With the November elections a few short weeks away, Westchester residents are preparing to head to the polls to select their district’s next state senator. Democrat George Latimer seeks to retain the seat he has held since 2012, and is being challenged by a newcomer to the state election scene, Rye Deputy Mayor Julie Killian.
In discussions with The Jewish Link, Latimer was emphatic on the subject of Israel’s security and right to exist. “Hopefully like most Americans, I believe that Israel is our strongest ally in the Middle East. It is the region’s only democracy. I firmly support the country and its right to exist. The first right of any country is its right to defend and protect its own survival. It has to survive and the US has to stand behind it.”
Latimer made two trips to Israel, in 2005 and 2006, and he said that those trips helped him to understand Israel’s need to be strong and to defend itself against its enemies. “Even in war, Israel’s economy thrives. Israel only wants peace; it does not want war. The other Middle East countries must work with them and put aside their religious differences so they can work together.”
He continued, “The US has to stand behind Israel. Whatever disagreements we have with it, we have to treat it like brothers who disagree.”
Latimer also spoke about Israel from a personal perspective, “The Israeli government opened the holy Christian sites so that I can see them. They respected my faith and allowed me to connect with my religious traditions.”
Moving on to the first issues he plans to address if elected, the senator noted that they are “reform, education and taxation, and they are all of relatively equal importance.”
Regarding reform, his position is clear. “If you want to change the power structure, you need to decentralize the power. Right now there is too much power in too few hands.” Not just power, he added, but money as well, is controlled by the same few individuals. “The combination of money and power in the same hands leads to corruption,” he said.
Latimer also believes there is too much centralized control over education. “I am a suburban legislator. I want there to be local control over the schools unless they are not performing well.” He recommends identifying the percentage of high school graduates who go on to two- or four-year colleges, and another spot analysis after four years to determine graduation rates. This, he believes, would reflect proper high school preparation if the percentage is high. Only if the districts prove to be underperforming should the state step in. “There needs to be a differentiation between the districts that are performing and those that aren’t,” he said.
He went on to discuss the problem of taxation, specifically unfunded mandates, which are tasks that the state requires of local governments, but for which it does not pay. Those costs are offset by local taxes, mainly in the form of property taxes. Latimer believes that needs to change.
The senator continued by addressing New York State’s anti-BDS legislation. The legislation passed in the Senate, but not the Assembly, and the governor used his executive authority to implement most of the content of that bill. “I voted for it,” stated Latimer. “The bill is not just Israel-specific. It is broad enough to include other of our allies as well.” He believes that legislation needs to have bi-party support.
Wanting to dispel any preconceived notions voters may have, he emphasized, “My current demographics don’t define me; my past defines me. I grew up on the south side of Mt. Vernon, in a blue-collar neighborhood. I went to public school. I lived in a little house in an urban environment. People look at me now and assume that I’m part of the ‘good ol’ boys’ network,’ but I’m not.”
He continued, “I am running this campaign trying to make a positive case for why I deserve to remain in this State Senate seat. I represent the kind of legislation that people want to have. Yes, I am a Democrat, but I have an independent voting record. I believe I bring a strong package to the table. I really want to help make the kinds of change I’ve articulated.”
Latimer, 62, holds a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University and a master’s degree in Public Administration from NYU’s Wagner School. He started his political career in 1987 with a seat on the Rye City Council, followed by a position in the Westchester County Legislature, where he eventually became its first Democratic chairman in Westchester history. During his first 10 years in office, he continued to hold a full-time job in the private sector, specifically hotel development and market analysis, a field in which he spent a total of 20 years. In 2004 he successfully ran for the New York State Assembly, where he remained until he was elected to the State Senate for New York’s 37th district in 2012. He jokes that, if elected, he will be “the oldest sophomore you ever met.”
When people ask, “What have you done for me lately?” Latimer responds by reminding them of his record. “I have co-sponsored bills, put bills in established committees and advocated for my ideas. I do not have the capacity to force the Senate to act. I can only work to the best of my ability for my constituents.” His hope is that voters allow him to continue to do just that.
By Jill Kirsch