she can with what she has had."
News of Jasmin's and Deputy Mayor Joseph A. Desmaret's April 2 arrest stunned the village, where the per capita income is 44 percent lower than the state average at $18,056. More than 21 percent of Spring Valley residents live in poverty, compared with 14.5 percent statewide.
Magalie Bertrand, 52, who struggles to make ends meet working as a home health aide, moved to Spring Valley from Haiti in 1987. "We all know there's money in the village, but some of them get some and some of us get nothing," she said.
"We left Haiti to leave the corruption, to leave the poverty. And now it's here. We feel bad," Bertrand said, as she stopped to pick up groceries for her mother and daughter at a local food pantry. "All the Haitians, everybody is down now."
Delhomme, who immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti four decades ago, sobbed when he spoke about the devastation eons of public corruption have wreaked on his island nation.
"I'm looking at those left behind in Haiti. I always say, 'What if that was me? What would I do then?' A country with no life, no security, no schools, no professionals, no guidelines, no sewer system, no water, no lights, nothing," Delhomme said. "If I didn't have the opportunity to leave that mess, then I would be one of them. I thank God all the time that I came to America.
"Unfortunately, that's not what all Haitians are about. Some think differently than me. Some like to live an American Dream," he added. "They want the power."
'IMPERIAL' JASMIN WON'T RESIGN
Some contend that Jasmin was somewhat naive and just followed in the footsteps of her predecessors -- in particular, former Mayor Darden.
"She learned that kind of jumping up from him without working herself through the process slowly," Delhomme said. "From nothing to deputy mayor ... to mayor ... Somebody with no knowledge. She was naive."
Local power brokers "used her very good. They molded her, they made her, they chewed her [up] and they spit her out. It's sad," Delhomme said. "We don't feel pity for Jasmin, but we cry for what happened."
Many in Spring Valley believe Jasmin should step down.
"She thought she could do anything she wanted. She was acting like a dictator. She's still acting like a dictator. When you get caught in a situation on the federal level, she should have resigned, and she's not," trustee Leon said.
The mayor, who has been working at her office since her arrest, has told those close to her that she will not quit. She and Desmaret face 20 years behind bars if convicted of mail fraud in connection with a deal to build a community center next to the Village Hall. They are accused of trading their votes and using their influence to press fellow board members to approve the project.
Jasmin also is planning to seek re-election in November. Several people, including Delhomme, have announced they will run against her.
"She will not resign. She will only do it when she's forced to by prosecutors or as part of a plea deal," said the political source. "There's no doubt she should resign. She's part of that crazy corruption culture ... but it's not in her nature. She has this imperial sense of self."