Opinion

The current political evolution in Westchester

Looking at the results of the November 2017 elections, it was noted that there was a significant shift in the Democratic election successes.

My memories of the power base some 53 years ago showed that the political landscape was principally controlled by the Republican Party. Registered Democrats had little influence in winning voter support. From my observations in 1964, this reality was important. Then I was employed as a community organizer in a significant nonprofit social planning agency where it was critical for me to study the power circles and their impact and influence.

Unfortunately, I was frustrated in my professional interactions because there was no allowance for alternative opinions based on the makeup of the then “power brokers.” What shocked me most was that our principal elected officials were not interested in matters pertaining to the budding elderly population. So I wondered how I might effect a change for achieving a better balance within the power circles by getting Democrats to be more competitive.

These concerns persuaded me to join the Democratic Party in 1965 and volunteer my time in the evenings and on weekends to assist Democratic campaigners. My experience in these efforts were time-consuming, and frustrating because Democrats were usually defeated. Their initiatives against Republicans office holders and/or office seekers proved to be a bigger hurdle than envisioned because the Westchester County executive races for Republicans were usually won by pluralities exceeding 100,000 votes.

From 1965 to 1969, the chance for a change in the county executive races for Democrats was out of reach. Then, in 1969, something unusual occurred. The then Democratic candidate for county executive lost his race by 52,000 votes. To me, this occurrence modified the voting “calculus.” It proved that a Democrat had the possibility to exceed this voter plurality given that the Democrats selected a charismatic candidate.

Alfred Del Bello was chosen as the Democrat’s candidate in 1973 for the county executive race. This was a stroke of good luck because Del Bello was an outstanding choice with impeccable credentials. Yes, he won the race, becoming the first Democrat to do so; he served for two terms, and left when elected to the position of lieutenant governor of New York state.

It was at this time that the county executive races were filled between Republican and Democratic candidates without either party controlling the trends as existed in past. We saw Andrew O’Rourke, a Republican, succeed Del Bello. Then Andrew Spano, a Democrat, followed O’Rourke and served for three terms and ran for a fourth term before being ousted by Rob Astorino, another Republican.

Once in office, Astorino unexpectedly became popular once he implemented his financial policy, supporting the practice to stop collecting county taxes. Voters favored this initiative and benefitted by this idea over his first eight years in office. Not surprisingly, Astorino went on to serve for two terms despite against an ever-increasing registration of Democratic voters. His slogan “No New Taxes” excited voters; and projected that he would win his third term.

Despite Astorino’s successes, the back and forth rotation of office seekers for Westchester County executive continued with the entry of former state Sen. George Latimer, a Democrat, into the race to stop Astorino from winning a third term. What unfolded in this race was that it was a “game changer.” It proved a shift among the power brokers, moving away from a long line of Republicans wins to Democrats. Most interesting in this race was the adaptation by Latimer of two critical themes. One was to prove that Astorino hurt the county by losing the county’s favorable bond rating under his “no new taxes” strategy. Latimer also advocated that his campaign rebuke the policies and practices applied to the governance styles of Donald Trump in his role as president of the United States. Both these strategies captured the public’s attention; and they voted overwhelmingly for Latimer. After 53 years, the landscape of political power brokers changed.

Yes, change can sometimes be difficult to achieve, but to me it is possible if you pay attention to the circumstances and become involved in the process and have faith in our voters. I believe that the voters of our county should be congratulated. They were guided in this election by the mistakes of both Astorino and Trump; and grasped the hope for the tomorrows.

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