As some 40 FBI agents wheeled out suitcases full of documents from Ramapo Town Hall on Wednesday afternoon, longtime critics of the town’s leadership — specifically, the leadership of Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence — started speculating. In Facebook comments and email messages on a listserv, they gleefully cheered a federal probe — even though it remains unclear the purpose, and the target, of any investigation.
There’s nothing to cheer here. New York’s political scandals — coming week after week, it seems — are just plain sad. We have had a slew of corruption arrests since April, including state senators, Assembly members, a New York City Councilman, two political party leaders out of New York City, and the mayor and deputy mayor of the Village of Spring Valley. While some of the probes were intertwined, others weren’t even related. And, at least two of the state Legislature members wore wires, and the anticipation is that more arrests will com.
As FBI agents removed documents from Ramapo Town Hall on Route 59, an official told The Journal News that records have been seized from the computer department, finance department, tax department and the Town Attorney’s Office. It remains unclear what exactly the feds are looking for, or who they are looking at.
All that is clear is that it’s another sad day for public service in Ramapo, Rockland and New York.
There’s plenty to speculate about in Ramapo. And there’s a great divide in the community that has fed the bitterness, and the speculation.
The town’s fiscal condition, despite St. Lawrence’s repeated claims of solid management, are often called into question. That’s been especially loud when it comes to the town’s and Ramapo Local Development Corporation’s building of a controversial baseball stadium — Provident Bank Park, home of the Rockland Boulders independent league team. St. Lawrence leads the RLDC. The state comptroller and Moody’s Investors Service have blasted a convoluted plan to use profits from the sale of units at an affordable-housing development to cover bond payments for both the ballpark and the housing site.
Years of downzoning have caused complaints and crowding in some areas of town. That includes Patrick Farm, a lush 208-acre site that is home to the headwaters of the Mahwah River, a key water source for the county, that has won permission for almost 500 housing units.
But the major hotbutton issue: a voting bloc of ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic voters (who exercise their right to vote with great efficiency) that wields power, and that generally supports St. Lawrence (and often, the other way around). Related tension comes from the ongoing strife in the East Ramapo school district, where budgets are cut, then cut some more, and then cut again, as the bloc vote resists voting for school spending plans with any tax increases, and public school parents claim that private schools are favored.
Then there is Spring Valley, the town’s densly populated village brimming with diversity, with deep pockets of poverty. Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret are charged with mail fraud, part of a corruption probe that broke open in April; neither will step down, even as the village can’t manage to pass a budget amid the swirl of political bickering.
Ramapo is a mess — tension among its diverse communities spills over every which way. Whatever Wednesday’s FBI raid brings, it is doubtful that it will make that tension better. No, there is no reason to cheer.
Photo: Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence enters Ramapo Town Hall after FBI agents showed up, escorted people out and began removing documents. Matt Brown/The Journal News