Latimer Launches Primary Challenge for Congressional Seat
George Latimer has never met an electorate that hasn’t embraced him, so it’s understandable that his most ardent supporters are confident of his chances of beating Congressman Jamaal Bowman in the Democratic Primary on June 25, and then going on to win the general election on November 5.
The biggest challenge for Latimer? “While most County residents know me as ‘George,’ especially in the Sound Shore communities, I’m unknown in part of the 16th District, and I’ll have to reintroduce myself,” said the Westchester County Executive over coffee at On the Way Café last weekend, soon after he had announced his campaign. “It’s back to 1987, when I won my first election, a seat on the Rye City Council,” he added.
The 16th Congressional District extends from the north Bronx to White Plains and has a population of 756,000: 39 percent of whom are White, 29 percent Hispanic, and 20 percent Black. The battlegrounds are Yonkers and New Rochelle. “I have to work through an identity, because politics has become a matter of identity,” he said. “I’m counting on people to judge me by what I’ve done and said.”
Public office, Latimer offered, means “being accessible, interacting with as many of your constituents as possible.” No one could accuse Latimer of being absent or unavailable. He shows up, and for more than just ribbon-cuttings. For most of his political career, he has held weekend coffees and encouraged residents to bring their questions and concerns.
He’s proud that he may be the only incumbent official to ever institute term limits — on himself. “I really believe in term limits,” he said. “We need circulation in government.” Latimer also prides himself on driving to most events he attends on his own, rather than wasting County Police resources. In his six years as County Executive, he has not taken a pay raise — “and I’m not living high on the hog!”
What he has focused on in his 46-year career is “results, not ideology.” When he served as County Legislator, he created a new revenue stream, the hotel tax. County taxes were cut in his first four years as County Executive and are frozen for 2024. While he raised the sales tax by 1 percent in 2019, he points to the benefit for municipalities, which receive 10 percent of the increased revenues.
Coming from a working-class background, Latimer said he has always been prudent with money — his and his constituents’. He was a commuter student at Fordham University, and when he decided to go to graduate school, he asked his father to lend him the money. While earning his Master’s in Public Administration at NYU, he worked part-time as a budget analyst at Fordham. Then, after he graduated, he took the position of housing coordinator, setting up Section 8 housing in Mt. Vernon. “I discovered an affinity for government work, and I paid my father back,” he said.
He met his future wife, Robin Phelps, 45 years ago, while working as sales manager for Stouffers at their White Plains office. “I was low man on the totem pole and had to learn a lot through selling,” he recalled. “The most important thing I learned was that people buy for their reasons, not yours!”
Latimer allowed that his sales skills may have given him an edge in public office, as has his belief in bipartisanship.
During his term on the Rye City Council, 1988-1991, he became National Director of Sales for Benchmark Hospitality.
In 1991, he threw his hat into the ring for a seat on the Westchester County Board of Legislators and became the first Democrat to win the 7th District. Then, in 1997, after the Democrats won a majority, he became the first Democrat to serve as chairman.
“I had the managerial skills to be majority leader,” he said.
From there, Latimer continued to rise in New York State’s political ranks, serving in the State Assembly for four terms, before being recruited to run for State Senate when Suzi Oppenheimer decided to retire. Challenging two-term County Executive Rob Astorino in 2017 seemed a lateral move at the time, but Latimer is now in his second and final term and not resting on his laurels. He is on a mission to establish an immigrant court in White Plains.
As an Irish-Italian kid who grew up in the Black section of Mt. Vernon, Latimer said he learned early on how to live and interact with people of all backgrounds. “I witnessed racism, antisemitism, and discrimination against gays and have worked to ensure the human rights of all.”
He said he is going into the Congressional race “with the knowledge that most of us are in the middle. Most of us want environmental advancement, lower taxes, less crime. Unlike my opponent, I don’t aspire to be a national public figure, and I am sensitive to the needs of the entire population, not just one portion of it.”
Having recently returned from a solidarity trip to Israel, Latimer was full of stories about his visit to a kibbutz that had been attacked and his meetings with families of hostages, President Isaac Herzog, and Opposition leader Yair Lapid.
“Our Jewish brothers and sisters are in trouble, and the State of Israel is a democracy, which is what we hope to see more of in the world,” Latimer said. “Our country is standing by Israel.”
He added, “If I beat the incumbent and am elected, I will be one of 434 representatives and I will take rational positions and work toward bipartisan solutions.”