Latimer: Democrats swept into office “have to prove we can govern well”
Democratic state Sen. George Latimer defeated Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino by a wide margin on Tuesday, surprising many who thought the incumbent would win a third term and perhaps challenge Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the 2018 gubernatorial election. In an interview with City & State’s Grace Segers, Latimer discussed his transitional and legislative priorities, and the Democratic wave of support that may affect New York.
C&S: How do you feel after your victory on Tuesday?
GL: I'm glad it's over, and looking forward to moving ahead.
C&S: What's your top priority for when you get into office?
GL: There's a functional priority right now, which is to pull together a transition team, to find the right people to head the various departments of county government. I want a diverse group of people and I want a talented group of people – I guess everybody says the same thing, right? But I've got a very limited time in that portion of the transition, a little under two months to do that, so that is clearly my job one as I sit right now. I also have to shut down my Senate office and make sure there's a transition in formation for whomever is going to succeed me in that seat. So, that plus the holiday season gives me more than enough to do in the short term.
When I come into office, the first thing I'm going to do – I've had preliminary conversations, but everything before you're elected is just generalities. I'm going to ask the state comptroller to send a team down and look at the finances of Westchester in detail. Because I want to understand, what am I facing as I start the term? The county budget is on a calendar year fiscal year. So the current county executive and the current county board of legislators, they will adopt a budget for 2018. It will be their authority that puts it into place and then I will inherit that on the 1st of January. So I may have input as an interested party, but I don't have a vote, I can't reshape the priorities directly. Long story short, once I settle in, there are some easy quick things to do, things that I've promised along the campaign trail, some of them are fairly light, some of them will involve some negotiations, and almost all of them will involve the involvement of the Board of Legislators, so the Board of Legislators will have to go through their leadership selection process. By the end of January, you may see some of the easier, lighter things happening. The heavier duty things will involve more debate.
C&S: Do you think there are any divisions in Westchester County remaining after this intense campaign?
GL: Well, the divisions that exist in Westchester exist as they do everywhere in the country. There is a certain intense feeling on the right that we've seen that exists in Westchester. It's not as large in Westchester as it is in other parts of the state outside of New York City. But there's also an intense feeling on the left. And I think folks who are more progressive feel like one of their own has now become county executive, and they rightfully expect me to honor the commitments I made during the campaign. Things that relate to the gun show, and the Immigrant Protection Act. So as I go forward to try to honor those things – and I want to do it responsibly, I'm not going to run roughshod over anybody. I want to listen to different voices, but there's a commitment to do some of these changes, and for the people who may be on the far right who didn't fare very well at the ballot box, there's going to be conflict. But I'm not looking to roll over anybody, but I do believe that there are certain things that the people who voted for me expect me to do. This was not a fake mandate. It was created by other things than just George Latimer, I'm not stupid. There's a tidal wave out there that affected a lot of places. But winning 57 percent of the vote is a solid victory and I treat it as a solid statement of support for the direction we're going to go in.
C&S: You're going to be leaving the state Senate, but do you think that your victory, and that of other Democrats around the state, are indicative of a wave of Democratic support in 2018?
GL: I do, but I think you have to parse it out now with what happens in 2018 before we get to the election. The Republicans control Washington, D.C. They have the Congress, they now have the Supreme Court, and they have the presidency. We know there's fissures within the Republican Party, I know it's not monolithic, but the bottom line is they control Washington, D.C., lock, stock and barrel. You look at how they've performed over this year, and it really just doesn't pass muster with people, and I think was part of why you had the reaction in '17 at the ballot box. And as intensely as I'm worrying about my own race and campaigning aggressively – I'm running against a two-term incumbent, he's won by double digits both times, he's run for governor, he has name recognition, he has $4.5 million – I'm not paying complete attention to what's happening in New Jersey and Nassau County. I'm paying attention like any generally interested person would. And when the wave hit, the $4.5 million advantage plus the Mercer million do not save Rob.
So what do I interpret that to mean? In 2018, before we get to the election of '18, those of us who've now got responsibilities – Laura Curran, myself, Phil Murphy, Northam – we're going to have to prove we can govern well. If we prove in our first year that we can do what the Republicans in D.C. did not do the last year, which is govern well, then the doors open. And the doors open for people to say, "Aha, we had this Trumpian philosophy. It didn't manifest itself in any positive government. But then we reversed course in 2017, and look at what's happening in Nassau, look at what's happening in New Jersey, look what's happening in Virginia" – and hopefully – "Look what's happening in Westchester County. These guys are smart, they're working hard, they're doing good things, things make sense." And then that would be the basis for people of 2018 to say, "We have two paths here. There's a Trumpian path, and then there's the path of the Democrats who proved they can govern. And then the tide will go for the Democrats in '18."