Port Chester village board members will return to the long-running and fraught topic of voting rights, as they consider hiring a law firm to appeal the 2008 ruling that forced a change in its trustee election system. My story about the latest development ran in The Journal News on Friday. Trustee Joseph Kenner wrote an opinion piece arguing for an appeal, and attorney Randolph McLaughlin, who joined the case against Port Chester on behalf of plaintiff Cesar Ruiz, wrote against such an action.
Obviously, this is a complex, highly charged topic. The legal case is easily misunderstood, and I’ve seen and heard it described inaccurately on many occasions. (You may have seen accounts in the blogosphere after the June 15 election, claiming that Hispanics in Port Chester were somehow given a different voting option from others. Not true.)
The public meeting starts at 7 p.m. and streams live on the village website. Kenner put forth a resolution to hire the firm of Jones Day; partner Michael Carvin has met with the board about representing the village in an appeal. Mayor Dennis Pilla said Carvin gave the board a “less than 50/50” “50/50 at best” chance of succeeding. He wants to have a formal process of informing the public and gathering feedback before voting on an appeal.
It’s not clear how the other board members will vote, but Trustee Sam Terenzi said he’s pro-appeal. Asked about the costs – up to $225,000 just in the Jones Day attorney fees – he said the village could see a net savings, if it wins. He said Port Chester could recoup some of the legal costs and avoid ongoing expenses related to voter education, as mandated in the consent decree with the Department of Justice:
We’re required to hold two more elections that we basically have to spend almost the same kind of money that we spent in the last election, between educating the electorate and all that other crap that basically generated about 100 more people to vote.
And if the village loses?
If we lose, obviously it’s going to cost us more money. We’ll find it in our budget. Certain things are worth fighting for.
Trustee Luis Marino, who became the first Latino on the village board in June, said he couldn’t see spending more money to pursue an appeal, but was open to public input. He was characteristically non-committal about the new cumulative voting system, under which he and the other five trustees were elected:
I’m not in favor, I’m not against the system. It is what it is.
McLaughlin told me, in characteristically colorful terms, that an appeal would be a huge waste of money and time for Port Chester:
Let’s think. Are there better uses of taxpayers money in Port Chester than a useless appeal? Could they build some roads? Could they pave some streets? Could they hire teachers? Could they pay for clerks? Could they help senior citizens? Think of what that money could be used for. No, they want to throw it down a sinkhole.