Community Board 9’s internal issues came to a dramatic climax Tuesday night when the board voted not to remove one of its longtime members, leading another to resign and walk out of the meeting, and two others to follow him.
Sam Esposito had been in hot water with the board’s leadership over emails he sent that were considered anti-Semitic by at least three other members. Those members, Wallace Bock, Evelyn Baron and Jan Fenster, had called for Esposito to be expelled from the community board.
Esposito said he has been targeted by members of the board who are looking to oust District Manager Mary Ann Carey and are angry at Esposito’s unwavering support for Carey since she was nearly fired by the board in June.
The issue dominated the Oct. 8 meeting of Community Board 9 when an executive session was scheduled to be called, presumably to deal with the Esposito issue, though it was not made clear on the meeting’s agenda. When the board attempted to vote to go into executive session on Oct. 8, Esposito announced the issue was about him. The debate was postponed until Tuesday.
The meeting agenda said the debate was to take place in executive session with a public vote, but Esposito did not agree, saying he preferred the debate and vote occur in public.
“I have nothing to hide,” he said to Chairman Jim Cocovillo when another member suggested going into executive session. “Let’s do this right here, in the open.”
But when the board finally did call a vote on Esposito’s removal, the motion failed 34-10 on a roll call vote, leading Bock to stand up and walk out.
“I cannot in good conscience continue to serve on a board that condones this kind of behavior, therefore I will resign,” he said before gathering his things and leaving. Baron, who chairs CB 9’s Health Committee, and Fenster left with him. Bock offered no comment and Baron and Fenster did not say if they would join Bock in resigning. The three spoke briefly to Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) — who is a former CB 9 member who had attended the meeting — before walking out.
The division on the board goes beyond emails send by Esposito or the debate over Carey’s future. According to one member of the board and several former members, there has been a notable divide between members from Kew Gardens and those from the eastern neighborhoods of Woodhaven and Ozone Park.
“The only thing that unites them is a park and a precinct,” said one ex-member. “Kew Gardens has more in common with Forest Hills and Briarwood than Ozone Park.”
Bock, Baron and Fenster all come from Kew Gardens while Esposito is an Ozone Park resident.
The neighborhood divide was hinted at during discussions over priorities in the board’s capital and expense budget. A vote was taken to remove funding requests for a study of the QueensWay, the proposal to build a High Line-type park on the Rockaway Beach LIRR right of way. The proposal is championed by CB 9’s First Vice Chairwoman Andrea Crawford, but opposed by several Woodhaven members.
Alexander Blenkinsopp, a Woodhaven member of the board, made a motion to remove the item from the priorities list. The motion passed 30-14, with most of the dissenting votes coming from Kew Gardens members.
However, Blenkinsopp clarified his motion later in a tweet, saying that it was not meant as a defacto vote on the proposal, which has a number of opponents in Woodhaven, rather on whether or not the board needed to fund a study that has already received $467,000 from the state.
In its capital budget, the board also prioritized better street lighting for Myrtle, Jamaica and 101st avenues and passed a resolution sponsored by Woodhaven member Maria Thomson to place a request for more police at the 102nd Precinct to the top of the board’s budget priority list.