In County Executive Sessions

The incumbent, Rob Astorino (R), walked into our offices last week with his senior advisor and asked how the family dog was. The County Executive has been here on several occasions, once with his daughter, who was impressed that we brought our dog to work.

Astorino
Published September 26, 2013 5:52 PM
4 min read

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AstorinoThe incumbent, Rob Astorino (R), walked into our offices last week with his senior advisor and asked how the family dog was. The County Executive has been here on several occasions, once with his daughter, who was impressed that we brought our dog to work.

 

By Tom McDermott and Robin Jovanovich

 

AstorinoThe incumbent, Rob Astorino (R), walked into our offices last week with his senior advisor and asked how the family dog was. The County Executive has been here on several occasions, once with his daughter, who was impressed that we brought our dog to work.

 

We didn’t hold the interview in the office this time, because it was a beautiful day and we all wanted to get outside. We headed to the Village Green and sat down at the tables outside the Rye Free Reading Room, where we got down to work.

 

His challenger, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson (D), walked into our offices with two young assistants, bright and early this week. The interview had to be shortened because Bramson had to attend a funeral. Luckily, the candidate gets to the heart of a matter in short order.

 

To cover all the issues we discussed with both candidates, we will run the interviews in two parts. Taxes, cuts to programs, employment, long-range planning, labor agreements, affordable housing, and Playland are some of the issues we discussed.

 

Astorino has kept an important campaign promise: No tax increase. Has it come at a cost?

 

“We’ve been able to pay for programs like daycare, which was seriously underfunded when I took office. Our choice was to either stop the program or come up with a solution. We did the latter by raising the parent share from 20 percent to 27 percent. In most counties in New York State, their share is 33 percent. Through compromise with Democrats on the Board of Legislators, we were then able to expand the program by 592 slots.

 

In the last almost four years, we’ve been confronting issues as they are.”

 

BramsonFrom Bramson’s perspective, “The current administration has borrowed to cover shortfalls and failed to examine the real cost and benefits of cuts. Childcare cuts were shortsighted, aside from moral concerns, the final impact will be negative, with more people on welfare and more children in services.”

 

Getting union employees to contribute to their health care benefits is the talk of the country, and Bramson has told his friends in labor “that there has to be a change. But we need to encourage a culture and climate of respect and good faith. Benefit contributions can be on a sliding scale. I’ll be a tough negotiator, but respectful.”

 

On union contracts, Astorino has been vocal since Day One. “Taxpayers were paying 100 percent of union members benefits before and after they retired, $130 million in the County alone.”

 

Five of the eight union contracts have been settled, starting with the Teamster’s Union, Astorino noted. Current employees are now contributing 10 to 15 percent; new employees are paying 20 percent in perpetuity. “We’re close on two other contracts, just not CSEA. I won’t back down. Every community is a potential Detroit as far as unfunded liabilities.”

 

While the I-287 Corridor is still reeling from the recession, both candidates have economic development plans. Bramson said to focus on development not just along 287 but also in the cities, where there are transportation hubs. “We really need to use planning expertise. The alternative to well-planned growth is urban sprawl.” He added, “And we need to focus on our human capital, skills for the future, and use them as a magnet to attract businesses.”

 

In New Rochelle, Bramson said hundreds of millions of dollars has been invested in the downtown. “We’re rebuilding an urban economy. Construction jobs are temporary, but there will be new jobs to be filled in the new buildings.”

 

Astorino pointed to the fact that many of the buildings along 287 are being repurposed, such as Lifetime Fitness in the old Gannett building. White Plains Hospital is undergoing a $108 million renovation, which means the hiring of 500 new people. Sloan-Kettering is coming in.

 

He’s proud of his track record of convincing businesses to stay.

 

“I’ve been proactive meeting with service management and local development corporations,” he offered. “Pepsico was going to move hundreds of employees out of Purchase. Instead, they’re renovating the building. Regeneron, a pharmaceutical firm, is going to expand in the old Union Carbide space in Mt. Pleasant. I’m also working with small businesses, like the Peekskill Bakery and Hemanos Remos, which makes their own tacos, in Port Chester, providing them with incentives and options.”

 

He added, “And we’ve made biotech a cornerstone of our plan. We’re trying to match up the intellectual capital that is clustered in Central Westchester.” He said he’s had a good conversation with Mario Gabelli, who is happily situated in his Rye headquarters, about working on pitches to other hedge funds.  

 

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