GOP to Oust Tamagna as Legislature Chairman
The Courier has learned that the Republican caucus of the county legislature plans to oust Vincent Tamagna as chairman when the new term begins Jan. 1. The eight Republicans, including two legislators-elect, met in secret Tuesday evening, and in an unofficial straw vote, they selected Legislator Mary Conklin of Patterson as chairwoman by a 5-3 vote, according to sources close to the matter.
The surprise shakeup comes just days after Vincent Leibell, the county executive-elect, pleaded guilty to two felony charges in federal court. Leibell announced last week he would not take office in January, and the legislature must appoint an interim county executive.
There are eight Republicans and one Democrat on the nine-member board, so the GOP caucus determines who serves as chairman. In the vote, conducted by secret ballot, the Republicans also named Tony Hay of Southeast as vice chairman. Hay previously served two terms as chairman but was defeated by Tamagna, of Philipstown, last year.
“I’m really surprised and disappointed in my colleagues,” Tamagna said. “I think we’ve had the best year, and you can ask the county executive as well, in our history of having good open government and we’ve built great trust.”
When asked if he felt targeted by the legislature for openly supporting Mary Ellen Odell during the county executive race, Tamagna said he wasn’t certain. “It seems like a lot of people are connected to Senator [Leibell] and they aren’t letting go of the reigns,” he said.
An anonymous source close to the legislature told the Courier that Leibell has had some control over some members of the legislature in the past. “All the Leibell people are desperate to hang onto whatever power they had when they were king,” said the source.
Late Wednesday afternoon Conklin thanked her colleagues for having confidence in her leadership abilities. “I was thrilled with my cohorts’ decision,” she said. “I promised them and I promise every resident of our county that I will work hard as the 2011 Putnam Legislature chair.”
Although some members of the board were not willing to disclose their vote, Richard Othmer of Kent told the Courier he voted for Tamagna because he believes every chairman should have two years of service, as is tradition in Putnam. “These silly little games are kind of pathetic,” he said. “I’m disgusted with politics in Putnam County.”
Still, Othmer said he believes Conklin would do well as chairman of the legislature. “I really believe that the chairman should serve two years,” he said. “I told Mary she would have my support if she sought the chairmanship in 2012 but I could not vote for her in good conscience this time around.”
Dini Lo Bue of Mahopac said that at this time she did not feel it was appropriate to comment on the outcome of the vote as it is not binding.
Tamagna called the position of legislature chairman “extremely complicated. I don’t know if Legislator Conklin will be able to handle the job since this begins her busy season … [She is] a nice lady, I just don’t know that she has the time to dedicate. She’s busy running a business and I’m busy running government. I have the time, willingness, experience.”
Conklin responded that she would “not be doing the job alone but will ask my colleagues for their guidance and assistance.”
“In light of recent events right now, [there’s] sometimes a clique that operates,” Tamagna added. “I think we should get away from special interests and move towards what we need to do in terms of Putnam County.”
Two current legislators—Odell and Anthony Fusco—did not participate in the caucus as neither was reelected last month. After Albano mounted a primary challenge against her, Odell decided to run for county executive against Leibell. There has been speculation that Leibell encouraged Albano to challenge Odell.
Albano also said he did not wish to share his vote with the public quite yet. “It’s a hard decision, it’s like a coin toss,” he said. “I could have went for either [Conklin or Tamagna].”
Jim DiBella, chairman of the Putnam County Republican Party, spoke highly of Conklin. “Mary has a business approach towards things,” said the Southeast resident. “She’s been a successful business woman ... I’ve always respected her ... I see it as a positive thing for the legislature.”
“I don’t know Mr. Tamagna that well. I’m sure he did an effective job during his tenure,” DiBella added.
In October, DiBella defeated longtime chairman Anthony Scannapieco for the party’s top post in Putnam. Odell and others have suggested that Leibell was behind Scannapieco’s ouster, as a way to retaliate for the latter’s support of Odell during the contentious campaign.