Mount Vernon Mayor Ernie Davis and City Council member Roberta Apuzzo have some explaining to do.
The two Democrats have been tight-lipped about a seemingly bizarre real estate relationship in which the mayor sent six years’ worth of property tax bills totaling thousands of dollars for a Florida condominium he owns to Apuzzo — who served as council president, the mayor’s second in command in 2012.
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So far, all Davis has said is that it was a “mistake” that has been corrected. Apuzzo, whose council term ends this year, has refused to say anything at all. No one’s talking, not even the mayor’s lawyers -- neither his personal lawyer nor the city’s corporation counsel. Even now, it’s unclear who actually paid the tax bills.
That’s not acceptable — not for a public tired of political scandals and federal investigations in this city, particularly recent ones involving the mayor.
What has been said so far, frankly, only thickens the clouds hovering over Roosevelt Square. There are many more questions that warrant answers:
Are the two public officials business partners?
Who is actually paying the taxes on the property?
Is there some sort of quid pro quo arrangement involving the city or political business? And to the benefit of whom?
Did they lie, mislead or omit information on their financial disclosure forms with the city? If so, why?
The city’s Board of Ethics needs to investigate. This five-member body, appointed by the City Council, should be able to sort through these issues and help determine, at the very least, whether there has been any violation of city ethics rules or its code of conduct, and determine whether further action is needed or penalties imposed.
The 758-square-foot condo in question is in a subdivision in Delray Beach, Fla., and the rental income is part of a much broader federal probe into the mayor's personal finances, Newsday.com has reported. The mayor, a 74-year-old architect who has spent much of his life in public office, reportedly owns nine properties in four states.
Apuzzo, 68, runs a soup kitchen in Mount Vernon and was elected to the council in 2009 with the help of Davis, who was elected to his fourth term in 2011 after a four-year hiatus from City Hall. Before losing to Democrat Clinton Young in 2007, Davis served three terms as mayor. Viewed as a political ally, Apuzzo also served as acting mayor for several days last year while Davis was traveling out of state during superstorm Sandy.
It’s hard to know if the condo tax payments are some sort of diabolical plan to mislead the public, an effort cover an embarrassing oversight, or something a bit more personal. The ethics board can, and should, ask these basic questions. The public has a right to some answers.