Thursday, July 24, 2008
Catherine Wilson, Bureau Chief
Rob Astorino thinks About 2009
Westchester County Executive, Andrew Spano, will be up for re-election in November 2009. Although the election is sixteen months away, prospective candidates are starting to consider the feasibility of mounting an opposing campaign. One of the possible candidates is Rob Astorino, a resident of Mt. Pleasant, currently a producer for SIRIUS Radio’s Catholic Channel. Astorino has not yet announced that he will run for the office, but acknowledged that he is considering the possibility.
Astorino, a 42 year old father of two, is a Communications graduate of Fordham University. His political experience encompasses a two-year stint on the Mt. Pleasant Board of Education and eight years as a Town Councilman for the Town of Mt. Pleasant. He ran for Westchester County Legislator in District 3, Mt. Pleasant and environs, in 2003 and narrowly won election over John Nonna, former Mayor of Pleasantville, and current district legislator, with 52% of the vote.
Astorino served one term in that position and ran for County Executive in 2005 against Spano, receiving 42% of the vote. In preparation for a possible rematch in 2009, Astorino is currently Rob Astorino inks About 2009 soliciting support before further evaluating his options.
The Guardian spoke with Mr. Astorino recently to discuss his concerns and ideas for the County.
Guardian: “What do you see as the biggest issue facing our County?”
Astorino: “Taxes are completely out of control and people are really hurting. The current situation will continue to spiral unless we get it under control. I know of many former residents who moved to Fairfield County where the cost of living is so much cheaper. They can still keep their friends and their jobs but pay far less in taxes. Older residents are moving to Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas to escape the high taxes. We’re losing the fabric of our communities. And, the costs keep increasing.
The County just found three different reasons to purchase a building (the new Board of Elections building) to pay off political debts. We can’t have that.”
Guardian: “What solutions do you propose?”
Astorino: “We need to reform County government. We need to look for ways to consolidate and merge departments. Union leaders and county workers need to be involved in the process. We need better solutions than simply buying supplies like paper in bulk. It might mean merging police departments and sharing highway services. But that could improve services since we could see the ‘big picture’ county-wide.
We also need to examine the view of abolishing County government or reducing its size. The larger the County government grows, the more painful it is for residents to absorb the taxes to pay for it.”
Guardian : “Are there other ways the County can cut back to reduce taxes?”
Astorino: “We have to rethink where we’re spending taxpayers’ money. Playland has to be fixed; we cannot keep losing $4 million on this, alone, each year. We have to question everything. The current administration is not doing that. After twelve years in office they’re
simply running out of steam and losing sight of issues.
Take the County Phone Contact System.
The purpose of this system was to notify residents of local emergencies, not to make phone calls for political purposes. Residents are getting calls to inform them that there are free movies in County parks. If the system is used like this, it’ll become like the boy who cried wolf; when residents see they have a call from the County, it’ll get ignored.”
Guardian: “In the interim, what about adopting the ‘circuit-breaker’ approach to County taxes, proposed by Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, that ties property taxes to income?”
Astorino: “I don’t know enough about this program, I’d want to see if this is just shifting the cost to higher earners.”
Guardian: “In light of the recent financial abuses in County government, would you increase audits and other investigations of County resources and open the County books and budgets?”
Astorino: “Government needs to be transparent.
The budget process needs to be more open. The budget is now released in November, after the election. It doesn’t give the taxpayers
a chance to know what will be spent in advance; it only gives the Board of Legislators four weeks to review. The budget should be submitted by mid-October, at the latest. I’d also strengthen the audits of the County books, beginning with the County Executive’s office.”
Guardian: “What do you see as the most significant social issues facing our County?”
Astorino: “The handicapped and elderly will always need services and we can always do better in providing those services. That is a core function of government – to help those who cannot help themselves. That makes it even more important to run a lean operation to be able to handle these issues.”
It is noteworthy that Astorino did not elaborate further on other social issues affecting local residents such as education, immigration, employment, and medical insurance. As a County Legislator, Astorino was involved in sponsoring legislation and approving County funds in the following areas:
He obtained unanimous legislative support for a $1.4 million construction project to build a Little League field in Mt. Pleasant in November 2004. He joined in bipartisan support for amendments to the 2006 County budget to cut back the 95 new positions proposed by the County, cutting $6 million from various welfare programs, and adding $500 thousand for day care, while calling for the appointment of
an Inspector General to audit County spending and adherence to procedures and policies, in December 2005. As a member of the County’s Committee on Public Safety, and Criminal Justice, he voted against legislation requiring the registration of ATM machines. This registration, which passed, mandates that all ATM machines in the County must post an ATM Consumer Advisory notifying users of safety steps to take while using the machine as well as which County office to contact with concerns and problems, in June 2004. Astorino also voted against modifications to this legislation two months later.
As Chairman of the Parks Committee, he voted for a $2.2 million bond to replace the roof of the boathouse at Playland, in November 2004. However, at a previous hearing, Astorino voted against a $1.25 million bond to restore the Dragon Coaster at Playland, in September 2004.
Bill Ryan, Chair of the Board of Legislators, subsequently replaced Astorino as Chair of the Parks Committee, claiming in a press release dated December 30, 2004 that “He (Astorino) couldn’t attend the Budget Committee’s briefing on parks because of his job”.
Ryan then appointed Jose Alvarado to replace Astorino. In his first hearing as Chair in January 2005, Alvarado passed the legislation to approve the Dragon Coaster funding.
Astorino was involved in other issues while serving as a County Legislator. Among them: licensing of county property to be used as parkland, amending sewer districts and approving sewerage and water treatment budgets, co-sponsoring legislation curtailing the use of eminent domain seizures, and protecting domestic violence victims from eviction by landlords.
All of Astorino’s voting record and committee meeting minutes can be obtained through the Board of Legislator’s website at http://www.westchesterlegislators.com/. The County political makeup has changed since Astorino last held office. In 2004, in his home town of Mt. Pleasant, campaign contributions to Republicans outnumbered Democrats 56% to 24%, with the remaining campaign contributions going to political action committees.
In 2008, that statistic has been dramatically reversed; area Democrats now receive 49% of local contributions as compared to only 20% for Republicans. In addition, the County Board of Legislators has been threatening to put limits on campaign contributions and spending for local political races, including County Executive. However, the Legislature has, as yet, to pass any such legislation, though past efforts received
significant support from outside groups such as the League of Women Voters and local residents.
If next year’s campaign for County Executive concentrates on such issues such as County government spending, perhaps a good place for the candidates, whoever they may then be, to exhibit their own prudent fiscal policies, would be with their own campaigns.