Sept. 22, 2015 By Jackie Strawbridge
When longtime Community Board 1 chairman Vinicio Donato announced his retirement in April, a seemingly simple plan was laid out: his replacement would be elected at a September meeting after the summer hiatus, with first vice chairman George Stamatiades filling in as acting chair.
That meeting took place on Monday night, and it was not so simple.
CB 1 covers Astoria and parts of Long Island City, Woodside and East Elmhurst. Like all City community boards, it is comprised of volunteers who address public concerns on anything ranging from traffic problems to noisy bars. Community Boards also make recommendations to City and State agencies on liquor license applications, budget needs and, significantly, land use and zoning issues.
At Monday’s meeting, two candidates were nominated for the empty chairmanship: Stamatiades and Joseph Risi, who currently serves as CB 1’s executive secretary and chair of the Consumer Affairs Committee.
Board members cast their votes by ballot and then waited for a small committee to count.
And waited. And waited.
After half an hour, grumbles and sighs began to ricochet around the Astoria World Manor event room. Finally, board member Fran Luhmann-McDonald grabbed a microphone to announce that she had heard a surprising result: both candidates were tied for votes.
The counting committee subsequently confirmed the tie. Stamatiades and Risi had both earned exactly 20 votes.
“We counted, and counted, and counted,” board member Nancy Silverman said after the meeting. “We couldn’t even believe it.”
Questions immediately arose about how to move forward. According to John Katsanos, an attorney who serves on the board’s Legal, Legislation and Parliamentary Procedures committee, CB 1’s bylaws have a “gray area” regarding tiebreakers.
Essentially, if the board’s chairman were to cast a tie-breaking vote, that job would have fallen to Stamatiades himself. No one else on the board could break the tie, either, because they had already voted once.
While the counting committee continued to research, and the clocked ticked forward into the night, board member Tom Ryan motioned for the candidates to act as co-chairs until the board’s regular annual elections in January.
“Then we all have time to decide who we want,” Ryan said. “We have a long meeting to go [tonight]; this is already taking forever.”
Board members were responsive, but the candidates differed on the idea. Risi called it “an inappropriate motion” because the bylaws required an election that night. Meanwhile Stamatiades started the process of acting on the motion, but dropped it amid the back and forth discussions.
Ultimately, second vice chairman Norma Nieves-Blas brought the regular meeting back to order while the counting committee worked from a side room.
The meeting wrapped without a re-vote, co-chairmanship or official decision. Katsanos said Borough President Melinda Katz would be sought for guidance over the subsequent days.
Stamatiades said he had no comment and would wait for a decision. Risi could not be reached for comment.
Ahead of the vote, the candidates gave short speeches and addressed issues of procedure, transparency and publicity for CB 1. Both candidates said they wanted to work on meeting attendance and availability of board-related documents and information.
One major difference between the two candidates involved how committees hold their meetings. Stamatiades wants to undo the current system of having breakout sessions during full board meetings, while Risi supports it. Risi also spoke urgently about increasing CB 1’s publicity and online presence, while Stamatiades was reticent due to cost.
Katz’ office did not return requests for comment on this story.
As of press time, CB 1’s office did not have an update on the situation.
CB 1’s next meeting will take place on October 20.