Update 8/16/19: New York State Supreme Court Judge Lawrence Ecker has ruled on the month-long question of who is the legitimate mayor of Mount Vernon following the exit of Richard Thomas in July.
In the last several weeks, former City Council President Andre Wallace has been mostly acting in the official capacity, but power struggles — especially with the police department — and ongoing legal battles between the council and Thomas has left a logistical nightmare for the city. Matters were complicated two weeks ago, when the council voted to replace Wallace with Lisa Copeland as its president, and thereby as acting mayor. At the same time, Former mayor Thomas agreed to a $35,000 payout over wages in exchange for his formal resignation and dropping his own lawsuit against the council.
Now, Judge Ecker has settled the matter, ruling that Andre Wallace is the legal mayor of Mount Vernon, and will remain in that role through at least the end of the year. He will appear on November’s ballot as a Republican, having finished last in June’s Democratic primary.
Update 7/15/19: The Mount Vernon Mayor’s office is playing musical chairs this week, after the City Council voted to oust Richard Thomas immediately upon the announcement of his plea agreement with the state attorney general’s office. Thomas, however, has refused to vacate the seat until his September 30 deadline, leading to a strange case of a local government disagreeing on who’s in charge.
The Mount Vernon City Council invoked Chapter 25 of the city’s charter, which they say indicates that Thomas forfeited his seat as mayor immediately upon conviction. The council swore in then-council president Andre Wallace as acting-mayor, as was planned. Unfortunately, Thomas claims that he has until the September 30 deadline in his plea agreement to vacate his position, and as such has been has been occupying his office and going about business with police officers stationed outside. Currently, various municipal offices are split on which authority they recognize as the legitimate mayor.
Complicating matters, Wallace had to leave town for a few days, meaning that in his absence new City Council President Pro Tempore Janice Duarte has been named another acting-mayor. Presumably, however, Duarte will amicably step down upon Wallace’s return.
This is an ongoing story and Westchester Magazine will continue to post updates as new information develops.
Just as jury selection was set to begin in the criminal case against current Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas, the point became moot: Mayor Thomas has plead guilty as part of a deal reached with New York State Attorney General Letitia James and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
Mayor Thomas was facing six felony charges on the grounds that he misappropriated $12,900 in campaign funds to pay for rent, car payments, vacations, and even a luxury handbag, as well as failing to properly disclose a $4,000 campaign payment.
He was arrested in March of 2018 under the office of then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Originally, Thomas rejected a plea deal.
The new deal, announced on Monday, July 8, will see Mayor Thomas avoid a felony conviction and jail time. In exchange, he has plead guilty to two Class-A misdemeanors: Attempted Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the Second Degree.
Thomas admitted that he knowingly and unlawfully appropriated the funds during his eventually successful 2015 mayoral campaign, and knowingly filed a false disclosure.
Thomas will now be forced to repay $13,000 in restitution and must resign and leave office by September 30, 2019. He will also face a one-year conditional discharge, during which time he may not seek election or accept appointment to any position as a public servant. City Council President Andre Wallace will serve as acting mayor.
The news comes just weeks after Mayor Thomas planned to contest election results, which saw him apparently lose the Democratic Party primary to Shawyn Patterson-Howard.
Read more about Richard Thomas and his election in our detailed profile, Hometown Hero.