The drama engulfing Community Board 9 continued at its October meeting Tuesday night in Richmond Hill, as an attempt to send the board into the personnel-related second executive session in four months was thwarted in part by the very member they may be seeking to remove.
Longtime board member Sam Esposito is accused of making bigoted remarks to two board members. The situation led to the board’s Executive Committee to call for an executive session — a closed-door meeting of the board — allegedly to propose removing Esposito from the board. The session was scheduled for the end of the meeting after the board dealt with its regular business, including liquor license hearings, votes on the Ozone Park rezoning plan and City Line pedestrian plazas and a hearing on the proposal to turn the Richmond Hill Republican Club include a catering hall.
CB 9 Chairman Jim Coccovillo would not confirm Tuesday night’s executive session concerned Esposito after Esposito sought to make a motion to not go into executive session when the item came up on the agenda, saying only that he would not know what the discussion would be about.
“I urge the board to vote no on going into executive session,” Esposito said. “It’s about me and removing me from the board.”
His comment was the first public admission that the “personnel issue” CB 9 had been dealing with for the past month was about Esposito, who said he was being targeted because of his unequivocal support for embattled District Manager Mary Ann Carey, whom the board attempted to fire in June.
“Maybe they want to get rid of me because they want to fire [Carey],” Esposito said on Wednesday. “I am going to protect Mary Ann. I mean, there’s a woman’s life at stake here. Mary Ann has done so much for the community and she doesn’t get the recognition she deserves.”
At least two CB 9 sources say Esposito’s potential removal is due to an accusation that he made anti-Semitic remarks about two unidentified members of the board. Esposito did not address the allegations.
At Tuesday’s meeting, board member Nick Comaianni motioned to table the discussion until the November meeting — and put it earlier on the agenda — because it was nearly 11 p.m. when the executive session would have been called.
“I don’t want to be here past midnight,” he said.
The board approved his motion and will hold an executive session after the public hearings at the November meeting.
Earlier in the evening, Esposito and Coccovillo butted heads for the second meeting in a row on board procedure. Last month, Esposito sought to introduce discussion on Carey’s probationary status. This month, he sought to open discussion on issues Coccovillo ruled were unrelated to the topics on the agenda. Both cases ended with shouting matches between Esposito and the board’s chairman.
Esposito said the board has not been this divided since it fought over a planned conversion of 87th Street in Woodhaven from two ways to one way in 2000. That debate, which lasted almost three years, caused a rift on the board. Supporters say the street, which is narrow, was accident prone, while opponents argued it would affect the FDNY, who have an engine house on the block. The supporters won, but the debate got personal, according to a former board member.
Esposito expressed certainty that the board would not remove him nor would they fire Carey, suggesting the support for ousting both him and Carey came from only a dozen board members.
“She’s going to stay district manager. She is going to retire on her own terms.” Esposito said. “You can take it to the bank.”
Recently, regular arguments and debates that get carried away at monthly meetings have become staples of the board itself. Some board members expressed frustration at the constant bickering that goes on during meetings.
“It’s becoming a free for all at every meeting,” said one CB 9 member who did not want to be identified. “It really makes us look completely dysfunctional.”
Sylvia Hack, chairwoman of the board’s Land Use Committee, suggested the board should consider meeting earlier since meetings tend to run so late.