The battle between the Business Council of Westchester (BCW) and two members of the county’s Airport Advisory Board erupted again last week when the business group called on the board’s two leaders to resign.
Citing a conflict of interest, BCW Vice President John Ravitz urged Chairman Peter Schlactus and Vice Chair Jonathan Wang to immediately step down because they have been actively leading groups that are opposed to the expansion of services at Westchester County Airport.
Ravitz read and submitted a letter from the BCW at the monthly Advisory Board meeting last Wednesday evening. Later last week he explained further his position in a statement.
“We want to emphasize that we fully recognize and support the right of citizens to express their views about the airport including criticizing its operations,” Ravitz said. “What is not acceptable is using the Advisory Board as a vehicle to promote the agendas of the opposition groups. Schlactus and Wang are not even vaguely impartial. If they want to lead the opposition groups, that’s their right, but they shouldn’t be running the county-appointed Advisory Board that needs to look at all sides of the issues in a fair and balanced way.”
In his letter, Ravitz charged that Schlactus has urged those in his community and surrounding towns to back the Coalition to Prevent the Expansion of Westchester Airport.
“The same lack of impartiality applies to Mr. Wang, who continues to play the leading role in organizing and espousing the agendas of the major airport opposition groups,” Ravitz stated in his letter.
Schlactus and Wang, appointed to the Advisory Board last year, are two of its eight members. Five of the members each represent a community in close to proximity to the airport – New Castle, North Castle, Mount Pleasant, Rye and Harrison. Schlactus and Wang, represent Rye and Harrison, respectively. Some residents in each of those communities, particularly those in certain flight paths, have raised repeated complaints that air traffic headed to the airport has diminished their quality of life in the past two years.
Late last week, the two board members immediately dismissed Ravitz’s comments and each said they have no intention of resigning. Schlactus said the BCW had no problems when the board under the Astorino Administration was tilted toward aviation interests, including those in favor of expansion and/or privatization of the airport.
He also said that Ravitz and the BCW misunderstand that a wide variety of stakeholders must be represented on what has become a highly controversial issue. The board, he claimed, has been solicitous of all opinions and perspectives.
“I’m unapologetic about the fact that I am an advocate for my community and my interests and I think it’s ridiculous, again, to suggest that any member of the Advisory Board loses their First Amendment rights to express themselves and have an opinion,” Schlactus said. “County Executive Latimer was well aware of the advocacy of Jonathan Wang and myself.”
Wang said Ravitz has stepped up the public pressure on him since he has been brining public attention to his “lies,” such as when the BCW held a December press conference to discredit the escalating number of residents’ complaints in towns near the airport.
He said the current Advisory Board now has representatives reflecting a variety of interest. Wang is also one of two licensed pilots serving.
Wang called Ravitz “a shill for Million Air,” one of the fixed-base private carriers that some residents argue is part of the reason behind increased air traffic and noise. After building a new 50,000-square-foot hangar and a 20,000-square-foot terminal, Million Air sought to build another 100,000-square-foot hangar at the airport, but that has been stalled by the county.
“Some with no integrity and no credibility want to try and influence public policy through obvious falsehoods,” said Wang, in explaining why he would not resign. “It would be the height of cowardice. I would not be fulfilling my pledge to the county when I agreed to serve.”