The big political race this year in Westchester County is for the position of county executive. Republican incumbent Rob Astorino is being challenged by Democrat George Latimer. Our Jewish Link of Westchester’s political desk recently communicated with both candidates to address why the outcome of this race is important to Jewish voters, with special attention to Synagogue/Day School/JCC security and local anti-Israel BDS activities. Short biographies of both candidates are also included.
What Jewish Voters Need To Know About Republican Incumbent Rob Astorino
Rob Astorino was elected to office in 2009 and re-elected in 2013 with bipartisan support, winning by a 13-point margin. Astorino has worked hard to preserve essential services by maintaining a sizable social safety net, improving ParaTransit for the disabled, establishing public-private partnerships and expanding environmental and recycling initiatives. Astorino continues to lead Westchester by sticking to what he calls the 3 Ps: protect taxpayers, preserve essential services and promote economic growth.
Here are some of his positions on matters of import to the Jewish community:
“It matters to all voters who want competent, fiscally sound and compassionate government that actually works. Unlike the hyperpartisan breakdown in Washington and Albany, I created a working bipartisan coalition in Westchester to deliver better government at less cost. That’s how I’ve passed budgets with no tax levy increases for seven, going on eight, straight years (the levy is actually 2 percent lower now than it was in 2010), helping senior citizens stay in their homes and sending a clear message to the business community that Westchester is open for business again. Fiscal discipline has helped attract 44,000 new private sector jobs into the county in the past seven years, with thousands more in the pipeline. And by cutting waste in government, we’re able to put dollars where they’re most needed. Indeed, Westchester is spending more on its social services budget today than it ever has, while keeping its $1.8 billion budget flat for the past seven years. That’s the kind of efficiency we want at every level of government. It’s what Westchester families and small business owners deserve.”
“Anti-Semitism has no place in this world, and there is no tolerance for it in Westchester County. Any attacks or threats on a synagogue or school are attacks against us all. Our county police will continue to pursue anyone who graffitis or threatens a Jewish school or synagogue, as well as work with Jewish leaders and organizations to increase security and protection. Westchester is a proudly diverse county and must remain so. There is no room for bigotry and hatred here.”
“BDS is a disgrace. It is left-wing anti-Semitism. I was blessed to visit Israel a few years ago, and I marveled at its people, its tenaciousness and its core moral fiber. Israel has a right to defend herself against terrorism, and those who would equate self-defense with terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli civilians should be ashamed of themselves. More people in public office need to be speaking out against BDS. It is based on a lie.”
Astorino was first elected to public office at age 21, serving as a member of the Mount Pleasant Board of Education and 12 years as a councilman in the town of Mount Pleasant, including six years as deputy supervisor. In 2003, he was elected to the Westchester County Board of Legislators.
Before taking office as county executive in 2010, Astorino had a long career in TV and radio. He was the station manager and program director of The Catholic Channel on Sirius-XM Satellite Radio and hosted a weekly radio show from St. Patrick’s Cathedral with the Cardinal-Archbishop of New York. In 2001, he helped launch ESPN Radio in New York. He became the station’s senior producer, as well as executive producer of “The Michael Kay Show.”
He has also held a wide range of volunteer and civic positions such as the with the Mount Pleasant Rotary and the Hudson Valley Greenway; two terms as vice chairman of the Westchester County Board of Ethics; honorary chair for various non-profit, religious and charitable organizations; and currently as a CYO basketball coach for his son and daughter’s teams.
Astorino earned a BA in communications at Fordham University, where he also minored in Spanish and Political Science. In 2001, he studied in Barcelona, Spain, and received a Spanish Immersion Diploma from the Enforex School of International Studies.
What Jewish Voters Need To Know About Democrat George Latimer
Senator Latimer is concerned about where we are at this moment in history and how our country is dealing with issues of tolerance and diversity. The Jewish community has often been a victim of hatred and it is important that the Westchester community speak out against anti-Semitism. Across our country incidents of hate crimes are on the rise and, Senator Latimer said, “we can’t have apathy.”
As county executive, he would want to regenerate the Human Rights Commission of Westchester County. He would direct the commission back to its core mission to combat discrimination and educate the public on issues of human rights. The commission offers a process to file a complaint if someone feels mistreated and an expectation of prompt adjudication.
In the State Senate, Sen. Latimer introduced legislation such as the JCC Hate Crime Bill S.5065 (paired with A.6739 [Lavine]), which would establish bomb threats to religious affiliated community centers as hate crimes. Under existing law, certain crimes, if perpetrated specifically because of beliefs regarding race, gender, religion, disability or sexual orientation, can be prosecuted as hate crimes. Although many public places are currently covered by the law, community centers with any religious affiliation are not included. By prosecuting these charges as hate crimes, the punishment is made more severe. For these types of bomb threats, the charges would be increased to a hate crime felony.
In addition, he would direct law enforcement to be visible and supportive to Jewish establishments, and believes that would deter anyone from acting against the Jewish community. The whole community will help protect the Jewish community.
The senator voted for the NYS Anti-BDS legislation and supports Israel’s right to function in New York State. This legislation passed the NYS Senate, but the senator is upset that it failed in the NYS Assembly. The Senator believes that Israel had a right to exist and to protect itself, and will continue to work to discourage this boycott. Additionally, he is pleased that Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order #157 directing divesting state funds from entities supporting the BDS campaign against Israel. Governor Cuomo was the first US Governor to sign such regulations.
George Latimer is a third-generation Westchester native. After attending Mt. Vernon public schools, George graduated from Fordham University and received a Master’s Degree in public administration from New York University’s Wagner School.
Since completing his education, Sen. Latimer by profession has been a marketing executive who has gained firsthand business and economic experience from over 20 years at major corporate subsidiaries of Nestle and ITT, with onsite responsibilities for projects with AT&T, IBM and Shearson Lehman.
A resident of the city of Rye for nearly 30 years, Sen. Latimer successfully ran for the Rye City Council, spending the next four years combining his business experiences with his background in public service, eventually leading him onto the Westchester County Board of Legislators, while simultaneously keeping a steady portfolio with Benchmark Management. During the 13 years that Sen. Latimer was a member of that chamber he served as the Minority Leader and then as the first Democratic chairman of the Board of Legislators in Westchester history.
From 1998 to 2001, while Sen. Latimer was the chairman of the County Board of Legislators, property taxes decreased in three consecutive years by nearly 7 percent. Additionally, Latimer oversaw the passage of groundbreaking legislation such as the creation of the Human Rights Commission, Smoke Free Workplace Laws, and the Waste Haulers Laws. Sen. Latimer was regarded as bipartisan and transparent during his tenure, appointing Republicans to chair committees, facilitating a fair redistricting plan that involved members of the chamber’s minority party and outside “good government” groups and establishing the first cable TV coverage of Board of Legislators meetings.
Elected in 2004 to the State Assembly, Sen. Latimer has established a solid record of accomplishment, sponsoring legislation and advancing funding for environmental issues (including protection of the Long Island Sound), housing, transportation, healthcare, lower property taxes and a myriad of other issues. In the Assembly, he is the author of over 20 diverse new laws. Latimer was elected to the State Senate, representing the 37th district in 2012.
He has received public recognition and awards from numerous Westchester and Hudson Valley organizations including Congregation Anshe Sholom in New Rochelle.
George Latimer’s sound business experience, his record of public service and his dedication to the county community have been the driving force behind his effort for the last 25 years in both the public and private sector. In public office as a city councilman, county legislator and assemblyman, Sen. Latimer has always fought for what his Westchester residents and neighbors need. He is routinely cited as the most open and accessible of representatives.
By Judy Berger