A previous version of this article stated that Rocco Lucente, Jr. was the brother of Stephen Lucente. Rocco is the son of Stephen Lucente, not the brother, and does not include a "Jr." after his name. The Lansing Ledger regrets the errors
Several members of the public shared their opinions and perspectives at the Lansing Town Council meeting on Oct. 16 regarding Town Supervisor and Republican Edward LaVigne’s failing to disclose a major campaign donation before he voted to approve a resolution to delay the construction of the Village Solar Community Center, an apartment building and community center project.
Stephen Lucente, of Lifestyle Properties, a Spencer resident and one of the developers involved in the Village Solar project, made a $8,400 donation to the Lansing Republican Committee on July 8. The Lansing Republican Committee is funding all of the GOP town candidates this year. LaVigne is running for re-election this year. Knowledge of the donation has been floating around for a few weeks, and was first publicly reported by the Ithaca Journal.
Three days later, on July 11, a waiver request was submitted to the town by Lawrence Fabbroni, Village Solar Project Engineer, for the purpose of delaying the completion date of the construction of the community center to Dec. 31, 2021 instead of Dec. 31, 2020. It was stated this was so that the project could be made larger. This was not the first time the project would have been delayed, as it was originally slated to be built within five years of when the plan was originally approved by the Town Council in 2013.
On Aug. 21, the Town Council granted Fabbroni's waiver request by a 3–1 vote. LaVigne, along with Councilpersons Doug Dake and Katrina Binkewicz voted in favor of the waiver. Councilman Joseph Wetmore voted against the waiver. Councilwoman Andra Benson was not present at the meeting. Because it is a five-member council, three positive votes were necessary to pass the waiver.
At the Oct. 16 meeting, LaVigne did not address the situation. Prior to the public comment period, Binkewicz issued a statement asking the public to refrain from commenting on any matters relating to the campaign donation and whether or not it impacted any decision making behind the granting of the waiver on Aug. 21. It was not an effective request.
Rocco Lucente, the son of Stephen and another developer involved in the community center project, spoke in front of the council and shared his displeasure with the “slander” that he and the rest of the Lucentes have received from the public.
“These attacks levied by certain political activists in the town have misled people to a conclusion which is false and slanderous,” Lucente, Jr. said. He insisted that such statements be drawn back.
“Do these people mean when donating to the wrong political party is a form of corruption and that Ed’s role was bought?” he said. “This is serious libel. I demand that the anonymous person who was responsible for this slander step forward and retract it. [...] You have brought street-fight politics to our nice little community, and you should be deeply ashamed. The implication of this attack should shock the conscious of residents.”
He said these statements have nothing to do with the community center, and continued that those connecting the donation to LaVigne's vote were attacking both Lucente and LaVigne's character. He also demanded that every board member "condemn this attack" and say it's untrue.
Peter Salton, a resident of Ithaca, said he knows the Lucentes and has worked with them in the past, and offered his support to them.
“The fact that the community center wasn’t put in exactly when and where it was in the plan is of no moment,” Salton said. “Things change. Needs change. I think the Lucente’s laid out exactly why they wanted the change, and I think the board did the right thing in allowing the change. … What they’re trying to do is create a right-sized center that fits the community the right way.”
Fabbroni urged individuals to review the minutes from the Aug. 21 meeting.
“Everything you heard from us that night was absolutely true in terms of how we evolved as a project, how we learned as we went along … we had a need for more time to develop the project,” he said.
Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler is the Chairman of the county’s Republican party. A resident of Lansing, Sigler also serves on the Lansing Republican Committee. Sigler said he is astounded by the accusations people have made about the Lucentes.
“It saddens me, frankly, that somebody would think that,” Sigler said. “When I watching [the discussion] earlier, it kind of went off the rails and people that I respect came up and they made these assertions. People that I like. People that I think are good people from the other side that are asserting something about people that they know. They know these people. They work with these people.”
“For me, I’m like, ‘Yes,’ if the Lucentes gave the political party money, yeah I’ll take it,” he said. “They pay for mailers; they pay for voter registration; they pay for a lot of different things that we do as a political party.”
Lansing resident Melanie Malone said the situation is not about the character of Lucente, but instead it is about the ethics of the town’s and state’s laws that apply to town officials.
“It’s not a personal attack on anyone,” Malone said. “The Lansing residents, including myself, we elect our officials, and we expect them to be accountable. We expect them to have integrity. Integrity is the cornerstone of leadership. When these incidences happen, where there are appearances of impropriety, it makes one feel the regular people in Lansing – those who work for a living; those who maybe are working right now and can’t come to these meetings; the people without power and influence – are being sidelined as a development takes place in the town.”
Michael Koplinka-Loehr, LaVigne's Democratic opponent for the Town Supervisor position, spoke in front of the council at the meeting, but did not make a comment on the situation involving LaVigne and Lucente.