In a federal courtroom packed with his supporters, Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Daniel Davis was sentenced Feb. 6 by Judge Paul E. Davison to one year of supervised probation and given a $10,000 fine. He is confined to the state for the duration of his sentence, except for official travel. He was also ordered by the judge to pay $5,000 in restitution and a $50 special assessment fee to the government.
When Davis and his wife entered the courtroom, they were enthusiastically applauded by his supporters. His attorney, Jeremy H. Temkin, however, warned the crowd against such outward displays of support for the mayor during the court proceedings.
In October 2014, Davis pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor federal charges of failing to file personal and corporate income tax returns in 2003 and 2011. Temkin described Davis to the judge as “a 76-year-old first offender,” who should not be judged harshly because, as Davis confessed to the court and the press recently, the offenses were matters of “procrastination” as opposed to criminal intent.
When sentencing was announced, Davis’ supporters called it excessive, linking the judgment to the long list of Black political officials being “fried by the federal government.” One supporter stated, “A simple matter of his accountants failing to file has been turned into a criminal prosecution.”
Davis failed to file personal and corporate income taxes on a fire-damaged property he sold in 2003, and in 2011 he filed his taxes 10 months late. He faced up to two years in prison for the infractions. According to his attorney, the 2003 violation was used to show the mayor’s intent to confess because the statute of limitations he waived to confess to the oversight was a gift to the prosecution.
Shari Harris, a special assistant to the mayor, characterized the case as an eight-year attempt on the part of government to besmirch the character of the Black mayor of New York’s eighth largest city. She called him “the people’s mayor.” According to Harris, the hit began when the mayor refused to pay back money to the government he knew the people of the city needed.
“He took the hit for the people, knowing the authority of Section 8, under Housing Urban and Development, was moved out of the control of the city, given to the county and not properly managed or monitored by HUD,” Harris said. “How can the city of Mount Vernon be held responsible for that money? Mayor Davis took the bullet.”
Harris continued, “That’s when the infamous raid on City Hall took place. The feds took out empty boxes, and only two had something in them, in front of an assembled press, just three weeks before the primary elections. Political aspirants concocted false stories of the mayor wearing an ankle bracelet and being under house arrest. He was defeated the next election … but re-elected the next time.”
Davis graduated from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College in 1960, as an architect. He moved with his wife to Mount Vernon; she is a native of the city. Davis began his architectural career working for firms in New York City. In 1976, he was introduced to Mount Vernon Mayor Augusto Petrillo. The next mayor, Tommy Sharp, brought Davis into the political system. In 1983, Davis ran for and won a seat on the Westchester Board of Legislators. He was elected to six two-year terms. In 1995, Davis was encouraged to run for mayor. He was elected, and then re-elected two more times, and suddenly became the target of the federal government and the IRS.
Eric Tate, a longtime broadcast journalist and independent documentarian, was among those who wrote letters of support to the judge before the sentencing. “The first time I met Davis was in the late 1970s, while I was working for ABC News,” Tate wrote. “Over the years, I’ve seen his unstinting efforts to improve not just the physical structure of the city of Mt. Vernon, but also the socio-economic conditions of the city’s residents, first as a legislator, then later as mayor.”
Hamp Miller Jr., the director of Students Taking Responsibility and Ownership Now and Graduating, an after-school program that is funded by the city, agreed with Tate’s assessment of Davis.
“There are tons upon tons of Black men who want to improve the condition of young Blacks,” Miller said. “I think he is among them. I think he is a good Black man.”
Davis’ fourth term ends at the end of 2015, and the 76-year-old mayor recently announced to his supporters that he intends to run for a fifth term.