Yonkers clerk nomination overshadowed by partisan politics

City Hall on South Broadway in downtown Yonkers. City Hall on South Broadway in downtown Yonkers. (Feb. 23, 2012) Photo Credit: Angela Gaul

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With the recent departure of Yonkers City Clerk Jose Alvarado, who resigned last month after only four months on the job, the angling for his replacement is under way, with city council members vying for their nominees.

Topping the list of candidates for the job is interim City Clerk Vincent Spano, a 10-year veteran of the office and the mayor's youngest brother.

"Vinnie can stand on his own two feet," Mayor Mike Spano told Newsday in vowing to stay clear from the nomination process. "If they want to pick him, that's their choice."

Even without Mayor Spano's involvement, the selection of the Yonkers city clerk often involves political leaders jockeying to fill the position.

Under the city's charter, the appointment process for a new clerk has several steps. First, the party in control of the city council -- in this case, Democrats -- nominate a candidate for the five-year term. The nomination goes before the Committee on Rules, which holds a public hearing and vote. From there, the nomination goes to the council for a vote.

James Koury, a spokesman for the New York State Association of City and Village Clerks, said the partisan process for nominating Yonkers city clerks is unusual. Under state law, villages and town clerks are appointed by the mayor or board of trustee, and with a few exceptions the process is generally nonpartisan. However, cities are allowed to create their own system of hiring clerks.

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In Yonkers, most things official are in the hands of the city clerk, who sets council agendas, registers lobbyists, issues marriage licenses and birth certificates and even swears the mayor into office.

Vincent Spano, previously first deputy clerk, was passed over for the top job earlier this year for Alvarado, who got the position after a deal was struck between Republicans and Democrats on the council.

Alvarado, a former aide to Mayor Spano who made $102,500 as city clerk, stepped down in late October, saying he wanted to work in the private sector.

This time around, Vincent Spano said he has changed his party affiliation from Conservative to Democrat, which he hopes will improve his chances of getting the nomination.

"This is a job I love and want to continue doing," he said.

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Council president Chuck Lesnick, the board's ranking Democrat, said the council's Democratic caucus hasn't met yet to discuss nominating a permanent replacement. In the interim, he said, Vincent Spano is doing a good job.

"We are certainly content that he can continue as acting clerk until we make up our mind," Lesnick said.

Councilman Michael Sabatino, a Democrat serving his first term on council, said he plans to nominate Mary Beth Gaffney, a Yonkers Democratic Party official whom he had previously nominated. She, too, was passed over for Alvarado.

George Kevgas, a Democrat who ran for the Westchester County Board of Legislators in 2010, is another name who has been mentioned as a potential nominee. He was nominated by Democrats earlier this year, but was rejected by the council.

Councilman Wilson Terrero, the council's Democratic majority leader, and Councilman John Larkin, the board's Republican minority leader, didn't return phone calls seeking comment on the selection process.

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Longtime observers say the process of nominating Yonkers clerks has for decades been overshadowed by partisan politics and backroom deals with major party bosses wrangling to get their nominee approved, typically as patronage jobs.

The system dates back to the days when the city clerk also oversaw the elections, a responsibility that now falls on Westchester County's Republican and Democratic election commissioners.

"Appointments are always partisan," said Mike Edelman, a longtime observer of New York politics. "Whenever an elected official has the power to appoint, it becomes partisan, because then it's a question of who he rewards."

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