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Campaigns for seats on the Westchester County Board of Legislators have mostly been low-key affairs in recent years, but that’s not the case in District 4 race this year.
Democratic incumbent and current board Chairman Vedat Gashi (D-Yorktown) finds himself fending off multiple allegations from Republican challenger Dan Branda, after Branda filed a 16-page list of complaints on Sept. 28 to the county Board of Ethics.
Branda has also filed a complaint with the Fair Campaign Practices Committee against Gashi. That hearing was scheduled for Tuesday evening.
This came after Gashi accused Branda last spring of living outside the legislative district, which takes in portions of Somers, Yorktown and Ossining and all of New Castle. A court ruled in Branda’s favor, although Gashi continues to charge that his opponent’s primary residence is in Cold Spring in Putnam County because he has a two-year lease on an apartment there.
In the ethics complaints, Branda charged that Gashi sent a government mailer to voters that was received around Sept. 11, well past the time when candidates who are running for re-election may do that. Branda said once candidates file their nominating petition for a major political party in April, they are prohibited from using government mailers until the election is over because the material can be indistinguishable from campaign literature.
“When he puts it in a government mail under the (county) seal that gives validity to his claims,” Branda charged.
Gashi shot back that Branda fails to understand the new state election law, which went into effect in 2019, that allows mailers up to 60 days before the election.
Among the remainder of Branda’s laundry list of alleged ethics violations is Gashi failing to disclose his finances, owning an affordable apartment in Manhattan when he believes it is likely that Gashi fails to qualify under the income guidelines and hasn’t met the co-op board’s criteria for using the residence as his primary home.
“It’s very clear (the income requirement) is 120 percent of AMI,” said Branda, adding that it’s unlikely that as a real estate attorney Gashi earned less than the just over $100,000 maximum salary. “I don’t think he qualified for it and you must live there, and you can rent it out but only for 18 months out of every five-year period.
Branda also charged that Gashi used his legislative staff for political activity by sending an employee during working hours to file a request to see his nominating petition.
Gashi dismissed Branda’s charges as frivolous and accused him of using tools for substantive complaints as a political weapon.
In the Fair Campaign Practices allegation, Branda objected to Gashi’s campaign literature stating that the challenger would cut first responders and emergency services positions as part of a plan to eliminate as many as 250 positions to reduce tuition at Westchester Community College. Gashi said many of the unfilled positions are in emergency services.
“I think that would be indicative of them both (ethics and campaign practice complaint) being frivolous, and he wants to basically use these kinds of filings for political purposes rather than what they’re designed for,” Gashi said.
Gashi also brushed off the other allegations saying that when he returned in 2015 from living abroad, he bought the apartment, but after his father died, he then returned to his hometown of Yorktown with his family. That year his wife didn’t work.
His attorney, the co-op board’s legal counsel and the seller’s representative all had to sign off that he qualified, Gashi said. He also said 120 percent of AMI is not an affordable apartment.
“These things had to go through levels of scrutiny, including the proof of my qualifications at the time,” he said. “For him to say I couldn’t have qualified because I’m an attorney is the dumbest thing I’ve heard in my life.”
The two-term incumbent said he disclosed his personal holdings, but that his business interests are listed separately. Gashi said he complied with every requirement regarding his filing.
He added that the final ethics allegation of hi using campaign staff for political purposes was Branda’s mistake because he went to lunch with a staffer on the day in question.
“The purpose is to put me on the defensive about things that have nothing to do with my election qualifications or experience,” Gashi said. “That’s his point here, to get me talking and get constituents to hear these things and think, ‘Well, gosh, Vedat, it must be relevant somehow,’ even though it’s completely and wholly irrelevant.”
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/