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Mount Vernon: Dispute over who's mayor hits stalemate, Westchester County logo, Westchester County 5 days ago Jonathan Bandler
Richard Thomas wearing a suit and tie © Provided by Gannett Co., Inc.

MOUNT VERNON - The battle between Richard Thomas and Andre Wallace over who is mayor of Mount Vernon today seems headed to a stalemate and a confrontation in court.

The City Council on Wednesday night invoked a city charter passage they insist meant Thomas forfeited the office of mayor on Monday when he pleaded guilty to misdemeanors for misappropriating campaign funds in 2015.

They passed resolutions ending any salary and benefits to him effective Monday and gave him 24 hours to empty his office at City Hall and return any city property in his possession.

And they watched as Wallace, their council president, was sworn in as acting mayor by the city clerk.

a group of people posing for the camera: Andre Wallace, the former Mount Vernon City Council President, walks through the hall at Mount Vernon City Hall, July 11, 2019. © Mark Vergari/The Journal News Andre Wallace, the former Mount Vernon City Council President, walks through the hall at Mount Vernon City Hall, July 11, 2019.

OUSTED: Andre Wallace becomes acting mayor but Richard Thomas insists he's still mayor

GUILTY: Mount Vernon mayor will resign, pleads guilty to misusing campaign funds

Wallace arrived at City Hall around noon today. Thomas was not there this morning and hadn't shown as of 2 p.m., but the office of the mayor remained unlocked and Thomas’ staff was there.

Down the hall, City Clerk George Brown and the deputy city marshal were “strategizing” at the start of the work day over how to carry out the council resolution, which directed them “to supervise said process and effectuate the same should the former Mayor refuse to comply with this ordinance.”

Brown said he is no longer accepting any documents for presentation to the council if they have Thomas' signature. Brown made a point of referring to him as "Mr. Thomas."

Wallace and Brown emerged in the afternoon after an hour-long, closed-door meeting that included Councilman Marcus Griffith and Councilwoman Delia Farquharson. Wallace said after the meeting that the council hadn't removed Thomas, but that by pleading guilty he forfeit his office.

Richard Thomas wearing a suit and tie: Andre Wallace, left, and Richard Thomas © The Journal News Andre Wallace, left, and Richard Thomas

Thomas’ lawyer, Michael Pizzi, insists the council’s actions were illegal and that Thomas remains mayor. But he said there were no immediate plans to seek their invalidation in court, that it was up to the council to go to court if they want Thomas out.

“It’s unenforceable,” Pizzi said. “They’ll have to try to get a judge to enforce it and they’ll get laughed out of court.”

Thomas faced felony charges and would have automatically been forced from office under state law if he’d been convicted of those.

But his guilty plea to misdemeanors came as part of an agreement with state prosecutors that he would resign by Sept. 30. The council was not ready to wait that long.

The charter provision — under the title of Penalty for Violations of Duty — says an office holder who violates ANY law forfeits office upon conviction. But it has been interpreted to mean only for charges directly related to a city job.

“The mayor has not pleaded guilty to any misconduct in office. These were mistakes on his campaign finances,” Pizzi said.

Councilman Griffith said the move was necessary both to enforce the charter and keep Thomas away.

“We can’t have him in City Hall for the next 90 days,” he said. “We don’t know what he could do.”

But Griffith said he did not expect Wallace to take any mayoral action until after the 24 hours were up at 8 tonight.

“We’re going to provide (Thomas) time to remove his belongings and vacate the office respectfully,” he said.

City Attorney Lawrence Porcari issued a memo today calling the City Council's actions invalid and outside its lawful authority. He said unless a court says otherwise, Thomas was still mayor until Sept. 30.

Porcari said the council couldn't remove a mayor or appoint a new mayor although the council's actions actually did neither. Instead it treated him as an ex-mayor and took action to stop his pay and for him to vacate his office in City Hall.

The counsel also asserted that by Wallace vacating his seat as council president that President Pro Tempore Janice Duarte is now council president. That means, Porcari said, that Duarte and not Wallace will become acting mayor when Thomas leaves on Sept. 30.

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Staff writer Mark Lungariello contributed to this report.

Twitter: @jonbandler

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Mount Vernon: Dispute over who's mayor hits stalemate


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