After eight years of Republican rule in Westchester County, Democratic New York State Senator George Latimer officially became the ninth county executive on New Year’s Day 2018, ousting incumbent Rob Astorino, who had served two terms. He took the oath of office in a small ceremony in his new chambers at the county’s office building in White Plains. He immediately went to work issuing the first executive orders of his new administration.
Other significant election day results handed Latimer a Democratic majority in the county legislature. Although he campaigned on a theme of change, he will retain seven of the Astorino commissioners and department heads.
A formal inauguration event was held at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, New York, on Sunday, January 7. Dignitaries in attendance included New York Governor Andrew Cuomo; Westchester’s other representative in Congress, Eliot Engel; County Clerk Tim Idoni; State Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins; Westchester District Attorney Anthony Scarpino; and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. For the first time in Westchester history, a local imam participated in a county inauguration. His partially Arabic prayer was part of a tri-denominational invocation, as he joined a pastor and a rabbi. Rabbi Howard Goldsmith, of Congregation Emanu-El of Westchester in Rye, referenced the weekly Torah portion of Shemot by comparing the call that emanated from the burning bush to the call of Westchester’s voters. He also chanted the Shehecheyanu blessing for the incoming administration.
State Senate Minority leader Stewart-Cousins complimented the new county executive on his holding this ceremony seven days after beginning his term. She explained that “by just getting to work, the ceremony for him was much less important than the substance of what he is doing.”
State Attorney General Schneiderman served in the Assembly with Latimer, and described his outlook as that of a “pragmatic progressive with a laser-like focus on delivering results. He believes that evidence always outweighs ideology.”
Representative Engel said that no matter what is going on in Washington, “we want to know that back home, someone is not only watching our backs, but fighting for people on a local level.”
Governor Cuomo recounted his invitation to then-Senator Latimer to “come over to the mansion for a cup of coffee.” During this meeting, he suggested that Latimer challenge incumbent Astorino. Latimer agreed that his candidacy would be a long shot. The governor applauded Latimer’s courage to run. “In this occupation,” said the governor, “courage is the number one qualification.” Following his remarks, the Governor administered the oath of office to Latimer, who was joined onstage by his family.
During his inaugural address, Latimer paid homage to current and former members of all the government bodies in which he had served, including the State Senate and Assembly as well as the County Legislature and Rye City Council, spanning 30 years. While most of the eight predecessors in this office are now deceased, former County Executive Andrew Spano’s presence was acknowledged. Latimer described being given the chance to govern “not as a blank check from you to me to do whatever I wish, but rather as a promissory note from me to you, every single one of you, that it is my intent to serve you wisely.”
The festivities concluded with the new county executive greeting his constituents personally at a small reception.
On the day prior to the ceremony, Latimer made two stops at Jewish events. On Shabbat morning, he visited the Young Israel of New Rochelle’s kiddush, which honored a couple in community leadership who is moving away. Later that night, he joined Westchester Day School supporters at their 70th anniversary dinner.
In the first two weeks of his term, Latimer will make the rounds, visiting every corner of the county on a “Tour of Change.” Also, #MyWestchester is an ambitious social media campaign he will support to promote the county.
By Judy Berger