The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to halt mounting daily fines against the city for blocking a federal housing desegregation plan, a decision the mayor says could cause Yonkers "to plummet to bankruptcy."
But in a ruling issued Thursday night, the court temporarily spared the four city councilmen who oppose the plan from going to jail until they have time to ask formally that their cases be fully reviewed, U.S. Supreme Court spokeswoman Toni House said.The justices stayed a lower court ruling that had upheld contempt citations against the four councilmen, who had faced a resumption of $500-a-day fines and the start of jail terms this weekend.
The city's fines for failing to comply with the desegregation order were put on hold pending the Supreme Court's ruling. The fines now will resume against the city, Yonkers Mayor Nicholas Wasicsko said.
The fines started Aug. 2 at $100 and doubled daily. The city had paid $12,700 before receiving its first stay from an appeals court, which upheld the contempt finding last Friday but granted an additional one-week stay. It also capped the city's fines at $1 million a day.
House said the entire court considered the applications from the councilmen and the city.
Justices Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan filed a 12-page dissent, arguing that all stays be denied, she said.
"As the city repeatedly points out in its application, `Yonkers is relatively unique in that most of the governmental power in the city is centralized in the legislative branch.' For this reason the city is the council," Marshall wrote.
The ruling surprised Wasicsko, who favors compliance with the desegregation order. "It troubles me," he said early Friday. "The treasury of the city is going to be exposed, and the taxpayers of the city are going to feel the burden.
"One thing it denies is the political martyrdom of the councilmen. They were slated to go to jail on Sunday. Their personal fines have ceased. But the city is going to plummet to bankruptcy."
Two of the four defiant councilmen - Nicholas Longo and Vice Mayor Henry Spallone - said Friday that the decision, for them, was a major victory.
"This country went through a revolution a couple hundred years ago to make sure that people could cast their votes independently and without coercion," Longo said.
Councilman Peter Chema called the decision "a big personal victory, but I have serious concerns about the city. It's kind of like being administered oxygen while someone strangles you."
The fourth councilman, Edward Fagan, called the decision "unexpected" and declined to comment further.
Longo said the four would ask U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand, who initially found them in contempt, to suspend the city's fines pending their Supreme Court hearing, which Longo said would not be until 1989.
"The relief becomes moot if he decides to bankrupt the city in the interim," Longo said.