AMSTERDAM — Members of the Amsterdam Common Council have encouraged 4th Ward Alderman Stephen Gomula to resign as he faces felony weapons charges, but will not take any action to remove him from office at this time.
Officials confirmed the charges against Gomula were the subject of an executive session that lasted roughly 45 minutes during Tuesday’s meeting. Gomula left the council chamber shortly after the closed session began. He was called back in around a half-hour later.
Council members agreed they would not take action to remove Gomula from office as allowed under the city charter for “behavior unbefitting a public official,” according to Mayor Michael Cinquanti.
“Corporation counsel was clear that any effort to enact that charter provision would not be cut and dried and could go on for an extended period of time,” Cinquanti said.
However, Cinquanti said the council was unanimous in their recommendation to Gomula that he resign from office to focus on his mental health and the criminal charges against him.
“Each council member was very compassionate,” Cinquanti said. “They agreed that if Mr. Gomula refused to accept their recommendation, they would monitor the situation closely as the legal process played itself out and revisit this same issue if necessary.”
Gomula was clear that he has no plans to resign, believing that he can continue to effectively represent the city.
“That’s their opinion,” Gomula said. “Just because I had some issues I was facing, that doesn’t affect how I represent residents of the 4th Ward and I hope they will see that.”
Gomula was charged by state police on Dec. 14 with two counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, both class D felonies, for allegedly having an assault weapon and a large capacity ammunition feeding device.
State police alleged in a felony complaint filed in City Court that Gomula possessed a 30-round detachable rifle magazine and .223-caliber Windham Weaponry rifle with a forward hand grip, pistol grip and flash suppressor. Both are illegal to own in New York state.
The charges stem from the earlier recovery of the devices from Gomula’s home by city police during a call for service after Gomula threatened to end his life with a shotgun on the afternoon of Dec. 10. All of the weapons were confiscated by officers.
Gomula was not taken into custody or charged at that time. He instead received inpatient treatment at St. Mary’s Hospital for three days and later documented on social media the mental health crisis he experienced that day related to his prior diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder from a long career in emergency services.
Due to Gomula’s elected position, city police referred the investigation of the assault weapon and large capacity magazine to state police, leading to the charges against Gomula. Custody of the seized devices was also transferred to the other agency.
Gomula has said he wants to use his platform as an alderman and his recent experience to bring attention to mental health struggles commonly facing emergency services personnel.
“I want to use this to help other first responders to prevent them from doing what I almost did,” Gomula said.
However, Gomula acknowledged the criminal charges against him are unrelated to his recent mental health crisis.
“They were subsequent. I used a different weapon that was legally registered to me,” said Gomula, declining to discuss the allegations further on the advice of counsel.
The circumstances made public by Gomula and the charges against him have become the subject of intense local attention. Mixed reactions of support and concern have emerged.
Deputy Mayor and 5th Ward Alderman James Martuscello pointed to the possibility the situation could become a distraction for the city. He referenced the circumstances surrounding former 4th Ward Alderman Rodney Wojnar, who ultimately resigned after he was charged with third-degree patronizing a prostitute in 2018.
“People talk about you and not the good you’re doing,” Martuscello said.
Acknowledging the present attention surrounding the situation, Gomula believes it will be short-lived and will not impede his ongoing treatment or ability to represent the city.
“I think it will be a distraction for a little while, but I can handle it. I’m in a better place mentally. I think I would be a better representative at this point,” Gomula said. “I think I can make even better decisions. I’m thinking more clearly and getting therapy. I have an amazing support system.”
If the situation proves a distraction long-term, Gomula said that he would reconsider his decision to stay in office.
Although officials don’t plan to take any action related to Gomula’s office while the criminal case proceeds, Cinquanti and Martuscello were clear the council could also revisit its position if the situation became a hindrance to governing the city.
Depending on the outcome of the charges against him, Gomula could be barred from holding elected office. Felony and certain misdemeanor convictions can prevent individuals from holding public office.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.
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