The race for Westchester County executive is close and contentious ahead of Tuesday’s vote. Allegations of wrongdoing have emerged on each side and taxes are a main focus.
Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino is seeking a third term. He has won decisively in the last two races in a county where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 2-to-1. This year, however, the race is being called a dead heat. Democratic state Senator George Latimer is the opponent, after having won a primary against county Legislator Ken Jenkins. In the most recent debate, broadcast on News 12, Astorino touted his success.
“I ran to stop the tax madness and we’ve done just that,” Astorino said. “In the seven years I’ve been there, we haven’t raised the tax levy once. In fact, we’ve cut taxes 2 percent. The result? We’ve had 44,000 new private sector jobs created in this county, with many more to come.”
Latimer says he disagrees with Astorino over tax cuts, job growth and other areas.
“But in every one of these things, I’m attacking his government performance, his job performance,” Latimer said. “Instead of defending his record, he spent time attacking me personally. I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes, but these personal attacks are just the Trump playbook brought to life.”
Latimer consistently ties Astorino to President Donald Trump, fueled most recently by a super PAC backed by Robert Mercer that seemingly funds anti-Latimer ads, as mentioned here by News 12 debate host Scott McGee.
“That’s the same man that helped fund Breitbart.com, that’s an Alt-Right website now run by former White House Advisor Steve Bannon,” said McGee. “So what do you say to people critical of that donation and… you’re saying it’s not true…”
“Anyone can donate anything to either a super PAC supporting George Latimer or me,” said Astorino. “That money is not part of our campaign. That is separate.”
Mercer has since announced he is selling his stake in Breitbart to his daughters and stepping down as co-CEO of his hedge fund. Meantime, Astorino repeatedly calls out Latimer on parking fines, missed crucial Senate votes, and $49,000 in back property taxes on a house his wife inherited.
“They have yet to pay taxes on this for five straight years,” Astorino said. “Nobody gets away with that in this county except, I think, an Albany politician who has the arrogance to think so.”
Latimer, who represents the 37th Senate district, says the house is the subject of a family argument.
“When the argument resolves itself, all the taxes will be paid, but Rob knows that,” Latimer said. “Rob is desperate because he’s not doing as well as he thought he would do in this race.”
Throughout the campaign, Astorino underscored that he has held the line on taxes, and vows not to raise property taxes during a third term. He paints Latimer as a tax-and-spend Democrat. And Latimer takes issues with how Astorino portrays the numbers. Here they are during the News 12 debate.
“There is a stark difference between George Latimer, who is a Progressive tax hiker, continuously, and me, who have put the lid on taxes,” Astorino said.
“George Latimer, you have a 30-second rebuttal,” McGee said.
“Rob is really a terrific liar. It’s amazing to watch what his TV skills allows him to do,” Latimer said. “During his tenure, he’s raised property taxes 52 percent — 16 percent on the school board and 36 percent as a town councilman over the same period of time that he refers to my tax record.”
Latimer also believes Astorino has his eye on running for governor, and uses this in the campaign. Astorino, who ran for governor in 2014 and has not ruled out a run in 2018, says he is focused solely on the race for county executive. SUNY New Paltz political scientist Dr. Gerald Benjamin, speaking earlier in the campaign, says, unlike governors, county executives generally are not at great risk simply because they seek a third term.
“I do think that there will be an inevitable consequence, negative consequence, of the Republican label commensurate with New Yorkers’ reported reaction to the president and his policies, which has been highly negative,” Benjamin says. “And I think that the risk is elevated in an environment like Westchester County, where there’s a great disadvantage in enrollment for Republicans and a great reliance on Independent voters.”
The Journal-News, a newspaper that focuses on Westchester and Rockland Counties, has endorsed Latimer, but called him a flawed and far-from-perfect candidate. The paper writes that Latimer has long established that he believes in forward-thinking, responsive government that remains business-friendly and efficient. Astorino, meanwhile, has picked up an endorsement from a Westchester newspaper group. Rising Media Group says Astorino has served well by putting taxpayers, homeowners and families first.