The Journal News
December 23, 2012
By PHIL REISMAN
As the old adage goes, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
Virginia Perez is taking enough heat to roast a holiday turkey, but she’s not retreating.
The Democratic county legislator from Yonkers is under severe attack from her party’s bosses.
They’re calling Perez a “sellout.” They’re endorsing, if not organizing, rallies against her. And they’re threatening to mount a primary challenge against her next year.
Somebody within the inner circle handed out her private cellphone number to special-interest groups so that she would be harassed.
Ever since Perez and Legislator Mike Kaplowitz of Somers crossed the aisle to form a majority coalition with Republicans — a political masterstroke which resulted in a compromise on the county budget — the Democratic caucus led by Chairman Ken Jenkins has been reeling.
So they’ve resorted to desperate tactics. In propagandistic press releases, the party’s spinmeisters came up with the word “rogue.” That’s what they’re repeatedly calling Perez and Kaplowitz — “rogue Democrats.”
The strategy is pretty obvious. It’s a thinly veiled reference to Sarah Palin, who supposedly couldn’t be controlled by the McCain campaign because she had “gone rogue.”
It’s meant to discredit them as scoundrels. A better word would be “independent,” but independent thinking is apparently frowned upon by a band of staunch partisans that wants its members to blindly follow in lock step, no matter how foolish the direction.
While Kaplowitz has taken some guff, Perez, a freshman legislator from Yonkers, has been the main target.
She said the attacks have only stiffened her resolve.
“It’s not coming from my constituents,” she told me. “My constituents are not stupid by any means. They’re paying very, very close attention to what’s happening — and they believe what I did was the right thing to do.”
In other words, she’s staying in the kitchen, no matter how hot it gets.
“I’m willing to take the heat and whatever pressure is coming in my direction,” she said.
One nasty little bit of business pulled by the Democrats was to circulate fliers advertising a Dec. 15 “community rally” at the Riverfront Library in Yonkers. In red ink, the fliers singled out Perez for cutting funding of health centers, raising the cost of day care and firing union workers.
By the way, each of those charges has been answered by the legislative coalition — that the health centers in question are in good shape financially, that the new day-care fee increase was actually significantly lower than County Executive Rob Astorino’s original proposal and that the layoffs of 100 members of the Civil Service Employees Association, though unfortunate, were a result of a breakdown in contract negotiations that included a reasonable call for employee contributions to health benefits.
In any budget, you win some and you lose some. That’s what compromise is all about.
Make no mistake, any objective observer will tell you that the 2013 budget was not perfect, despite the fact that Astorino succeeded in keeping the tax levy at zero. For instance, the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Westchester pointed out that in order to make good on his zero-increase pledge, Astorino resorted to borrowing to pay for property-tax settlements as well as a large portion of next year’s pension obligations.
“This is unsustainable in the long run,” the league said.
But Kaplowitz and Perez reasoned that a compromise budget was the best available route to take because Astorino had announced his intention to veto the entire spending plan proposed by the Democrats — a plan he correctly deemed “irresponsible.” And that meant that the county was going to fall off its own version of the “fiscal cliff.”
“For me, not working together is not an option because it leads to dysfunction and stalemate,” Perez said. “The alternative would’ve been really, really bad for the county. The budget was going to eventually end up vetoed. We would’ve lost a helluva lot more jobs. Child care would’ve been raised automatically to 35 percent. We were going to ruin our triple-A bond rating.
“The option was just not good.”
Legislators have always been subjected to petty acts of revenge for one reason or another. It’s worth repeating the amusing story of Paul Feiner, who, when he was a freshman legislator, was forced to share a tiny “office” with a photocopier. Adding insult to injury, he was denied photocopying privileges.
But these stunts are usually pulled by the majority party against members of the minority party. That was the case with Feiner.
And that’s what makes the Perez situation so strange. It’s her own party that’s trying to do her in — and what they’re doing is mean and personal.
This kind of hardball almost never works. Such tactics further brand this particular group of Democrats as intractable, party-first ideologues. They do themselves a disservice.
But they have achieved one thing: They’ve lost Perez and maybe for good.
Perez put it this way: “The more they push and push and punch, the more I’m going to push back.”