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Political standoff leaves suburban community with 2 mayors

July 20, 2019
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In this June 17, 2019 photo, Richard Thomas, the mayor of Mount Vernon New York is seen during an interview at The Journal News in White Plains, N.Y. On July 11, 2019, the Mount Vernon City Council ruled that Thomas had forfeited his office by pleading guilty to misappropriating $12,900 in 2015 campaign funds but Thomas says he is still mayor until Sept. 30, 2019. (Peter Carr/The Journal News via AP)
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In this June 17, 2019 photo, Richard Thomas, the mayor of Mount Vernon New York is seen during an interview at The Journal News in White Plains, N.Y. On July 11, 2019, the Mount Vernon City Council ruled that Thomas had forfeited his office by pleading guilty to misappropriating $12,900 in 2015 campaign funds but Thomas says he is still mayor until Sept. 30, 2019. (Peter Carr/The Journal News via AP)

MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. (AP) — A dispute over the mayor’s guilty plea to stealing campaign funds has left a suburban New York community with two men who claim to be mayor.

The municipal government of Mount Vernon has been locked in a standoff since July 11, when the City Council ruled that Mayor Richard Thomas had forfeited his office by pleading guilty to misappropriating $12,900 in 2015 campaign funds.

The council appointed its president, Andre Wallace, as acting mayor, but Thomas says he is still mayor.

“This is a fight against dirty politics,” Thomas told The New York Times in defending his right to stay in office.

The dispute over who is mayor of the city of 67,000 just north of New York City has led to confusion over who is in charge of various city departments.

Wallace appointed a new police commissioner Monday, but the purported commissioner, Shawn Harris, was arrested for trespassing by officers reporting to Thomas.

The Journal News reported that Wallace suspended the city’s top lawyer and its human resources commissioner Friday, but they have continued working.

Corporation Counsel Lawrence Porcari and Human Resources Commissioner Nina Crispino say Thomas is still mayor, and they refuse to recognize Wallace’s authority.

Under his plea agreement with the New York attorney general’s office, Thomas must vacate the mayor’s office by Sept. 30.

But the City Council ruled that Thomas’ guilty plea means he must leave immediately.

“It is the council’s position that when the mayor pled guilty to those two counts, in effect he forfeited his office,” council member Delia Farquharson said.

Farquharson said the council expects the courts to resolve the dispute. No legal action has been filed as yet.

“We have to rely on a legal process in order to see it through,” Farquharson said. “We don’t want to create further drama. We want it to be an orderly process of transition.”

A city hall spokesman did not return a call seeking comment from Thomas. An email was sent to Wallace.

Thomas, a Democrat, pleaded guilty July 6 to two misdemeanors, including attempted grand larceny, after state investigators found he had used campaign funds for personal expenses like car payments and rent.

He told the Times he was railroaded into pleading guilty because he did not trust he would get a fair trial.

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