New York Democrats Purge then Suppress Comments on Westchester County Facebook Page
Comment Ban comes days after County Executive George Latimer named as possible running mate for New York Governor Kathy Hochul after FBI Arrests Lieutenant Governor
WHITE PLAINS, NY (May 3, 2022) — The Disinformation Purge has come to Westchester County, an affluent suburb north of New York City.
Without warning, public notice or explanation of any kind the famously thin-skinned Westchester County Executive George Latimer ordered all commenting turned off on the Westchester County Government Facebook Page at about 9 p.m. on Thursday April 28.
The move comes two weeks after Brian Benjamin resigned as Lieutenant Governor following his arrest by the FBI on corruption charges. Latimer had expressed interest to replace Benjamin as running mate with New York State Governor Kathy Hochul.
“We are currently working with different first amendments (sic) clinics and for the time being have turned off all commenting until we hear back on options,” said Communications Director Catherine Cioffi.
“Legal is working with Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic and the Brennan Center at NYU Law School,” she added.
Cioffi said there was a need to contend with what the government deemed “factually incorrect or irrelevant comments”.
She grouped such comments with what she termed vulgar, racist, and sexist comments.
“No one is currently blocked on the page, and commenting is turned off to everyone,” Cioffi said. “We need legal guidance on how best to manage.”
“So in short, yes, all commenting is turned off on Facebook for now.”
In fact, some comments were posted yesterday, well after April 28.
Latimer is in his fifth year as Westchester County Executive and has routinely engaged the public on social media.
So, why now?
The last Facebook post on the Westchester County Government Facebook Page with any significant number of comments is the livestream of Latimer’s State of the County address on April 21. All of the comments displayed are supportive of Latimer and his speech suggesting that before disabling comments on April 28, Latimer’s staff purged critical comments something Latimer’s spokesperson denies.
“Nothing was removed that night from the State of the County post,” said Catherine Cioffi.
Denise Ward, an attorney, a regular commenter on the Westchester County Government Facebook Page and frequent Latimer critic said she and others did post comments critical of Latimer’s speech but they were all deleted.
Cioffi disputed this claim.
“Denise is not a frequent commenter on the County Facebook page at all,” she said.
A week later, all comments were blocked.
She said she was posting comments a week after the speech when she was unexpectedly prevented from adding a comment to the County Facebook Page.
Told of the reasons given by the County Executive for shutting off comments, Ward was not buying it.
Facebook, she noted, has a policy prohibiting racist and sexist comments and a keyword blocking feature to screen vulgar words.
“The allegation that they’re doing it because of vulgar, racist and sexist comments is not credible,” said Ward. “There are ways to deal with those people, including an easy one, reporting them to Facebook which will ban them for violating their policies.”
“The government should not be the arbiter of the relevance of a particular comment,” she added. “For Westchester County residents, especially taxpayers, everything the government does should be subject to review and, when warranted, criticism. That the government finds the redress of the people inconvenient to their messaging is irrelevant.”
“There is a pretty bright First Amendment line here and George Latimer has crossed it,” she said.
Latimer is notorious for engaging in what he calls “Facebook Combat”. Even the left-leaning Journal News, the official newspaper of Westchester County, which has routinely endorsed Latimer and often runs interference for the County Executive, questioned Latimer’s penchant for aggressive confrontation on social media.
“Rivals have called him confrontational and even thin-skinned,” said the paper.
In one particularly memorable, sexist exchange, recounted by the Journal News, Latimer got into a dispute with Ward over a county sales tax increase which Latimer falsely claimed was a 1% increase in the sales tax when it was actually a 14% increase.
The passage of the sales tax led to a spat publicized in The Journal News/lohud’s Tax Watch column between Latimer and New Rochelle attorney Denise Ward, a former Republican Party official there.
Ward posted a Facebook comment in July criticizing the sales tax increase and calling Latimer “Georgie.” Latimer shot back.
“Denise Baby, people ain’t buying what you’re selling,” Latimer wrote at the time. “You and a group of sullen angry complainers who’ve lost local elections by the score. I’m watching every single move you make, and we will be there every single time to call out your BS and beat you at the polls. Count on full response for every attack you generate. Full and complete response. Denise Baby.”
Latimer has often falsely, angrily maligned this reporter.
On Facebook he sometimes believes he’s being vilified, with someone saying “we better stop this guy, we better cuff him up a little bit” and trying to find if his car is unregistered or if he has parking tickets. Both those issues were revealed by media reports at the time of the 2017 campaign, as Latimer took on and eventually beat Republican incumbent Rob Astorino.
Latimer frequently uses social media to paint himself as a victim. The issue during the 2017 campaign was not simply parking tickets but racking up thousands of dollars in unpaid parking tickets throughout the county he now governs, his driving an unregistered vehicle, running a red light then crashing a car into another driver then through a fence into a backyard coming to a stop feet away from a children’s swing set (no children were injured), lying to police, lying to state senate officials, tax issues, and much more.
This reporter had written dozens of stories about Latimer’s lies, malfeasance and reckless behavior which has provoked numerous unfounded attacks from Latimer.
A 10-Part Series asked the question Who is George Latimer? Table of Contentsand began:
On July 21, 2017 New York State Senator George Latimer, currently the Democratic Party Candidate for Westchester County Executive, was in a car crash; that car is still crashing.
Latimer’s efforts to cover up the car crash where he appears to have run a red light, collided with another vehicle, driven into an oncoming lane of traffic, off the road, through a fence and into a tree, then lied to police about why, blew up in his face when Talk of the Sound learned of the car crash and began asking questions. The more Latimer lied about the crash, lied to this reporter and attacked both Talk of the Sound and it’s publisher, Robert Cox, the more he opened up a can of worms that exposed Latimer’s long-running relationship with a woman other than his wife, his skipping important Senate budget votes in Albany to jet off to London with his girlfriend, Judge Susan Kettner, while he left his wife back home in the United States, that he lied to Senate leadership about why he was skipping votes. It only got worse when Talk of the Sound discovered that Latimer’s personal vehicle had a suspended registration for months, and got really bad when The Journal News found he was driving the vehicle anyway in violation of New York State law and worse still when documentation showed he had been illegally driving the vehicle since April. Along the way, the best and the worst of the Westchester media scene came into view for news consumers who do not often get to see how the sausage is made. All of that and more in this fascinating, amusing, infuriating political-media feast, ideal for the casual viewer or the wonkiest of political junkies. Enjoy!
Latimer took to the comments section of MyRye, a local blog in Latimer’s hometown of Rye, NY to attack me in the closing weeks of his first race for County Executive against incumbent Rob Astorino. Latimer went on to win the election.
On October 17, 2017, Latimer engaged in an exchange with Ted Carroll, a media investor from Rye, owner of Rasmussen Reports, frequent Astorino critic and Latimer supporter.
The conservative blogger Cox joins in the Character Assassination which is essential to the incumbent beating me. The unfortunately (sic) accident had no credibility issues: no speeding, no drinking, no ticket. Plenty of witnesses, so nothing to sweep under the rug. The insurance companies are handling the claim... The people will decide. I’ll trust in them, not bloggers with an agenda.
Carroll replied in a quasi-news article format.
NEW ROCHELLE NY: October 10, 2017 – John C. Gallagher, Jr. the former Director of Environmental Services for the City School District of New Rochelle, pled guilty before U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Karas in White Plains federal court to bribery in connection with a scheme to solicit bribes from an outside contractor to channel school district business to the contractor’s company.
Gallagher is facing 37 to 46 months in federal prison, a fine of up to $75,000, restitution of $125,000, and up to three years probation under plea agreement which describes three past drunk driving convictions.
The guilty plea was accounted by Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York who’s office originated its original investigation based on the reporting of Robert Cox, publisher of Talk of the Sound, a New Rochelle NY hyper-local digital newspaper.
Mr. Cox has reported on extensive corruption in the City School District of New Rochelle for 9 years. For most of that time, Mr. Cox was harassed and defamed by senior public officials in New Rochelle including the School Board and School Administration, City Government, Local Courts, Police Department and more.
In 2013, Mr. Cox took his extensive records and reporting to the Westchester County DA which protected John Gallagher, the son of a former senior law enforcement official in nearby Suffolk County, NY. Local law enforcement & courts then began a series of retaliatory actions against Mr. Cox to try and discredit his reporting.
Mr. Cox also took the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice, which unlike the Westchester District Attorney did pursue the case.
The Gallagher action of October 10th is expected to lead to more federal charges, arrests & convictions.
Mr. Cox’s reporting is summarized in a to-date 20+ part Talk of the Sound series entitled “New Rochelle Board of Education: Criminal Enterprise Masquerading as an Educational Institution.”
George Latimer’s 37 NY Senate District includes New Rochelle where numerous local news reports and photographs describe and show his frequent interactions with various New Rochelle School Board and School Administration, City Government, Local Courts, Police Department and more. These interactions are part of Mr. Latimer’s job.
Mr. Latimer knows he is slurring Mr. Cox and his bi-partisan anti-corruption work in New Rochelle by characterizing him below here variously as an ‘incredible conservative blogger bent on character assassination.’ This is an exercise in the truly sad and even desperate.
All this above stipulated, those that know me know I remain 100% committed to the removal of Rob Astorino and Kevin Plunkett from Westchester County Government by supporting the election to the position of County Executive next month of George Latimer. It’s high time Astro-Plunkett’s reign of deep incompetence & corruption ends, along with their steep community-selective multi-year county property tax increases, their devastating mismanagement of Playland and the County Airport, and their pay-to-play culture in Plunkett’s LDC projects and pretty much elsewhere.
Mr. Latimer and County Democrats have their own checkered tax-and-spend past but hopefully they have learned their lessons from their years in the wilderness and will practice honest governance for a change. And if they do that’s a big improvement and essential for average taxpayers considering leaving for another state because they are convinced nothing here in The Corridor of Corruption will ever change for the better.
Vote for George Latimer, Democrat for County Executive.
Latimer’s claim that he shut off comments on the Westchester County Facebook Page on April 28 over concerns with vulgar, racist, sexist, factually incorrect or irrelevant comments is hard to square with Latimer’s hyper-aggressive posture on social media, his failure to issue a statement explaining his decision or why, in his second term as County Executive, suppressing public comments considered gained such sudden urgency that comments were shut off first and then legal advice sought on how to manage comments.
The public might hope that Latimer would issue a public statement (on Facebook?) explaining why he has suppressed public comment without warning, what legal issues he thinks exist and, when he has gotten back the legal opinion he says he has sought, what his lawyers have recommended.
He might also explain all of this in the context of his name being floated as a possible running mate as Lieutenant Governor with Governor Kathy Hochul after the arrest and resignation of Brian Benjamin.
Latimer Lies About Car Crash
Latimer Lies to State Senate Leadership
Latimer Lies About Sales Tax
Who is George Latimer - A 10 Part Series
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was edited with updated information from Catherine Cioffi concerning the First Amendment organizations solicited by the County legal department for guidance on Facebook comments and the alleged removal of comments on a post about the State of the County speech on April 21.