by Rick Pezzullo –
The two candidates running for Westchester County Executive on November 7 have a combined 52 years of experience as elected public servants.
Incumbent Republican Rob Astorino, 50, who resides in Mount Pleasant, is vying for a third four-year term in the county’s top post, which carries an annual salary of $160,760.
“I still have the fire burning in me. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be running,” Astorino said at a recent debate. “Taxes are front and center in this campaign. I ran in 2009 on a promise and I’m still on that mission. I’m proud of what we have done.”
Democrat George Latimer, 63, a resident of Rye, is currently serving his third two-year term as State Senator in the 37th District. Prior to that he served four terms in the State Assembly and 13 years on the Westchester County Board of Legislators, including four years as board chairman. Latimer will also be running on the Working Families Party, Independence, Women’s Equality, and Reform lines.
“I’m doing this because this county government needs to be straightened out. It’s going to be really tough,” Latimer said during a recent interview. “As chairman of the Board of Legislators, I worked across the aisle. I’m not looking to create a record that will allow me to run for something else. Rob is a terrific politician. He really gets it. What he’s not good at is running government. This job to him is a stepping stone.”
Astorino, who has also secured the Conservative line, unsuccessfully challenged Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014 and Latimer has contended Astorino has his sights set again on running for New York State’s highest seat in 2018.
“In four weeks, Rob Astorino will be running for governor,” Latimer said. “I think he expected an easier race this year. He has a tough race. He has to win by impressive numbers. I have name recognition. I’m known to be a hard worker. I have positive ratings in the polling. I think we need change, and we need it now.”
Throughout what has been a campaign filled with personal attacks, Astorino has mostly sidestepped questions about his aspirations for governor, contending there will be a large group of candidates lining up to do battle with Cuomo.
“I intend to run for County Executive and fulfill my pledge,” Astorino said. “The last thing I want to see is the county go back to the bad old days of tax and spend.”
The hallmark of Astorino’s administration has been not raising property taxes in the county, which represent only about 15% of a homeowner’s total tax bill.
“When I was elected county executive, I made a promise to Westchester taxpayers that we would bring fiscal sanity back to county government,” Astorino said. “We cut taxes and the county budget is smaller today than when I took office, because we made better spending decisions and cut waste, while strengthening the social safety net for those in need. We’re investing in people and infrastructure and we’ve done it without raising taxes.”
Latimer said the financial picture Astorino paints of the county is not so rosy, contending Astorino has deferred some costs, such as pension expenses, which caused the county’s bond rating to drop. If elected, Latimer said he would have the state comptroller do a full review of the county’s finances.
“He’s used gimmicks to keep the tax levy down. He’s been doing one-shot deals, like the airport, to balance the budget,” Latimer said. “When he says he held the line on taxes, it’s not true.”
In September, Astorino issued an executive order that stated county law enforcement will continue to cooperate with federal authorities in investigating and apprehending immigrants involved in criminal activity but will be prohibited from asking about their legal status unless required by law. The executive order followed Astorino’s veto of the Immigrant Protection Act, which was approved by the Board of Legislators.
“What this bill was about was criminals. It violated county law,” Astorino said. “We’re standing on the side of law enforcement.”
Latimer charged Astorino was siding with President Trump with his stance on immigrants. As County Executive, Latimer said within his first month in office he would issue an executive order that “most reasonable people can support” that would satisfy the concerns of law enforcement officials and immigrants.
“He (Astorino) weakened the order that (former county executive) Andy Spano had in place and he did it because he thought he would lose money from Trump,” Latimer said.