NEW ROCHELLE, NY — The New Rochelle Library Board is confronted with a dilemma. One of their hardest working members may not be eligible to be on the board.
Library Board Vice President Emery Schweig acknowledges she lives in Danbury, CT and gets her mail there but says she is a resident of New Rochelle, NY because she votes in New Rochelle. She told Talk of the Sound that she was allowed to remain a New Rochelle voter by the Westchester County Board of Elections because she she pays taxes on a vacant lot in New Rochelle, keeps “clothes and furniture” at a co-op she owns on Centre Avenue in New Rochelle, and intends to return to New Rochelle at some point in the future.
Schweig’s residency in New Rochelle was challenged this week by Lorraine Karl, who addressed the Library Board of Trustees at a public meeting on Thursday, October 8th. The issue first became public during a Zoning Board of Appeals Meeting on September 1, 2015 when Schweig gave her name and address as “Emery Schweig 16 Hayestown Rd Unit 1301 Danbury, CT”.
Schweig, represented by attorney Greg Varian, also a Library Board Trustee, went before the Zoning Board of Appeals seeking a variance on an undeveloped parcel adjacent to the parcel she owned on Stone Cabin Road where she lived previously and sold in January 2015. Property records show that both of Schweig’s properties were put on the market in March 2014; the parcel with the house was sold in January 2015 while the undeveloped parcel remains on the market. It is that parcel upon which she pays property taxes.
The vacant parcel is too small to be developed. Although the Zoning Board of Appeals voted against the variance once, the matter is not settled and Varian tells Talk of the Sound Schweig is expected back in front of the Zoning Board of Appeals soon. There are legal arguments to be made on both sides on whether the lot should be granted a variance but there is no argument that Schweig has not lived on Stone Cabin Road since January 2015.
Both Schweig and Varian told Talk of the Sound that the New Rochelle Library Board of Trustees had requested an opinion from their legal counsel earlier this month on whether Schweig is a resident of New Rochelle and thus eligible to serve on the board.
In a telephone interview Saturday, Schweig dismissed concerns raised by Karl.
For many years, Schweig lived in a house on Stone Cabin Road in New Rochelle, NY which she purchased with Barry Schweig, her husband, in 1996. Prior to that, since 1986, she lived in a house on Mountain Road.
Schweig says she is considered a “voter in good standing” by the Westchester County Board of Elections. In her interview with Talk of the Sound, Schweig said New York has liberal voting laws and that it is not necessary to live in New York to vote in New York and there were judges in New York that lived outside New York State.
Schweig told Talk of the Sound she voted in the Democratic Primary for Surrogate Judge in September 2015 and the New Rochelle School and Library Election in May 2015, both after she sold her home in New Rochelle and moved to Danbury.
To buttress her contention she is a legal resident of New Rochelle and thus eligible to vote in elections and serve on the Library Board, Schweig pointed to the example of a 2014 residency challenge by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s campaign against Democratic Primary challenger Zephyr Teachout where the court found for Teachout, that she was a New York resident even though she spent summers in Vermont where she grew up and did not have a continuous permanent address in New York for the five years prior to the election as required under New York State law.
The Teachout case does not appear to apply to Schweig’s situation. Cuomo argued that Teachout had not had a continual, permanent residence in New York for the five year period before the election. In finding for Teachout, the New York State Supreme Court held that the burden was on Cuomo to prove that she had not maintained residency in New York prior to the election and that he failed to meet that burden. Schweig has stated, on the record, that she lives out of state, in Connecticut, while Teachout denied living in Vermont.
“Had Teachout stated that she did live in Vermont and received her mail in Vermont there is no question that the court would have ruled against her in Cuomo’s residency challenge, “ said voting rights attorney Richard St. Paul, formerly a member of the New Rochelle City Council.
The New York State Public Officers Law lists Qualifications for Holding Office: (1) the person must be 18 years of age at the time of selection to hold any civil office, except for certain youth boards where the age is 16; (2) a resident of the state; and (3) for a local office, a resident of the political subdivision or municipal corporation of the state for which [they] shall be chosen, or within which the electors electing [them] reside, or within which [their] official functions are required to be exercised.
St. Paul said that a case that applies more directly to Schweig’s case is People v.O’Hara (2001), where the New York State Court of Appeals upheld a lower court conviction of John O’Hara, an attorney and frequent candidate for elective office, of seven crimes arising from his “fraudulent filing of a false voter registration form and voting in five separate elections in an election district in which he did not reside”. In his appeal, O’Hara contended that the definition of voting residence contained in the Election Law is at odds with the recognition in today’s society that a person can have more than one residence. The court ruled against O’Hara.
New York State Election Law § 1-104(22) states “…a residence is that place where a person maintains a fixed, permanent and principal home and to which [they] wherever temporarily located always intends to return.
In O’Hara, the Court added “Additionally, a candidate who has two residences may choose one to which [they have] the legitimate, significant and continuing attachment as [their] residence for purpose of the Election Law. It is for the candidate to decide which address is to be [their] voting and campaign address.”
In Schweig’s case, she acknowledges that she “maintains a fixed, permanent and principal home” in Danbury, CT” where she receives her mail. Her claim that she intends to return to New Rochelle in the future would not appear to apply in her case as she has sold the home on Stone Cabin Road and does not intend to return to that “fixed, permanent and principal home” because it is now owned by other persons.
Schweig told zoning board members that she and her husband had retired and could not afford the taxes on the property. In 2009, Schweig, the then-current president of the New Rochelle High School PTA and a first-time candidate for the Library Board of Trustees, spoke at a school budget review meeting where she dismissed concerns of retired persons who came before the school board to express their fear of losing their homes due to ever-increasing school property taxes. Schweig ridiculed those concerns by calling the recession at that time ”temporary” while demanding that voters “suck it up” and approve the school budget regardless of the impact on property taxes.