Assertions by Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino that a former commissioner resigned on his own for health reasons are untrue and hurtful, charged Bruce Berger, who headed the county’s solid waste commission for 14 years until he was suddenly fired on April 10.
“Every one of those things are lies,” Berger declared to Hamodia in an interview. “And you can quote me on that.”
An aggrieved Berger made headlines last week when he wrote a letter urging Republican donors not to support Astorino, who is running for governor of New York on the Republican ticket. He claimed that he was sacked to make way for a “political crony” friend of Astorino.
“I have been replaced by a Republican judge who lost reelection last November and who has no relevant experience in the field,” wrote Berger, 57, who has served for the past 14 years in the position. “The judge, Daniel Angiolillo, ‘needed help,’ so I was the easiest person to remove since I am not active politically and was one of the last holdovers from the prior Democratic administration of former County Executive Andrew Spano.”
However, a spokesman for Astorino told Hamodia last week Thursday that “the timing of [Berger’s departure] was based on his choosing, not anybody else’s choosing.”
Phil Oliza claimed that Berger was not fired but resigned voluntarily due to health reasons. He had previously indicated that he wanted to leave and was not fired “at the last minute,” he said.
“When Mr. Berger was departing he departed on very good terms, he was very gracious,” said Oliza.
It was those claims that Berger took aim at.
“I never had any intention of resigning, I had no health reasons that would have necessitated my resignation,” he said. “They lied about my departure — I’m not even sure what to say at this point, I’m so angry.”
Berger said the only health-related matter that came up recently was his hip replacement surgery on Feb. 3. But he said he was back at work three weeks later and never suggested retiring because of it.
A former prosecutor who worked in the Brooklyn and Manhattan district attorneys’ offices before moving to White Plains in 1999, Berger applied to Spano for the job leading the nascent commission. He was hired and began work in 2000.
When Spano lost his reelection bid in 2009 to Astorino, Berger said he was told that he would be kept on probation. But Astorino kept him on for his first term, leading him to think that he would stay on.
“After four years and three months, far be it for me to think that, well, maybe I’m now part of his team,” he said. “But when he needed a position for somebody who lost his election, they planted him here.”
He said that he was informed without warning an hour before a major meeting not to return to his office. But the thing that rankles him the most is the fact that he was not allowed to transition ongoing projects and investigations with his successor.
“There was no opportunity for me to have a proper transition with him,” he said. “It is totally incompetent as far as I’m concerned for the nature and care of the activities of the commission, the investigations that were going on. He was just dropped in there blindly.”
Berger also countered claims by Oliza that he was set up by the campaign of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic incumbent and that he was a partisan person.
“I was not in touch with the Cuomo campaign,” he said, slowly enunciating each word. “I was living in Westchester, I had carting experience and I was a former prosecutor. … I wasn’t a political appointee. Look at my resume versus his resume and you’ll see the difference.”
A call to Oliza was not returned by press time.
The Democratic majority in Westchester’s Board of Legislators has asked the Astorino administration for an explanation of the firing and said it will investigate.
A Siena/New York Times poll released last week shows Cuomo leading Astorino by 58 percent to 28 percent.