Yonkers residents sue to overturn term limit extension

A new lawsuit has been filed against the city of Yonkers in an attempt to prevent the City Council from extending term limits.

Jonathan Gordon

Dec 12, 2022, 10:41 PM

Updated 532 days ago

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A dozen Yonkers residents are suing Mayor Mike Spano and the entire City Council to overturn legislation that extends the number of years each can serve from 12 to 16.
The group includes several prominent community members, including former City Council Member Joan Gronowski, former Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Joe Pinion, former Republican City Council President candidate Ron Matter, Yonkers NAACP Vice-Chair Kisha Skipper and Messiah Baptist Church Senior Pastor Frank Coleman.
"We are sending a direct message. Not to any individual but to local government that we will not stand idly by while our civil and human rights are violated," said Kisha Skipper, one of the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit argues the council's vote needs to be voided because it violates the city charter ethics code.
"The local law extending term limits for elective office in the city of Yonkers, which was supported by a member of the City Council and signed into law by the mayor, persons standing to directly benefit," reads part of the lawsuit.
Republican Council Member Mike Breen and Mayor Mike Spano are both in their third terms and could both run for a fourth term next year.
"The right to vote, our people died for that. To take that away after all that we have done and had to sacrifice to have the opportunity to vote is shameful," said Frank Coleman, one of the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit cites the charter's ethics standards, C1A-6, "a city officer or employee shall not use his or her official position or office, or take or fail to take any action, in a manner which he or she has reason to know may result in a financial benefit for himself or herself."
The group believes this law prohibits the council from voting or the mayor from signing any piece of legislation that would ultimately benefit them. This includes allowing them to gain additional terms in office.
"By enacting a change which allows two currently sitting council members to seek a fourth term and the mayor to do the same... [the defendants] violated the term of the City Charter," reads part of the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is asking a judge to invalidate the vote and mandate a referendum question on term limits before the voters next year.
On an episode of Power & Politics on December 4, 2022, which came after the vote but before the lawsuit, News 12 asked Democratic Yonkers City Council Majority Leader Tasha Diaz and Republican City Council member Anthony Merante whether there was an optical issue with council members voting on legislation that could ultimately benefit themselves down the line.
"We are elected sometimes to be able to take the executive decision when it comes down to certain policies," said Diaz at that time.
"Absolutely," said Merante.
Diaz voted in favor of extending term limits, while Merante voted no.
The majority leader declined to comment on the ongoing lawsuit.
"There is no merit to the filing. The Yonkers term limits were properly amended by local law, no mandatory referendum was required," wrote Matthew Gallagher, Yonkers Corporation Counsel in response to our request for a comment on the litigation.
The plaintiffs and their attorney Michael Sussman, who successfully won the desegregation case against the city in the 1980s, are scheduled to speak further about the lawsuit outside city hall on Thursday at noon.


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