Jonathan Bandler, email@example.com
New mayor Richard Thomas filed pre-campaign reports after the election and included errors, and possible contribution violations.
Mount Vernon’s mayor-elect promised transparency if voted into office.
If Richard Thomas’ campaign finances are any indication, he has work to do.
The 33-year-old city councilman’s final three pre-election campaign reports were filed with the state Board of Elections on Friday – three days after the election.\
His fourth to last report, filed three weeks late on Oct. 20, was riddled with errors. It repeated several contributions from the previous filing and included a $12,578 campaign expense listed only as “unitemized”.
Thomas has blamed the delays on his campaign treasurer's serious illness and strict rules on how finance reports must be filed. In the campaign’s final weeks, he said he would provide details of its finances. He did not.
Two of the filings were logged in late Monday night and the other on Thursday night, but none were formally filed until Friday morning when they appeared on the Board of Elections' website. The total amount raised and spent could not be determined because the error-filled filing was not corrected.
The missed filings left voters with no idea how much the campaign raised and spent, who contributed and who the campaign paid in the final month before the primary and throughout the general election campaign.
In the crowded primary field, Thomas defeated four other Democrats - incumbent Mayor Ernest Davis, state Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, City Comptroller Maureen Walker and former Mayor Clinton Young. In Tuesday’s election, he easily defeated Thompson and Councilwoman Debra Reynolds, who were on the ballot, and Davis, whose supporters pushed in a write-in campaign.
Thomas used his city council campaign committee, Friends of Richard Thomas, for the mayoral campaign. The campaign filings show he raised more than $185,000 and spent $132,000. But those figures are not complete because there is no full record of what was raised or spent during a two-week period in August.
Hassell-Thompson also missed four filing deadlines. Her campaign, Friends of Ruth Hassell-Thompson, filed all five of her reports, from July through the primary, on Oct. 26, just a week before the election. She raised $51,000 and spent nothing through early October, according to the filings.
Reynolds filed only in July and a month before the primary, missing the final three deadlines.
The next campaign finance report, covering the final week before the election and three weeks after it, is due Nov. 30.
Thomas said he is working on compliance.
"We have taken action to ensure compliance, as well as having been in regular consultation with officials at the state Board of Elections throughout this process," Thomas said in a statement.
Thomas called his campaign treasurer, Maria Circello, a dear family friend.
“The circumstances have been extraordinary,” Thomas said. “Her being in this state is rough on her and it’s been rough on me.”
Because of her illness, Circello submitted her resignation in July. But the Board of Elections never accepted it because the campaign did not file a letter of indebtedness, required when there are outstanding loans, according to John Conklin, a spokesman for the board. When running for the city council in 2011, Thomas loaned his campaign $1,850. The campaign never repaid him and he never forgave the loan.
Without a new treasurer, and with Circello in failing health, completing the campaign finance reports was difficult, Thomas said.
Thomas said the letter of indebtedness had been submitted but Conklin said it had not been received as of Friday.
It was unclear why Thomas could not have provided that in July if the loans were his own or why he has not repaid the loan. One campaign expense in early October was a $6,400 payment to Thomas. It was listed as a reimbursement but there was no explanation for how he had spent the money.
The filings also showed that several of Thomas' donors may have exceeded contribution limits.
One campaign event a month after the primary, the Win the Future Fundraiser, on Oct. 7 at Leewood Golf Club in Eastchester called for donors to contribute $2,500. Seven people gave that amount. But according to the Westchester County Board of Elections, the limit for total individual contributions by a non-relative in the general election was $1,801.
Anthony DeBellis, a former city assessor who was among the hosts of the fundraiser, said he had believed the contribution limit was $2,800.
"If it wasn't, if (Thomas) got too much, as other politicians have done, he'll return it," DeBellis said.
The combined limit for the Democratic primary and general election in Mount Vernon was $3,153. Conklin said candidates can't utilize the primary limit for post-primary contributions.
One contributor, Francesco Pontrandolfo of Yonkers, gave $5,000 two days before the primary. The campaign’s explanation on the filing report was that $1,250 was for each of the four ballot lines Thomas was on in the general election. But the only primary Thomas competed in was for the Democratic line. State and county elections officials said candidates are not allowed to increase their contribution limits just because they are on more than one line in the general election.
Another contributor, Carl Demers, gave the campaign $3,250 - $1,250 in May and $2,000 in early August, according to the filings.
Demers, who works at JVD Industries, a Mount Vernon company that also gave Thomas $2,500, said he was unaware he may have exceeded the limit. He said he contributed because he “believed in the youth and the change” offered by Thomas’ candidacy.