Longtime Orange County Legislative Chairman Steve Brescia resigned from his position Friday. Majority Leader Katie Bonelli will carry out the rest of Brescia’s term, which is set to expire at the end of the year.
The chairman submitted a two-sentence resignation letter that gave no explanation as to why he was stepping down from the position. The letter did say however, that he would keep his seat in the legislature.
At the time of his resignation, Brescia had served as chairman of the legislature for nearly eight years. He had also held his seat on the legislature since 1994, making him the longest tenured legislator. This was expected to be his final year as chairman.
In addition to serving as chairman, Brescia has been mayor of the Village of Montgomery since 1990 and served on the oversight board of the Orange County Industrial Development Agency.
Brescia was one of seven IDA board members who was replaced in March. He served on the IDA Board for seven years and nominated all of the other board members that were appointed to the IDA. They were replaced at the beginning of a corruption probe that found their oversight to be negligent.
Former IDA Managing Director Vincent Cozzolino, 62, of Gardiner, pleaded guilty before Orange County Court Judge Robert Prisco to corrupting the government in the third degree, a class D felony. The IDA’s former Chief Executive Officer Laurie Villasuso, 41, of Newburgh pleaded guilty to corrupting the government in the fourth degree, a class E felony. Edward Diana, 72, of Wallkill, a former member of the IDA’s Board of Directors and a former county executive of Orange County, pleaded guilty to offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, a class E felony and committing a prohibited conflict of interest.
At the time that they pleaded guilty, Cozzolino and Villasuso each admitted that they had acted in concert with each other in a scheme to defraud the IDA through payments that the IDA made to Cozzolino’s company, Galileo Technology Group, Inc. Villasuso admitted that she had been employed by both the IDA and Galileo Technology Group, Inc. even as she signed contracts on behalf of the IDA with that corporation. Diana admitted being employed by Galileo Technology Group, Inc. while he was an IDA board member and filing a false document to conceal that employment. As a member of the IDA’s Board of Directors, Diana voted on the contracts that the IDA had with Galileo Technology Group, Inc., and chaired the committee which dealt most directly with that company. Collectively, the three defendants agreed to pay more than $1.2 million to the IDA by the date that they were sentenced as part of their plea agreements.
Following the corruption scandal, democrats called for the removal of Brescia as legislative chairman.
“With his 27-year career as a legislator, Chairman Brescia has failed in his obligations to us and should have known the oversight requirements,” Michael D. Paduch, minority leader of the Orange County Legislature Democratic Caucus and District 19 Legislator, said at a press conference on June 29.
On Saturday, Paduch issued a statement on his Facebook page in conjunction with the Democratic Caucus on Brescia’s resignation.
“After years of calling out former Chairman Brescia for his tolerance of quid pro quo activities and abusive leadership style, in June of this year the Democratic Caucus called for him to step down as legislative leader during the IDA corruption scandal due to, what the district attorney referred to as his, near criminally incompetent lack of oversight of the IDA,” the statement reads. “The majority of Republicans in the Legislature failed to join this call and allowed Legislator Brescia to stay on in his leadership position. All of these Republicans have long known about Legislator Brescia’s abusive tendencies toward colleagues, constituents and opponents and although they have forced him out in light of new allegations, they are complicit in allowing his abusive and corrupt style of leadership to occur. On Nov. 2, we encourage voters in Orange County to change all that and remove not only Legislator Brescia but also those Republican legislators that have been complicit in this culture of abuse and corruption in the Orange County Legislature.”
In November, all 21 Legislature seats are up for election for four-year terms. Brescia represents District 9, which includes parts of the towns of Montgomery and Wallkill. His Democratic challenger is Fran Fox-Pizzonia. She released a statement on Monday calling for the Republican leadership of Orange County to be more transparent with the public regarding the “behaviors and actions that transpired to finally set in motion what the Democratic caucus has been demanding for years.”
“Mr. Brescia’s abuse of power, pay for play politics and verbal harassment of colleagues and the public have been tolerated for decades,” she said. “Playing a key role in the County IDA’s scandal, disrespecting the County Sheriff’s Department and playing politics with people’s lives in a pandemic are not only incompetent and negligent, they are dangerous. Losing the Chair of the Orange County Legislature is simply not enough.”
Fox-Pizzonia also hopes that voters in District 9 send a message in the November election.
“Does Mr. Brescia really bring ‘Experience You Can Trust?” “The answer is ‘No!’”
“Can Republican leadership in Orange County continue to back Mr. Brescia for another term as County Legislator?,” she said. “It’s time to show bipartisan leadership and speak up. Voters will decide on Nov. 2 to finally put an end to Mr. Brescia’s failing representation and vote for a leader who has the experience, character, temperament and respect to serve the people of District 9.”
In a statement issued to the Wallkill Valley Times, Brescia elaborated on his reasons for resigning.
“I have brought up controversial issues lately that have led to undue pressure and unnecessary polarization within the Legislature, especially with respect to the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “My statements with respect to ‘full service’ on a Sheriff’s Week Proclamation have been misconstrued and they were not intended to offend the hard-working men and women who work there. I have been one of the strongest supporters of the Sheriff’s Office in the fifty-year history of the Legislature and I will continue in that vein.”
Brescia added that he feels now is a good time for him to step down from the chairman position. He is proud of the work he has done in that role and looks forward to working with his successor Bonelli.
“With three months left in my term and for personal reasons, I feel it is best to step down from my post,” Brescia said. “I will always be proud of my nearly eight years as chairman and the many accomplishments we have achieved as a body. Though there were many divergent viewpoints, we were able to respectfully move the County of Orange forward in a positive direction. I look forward to working harmoniously with newly-appointed Chairwoman Katie Bonelli as well as the rest of the Legislature. Chairwoman Bonelli has great leadership ability and will be a unifying force in the Legislature.”
As chairman, Brescia made $50,000 per year. By relinquishing the position he took a pay cut. Base pay for a legislator with no leadership title is $30,000 per year. In the 2021-2022 fiscal year, Brescia will also earn $18,355 as mayor of the Village of Montgomery.