2 Yonkers Officials May Change Housing Plan Vote
Two of four city councilmen defying a federal judge’s contempt of court order said Friday they might change their votes if delicate negotiations to bring about housing desegregation in this bitterly divided city are successful.
The councilmen faced intense pressure from constituents being laid off the city’s payroll because of court-imposed fines about to total $1 million a day that could soon bankrupt New York state’s fourth largest city.
Even as the city council met to authorize funds to pay $819,000 in contempt-of-court penalties Friday, the Yonkers public library system was shut, forcing 202 employees out of work. Other municipal workers also were to be laid off over the weekend, as garbage collections have been drastically curtailed.
“We are out of work. This is a disgrace,” said Martha Darcy, a librarian for three years. “I am not a legal scholar, but it seems to me a decision has been made (by the court) and that’s the law, and the city of Yonkers is in contempt of it.”
Outside Council Chamber
Darcy stood at the head of the stairs outside the city council chamber where earlier Councilmen Nicholas V. Longo and Peter A. Chema said they might reconsider their votes against court-ordered housing desegregation if negotiations modify the court-ordered plan.
“The pressure builds when 430 people are going out (of work),” said Longo. “I know half the people going out and their families. It’s no longer an abstract bankruptcy for the city. It’s gotten more personal. I’m concerned about the employees.”
“We’re hopeful. We are not at a stalemate by any means,” added Chema. “I am hopeful we can work out something in the very near future.”
Chema and Longo said one possibility being considered was the creation of some sort of insurance fund to guarantee the value of privately held property near any new public housing built in Yonkers. There were indications that the sites for some low income housing also could be on the negotiating table.
All four members of the defiant council majority that has balked at desegregation said they had been bombarded by phone calls in the last 24 hours, as layoffs began and the fines approached the $1-million-a-day level, starting at midnight Friday.
“I got 70 phone calls,” Chema said. “Some people say hang tough. Other people say change your vote. I’ll tell you one thing: Everybody has an opinion in Yonkers.”
Negotiations took place in person and by telephone with the Justice Department and the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand, who found the city had willfully segregated itself, was kept apprised of the discussions. On Aug. 2, Sand held Yonkers and the four councilmen in contempt of court for resisting desegregation.
Five weeks later, there are signs the stalemate may be broken. Longo said the very fact that plaintiffs and defendants were negotiating in the desegregation case was “more progress than the last eight years.
“No one wants the agony to continue,” the councilman said. “The agony is on all sides”
“We have made a great deal of progress,” Longo added, assessing the private talks. “Certainly the layoffs hang heavily on each and every council member.”
But Councilmen Edward J. Fagan Jr. and Henry Spallone, who also voted against the plan to build 200 units of low-income housing and 800 units of middle-income housing in white neighborhoods, pledged they would stand fast. Spallone was furious when he learned two of his colleagues were considering changing their votes.
“There will be a legal war and a war in this council,” he pledged. “I’m outraged.”
Mayor Nicholas C. Wasicsko, who called the council together to authorize money for the fine, said he hoped it would be the last Yonkers would have to turn over to the court.
Sand had imposed fines designed to double every day, and while the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the fines on appeal, the justices placed a $1-million limit to the daily payments.