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The New Castle Town Board filled its vacancy last week, but not before sometimes-heated interaction between public speakers and the board on how the selection process played out.
Ally Chemtob, a former Bronx assistant district attorney and currently a case worker for the nonprofit Yonkers Community Services, was unanimously appointed by the four sitting board members after about an hour of discussion.
Chemtob, 38, moved to the town with her husband in 2016; the couple has three young children. She said that she is a strong believer in public service and decided to put herself up for consideration when the vacancy became available.
“Serving on the Town Board is a chance for me to learn from those who have served before me and an opportunity for me to offer my unique experiences, skill and perspective,” said Chemtob, who also serves as a volunteer mediator in Family Court and is a Westorchard Elementary School PTA member.
The seat will be up for election next November for the final two years of former councilwoman Tara Kassal’s term. Chembtob said she has made no decision yet on whether she would run for the remainder of the term next year.
Supervisor Lisa Katz said Chemtob, whose appointment runs through 2023, was one of five prospective replacements that had been interviewed by the four sitting board members.
“With very young children and a home in the Campfire section of town, Ally embodies a different demographic from any current Town Board members and one that deserves a voice, particularly coming out of the pandemic,” Katz said.
Her appointment came about three weeks after Kassal resigned from her seat about nine months after being sworn in. Kassal had said the week before her resignation that she was relocating to New England for personal reasons.
The timing of Kassal’s first public comments and ensuing resignation a little more than a month after the deadline passed for having a special election this year for the unexpired term drew sharp criticism from some members of the public, including the New Castle Democratic Committee and their supporters.
Some argued that members of the Unite New Castle majority on the Town Board had concealed that Kassal had put her house on the market in early summer so they could appoint another member. The deadline for getting on the ballot for this year’s election was early August.
“The issue here is not who you appointed,” said Steven Goldenberg. “I’m sure you’ve appointed a person who’s very well-qualified. The issue here is transparency, the issue here is it looks bad the way (Kassal) resigned, the way she timed the resignation. It looks bad, like it was done in a way to avoid the public having a say who the appointment is going to be.”
Other critics said that the appointment should have been delayed until after the Nov. 8 election, which features a special election between Democrat Holly McCall and Councilman Christian Hildenbrand, was appointed in January after another Unite New Castle candidate, Andrea Sanseverino Galan, announced two months before the 2021 election that she would be moving.
If McCall wins, the four-member board would be split, which would have forced them to come to a consensus to fill the seat.
Resident Catherine Good said while the current board had the right to appoint a replacement of their choosing, doing what is permissible and what is right are different.
“I feel like my vote is not anything you care about, that you want to know about, that you want to hear about,” Good said. “If it were, you would have chosen a different path. You would have chosen to move forward with this appointment in a way that actually was responsive to all of your constituents, not just the ones who voted for you.”
But Unite New Castle supporters defended the decision, saying that a board has an obligation to fill a vacancy and if they had delayed an appointment until after this year’s election, they could have disenfranchised their voters after last year’s 4-0 sweep by the slate.
Suzanne Chazin said prior vacancies were filled by the board when they occurred.
“I don’t see it as a problem. Nobody complained before, I don’t see it as a problem now,” Chazin said.
Resident Rob Fleisher said it’s obvious that a political strategy was being used by opponents of the appointment.
“It’s not evenly remotely subtle,” he said before the vote. “But it would be incredibly disappointing if this Town Board does not act and fill a vacancy tonight and I think the people who supported you would feel totally disenfranchised, and would be really taken aback if everything they tried to work for last year all of a sudden led to not being fulfilled.”
Katz said she wanted to make an appointment because the board has a lot of important work. The potential for pandemic-related absences and the elimination of virtual quorums also made it imperative to have a full board.
However, Jane Silverman, the Democratic Committee’s co-chair, said Katz last year blocked Councilman Jeremy Saland from being appointed supervisor after the resignation of former supervisor Ivy Pool. The board operated with four members for about five months.
“Why was she okay keeping open a seat a year ago and now wants to rush an appointment less than a month before the election?” Silverman asked.
Councilwoman Victoria Tipp mentioned that if the board waited members would risk being at an impasse and operate shorthanded for more than a year.
Although Saland said he had considered abstaining because of his sharp objections to a process that lacked transparency, he supported Chemtob’s appointment because the board and the town need to come together.
“So I’m excited to have you join us, and we will push forward,” Saland said. “We will agree, we will disagree and we’ll get things done.”
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/