County Executive Latimer's 2019 State of the County Address Print

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Apr. 24, 2019:  Editor's note:  Below is an unedited version of County Executive George Latimer's 2019 state of the county address, which he delivered in White Plains on April 11, as it appears on the Westchester County website. Click here for a video of the address


By Office of County Executive, Westchester County

Good Evening.

I come before you tonight in this historic Chamber where I am a guest, but where I spent nearly a decade and a half of my public life. You have always made me feel at home and welcome here and for that I am grateful. This is the prescribed moment at which the Executive Branch presents to the Legislative Branch our vision of the State of this County we call home. This is a tradition patterned when President Woodrow Wilson journeyed up Pennsylvania Ave to Capitol Hill, but here in our County government, it is a short distance between the 8th floor and the 9th floor of this building. Within our separate and equal duties and obligations, we bridge that distance not with an elevator but with mutual respect, with an appreciation for our common belief in public service, and the duty we share to the nearly one million people of Westchester that unites us.

Thank you Mr. Chairman -  it is an honor to be here tonight.

I want to thank the entire Board of Legislators. Please stand to receive our applause. You have raised the standard for your positions, and have advocated for your communities with passion and perseverance. And all of us value your service.

It is noteworthy that the Westchester Board of Legislators was recognized by the New York State Association of Counties for being the only County Board in the state with a majority of women members. This is the first time women have held the majority of seats on the County Board. We are extremely proud to be leading the way for women entering the political arena in greater numbers. The increase of women in elected office means a greater understanding of humanitarian efforts and needs, especially with respect to education, childcare, health and housing - the basics of human advancement. The current board is the most diverse in our County's history, including more legislators who are people of color than ever before.

I would like to specifically recognize three members of the Board who have announced that they will not be seeking re-election beyond the conclusion of the term at hand. Legislator Virginia Perez, Minority Leader Legislator John Testa and Legislator Michael Kaplowitz, a fellow former Chairman of this Board. All three have served their communities honorably. We may not have always agreed on specific issues or votes - but in a democracy, that is not necessary. It is their commitment to their own beliefs and ideals in representing their constituents, their service for the people of Westchester that commends them. I’m confident they will continue to serve in other ways in the days to come. Mike and John, please stand for a much deserved thank you from those of us in attendance this evening.

We have present tonight Westchester District Attorney Anthony Scarpino, and County Clerk Tim Idoni - it is a great pleasure to work with you. 

Let me thank the members of my executive team who are here tonight; Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins, Director of Operations Joan McDonald, Chief of Staff Andrew Ferris, County Attorney John Nonna and Communications Director Catherine Cioffi. I could not claim a single accomplishment that did not have their wisdom and ability as its foundation. I am deeply grateful for your work and your friendship.

We have partners alongside of us, in town, city and village governments, and on school boards. We salute your public service as well. And from our neighboring counties - County Executive Steve Bellone of Suffolk and Laura Curran of Nassau - we learn from each of you every day, as we all find our way through the challenges at hand.

And, I must salute the men and women of our State Delegation - Assemblymembers and Senators, led by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow. I have served alongside them in Albany and together they have fought our battles for a better Westchester. The same must be said of our Congressional delegation, the marvelous Nita Lowey, Eliot Engel and Sean Patrick Maloney, and our US Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. They are all national figures who never lose interest in the affairs of this County or its people.

We salute Westchester’s most prominent resident/elected official - Governor Andrew Cuomo. The scope of his task is far greater than ours - but we deeply appreciate his leadership on those matters that affect us, and we value his friendship.

And may I recognize tonight the many County employees who serve us all - as we have opened this speech to every single worker and resident of this County. I ask that all County workers stand up for a round of applause - thank you for all that you do to keep this County running day after day after day. 

For those who have tuned in at home on News 12 or Fios 1, and those watching on Facebook Live, you are part of this family as well. To those watching elsewhere on the 8th floor or on the 9th floor through a Spanish interpreter, Buenas Noches, Me da placer estar con ustedes esta noche. Je parle francais un peu, mais...I have a long way to go in my Spanish.

Now to the substance of the evening.

Much has changed since I last stood before you here in this Chamber. It has been a year of progress - significant progress - but still the realization that we have far to go. We are not yet satisfied. And we are not tired. As we work many late nights and early mornings - from Pound Ridge to Yonkers, from Harrison to Somers and from the Hudson River to the Sound Shore - one thing that has struck me, over and over again, is the need - and the willingness - as residents to stick together and to work together. 

Here in Westchester County we take care of each other. We do not turn our backs on our brothers and sisters - we won’t have that. Over these past 12 months, since I last stood before you, I have signed many bills and executive orders to help the people of this County have a better life, and to help their children have better lives. 

Just last month we all watched in horror as we saw the news unfold. Halfway around the world a gunman opened fire at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. We here in Westchester could have turned our backs and gone on with the rest of our day. These weren’t our neighbors, these weren’t our personal friends - but that is not what we do here in Westchester. Instead, I heard from the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities offering support to our New Zealand brothers and sisters. We responded by rejecting hate and ensuring all Westchester residents feel supported and welcome. This is our common response to hatred, whether violence at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, in a Kentucky supermarket, a newspaper office in Annapolis, in a French nightclub. Anywhere. We stand together against violence and hatred.

We have a professional law enforcement team in our Westchester County Department of Public Safety, headed by Commissioner Tom Gleason, to shield us from violence in our everyday world. The men and women under his direction do exemplary work for us day-in and day-out. And we selected top leadership from within, someone who held a career in local law enforcement, and we did so out of respect for the men and women of this Department.

But the roots of hatred and violence must be dealt with long before the officer on the beat responds to the incident itself. We must rely on other tools at our disposal - the re-energized Human Rights Commission, our Youth Bureau, our Office for Women and the leadership of these organizations to stand up for tolerance and rationality and civility.

I am announcing tonight that I will be hosting a round table with religious leaders from across this County to discuss tolerance, and to talk about ways to find civil peace through religion and conversation. Tasked with helping pull this important discussion together will be my office’s Liaison for Faith-Based Partnership Initiatives Crystal Collins.

Being tolerant and compassionate is not merely a social good. It is the foundation for creating a safe living environment where we can all achieve and thrive…My friends, inclusion and cooperation is good economic policy.

Westchester County’s economy is strong and growing. The government of the County is not the source for that growth...but we are a strong and reliable partner in those economic development efforts.

Just a few days ago, the Westchester County Industrial Development Agency granted preliminary approvals for incentives for three major projects in downtown White Plains, that will involve more than $1.2 billion in private investment.

The three projects will create more than 3,000 construction jobs, and more than 500 full and part-time jobs. The IDA, in a session held right here in this building, approved incentives for a nearly $600 million redevelopment of the current White Plains Mall, and incentives for the approximately $500 million redevelopment of the former Westchester Pavilion Mall. Both mixed-use projects will offer a total of 1,674 rental apartments, and street-level retail space.

We have been a partner with those concerned about the recent Con Edison gas moratorium, and we have responded swiftly to those concerns. We cannot let this impact our ability to build market rate and affordable housing, and to attract business small, large and mid-sized to our home. I was pleased when Governor Cuomo and his team committed NYSERDA and NYPA to a $250 million action plan for Westchester. We are still working with the municipalities and the developers who are impacted by this moratorium – and we are working with them to get the resources they need to manage the projects that are at risk. This includes economic incentives for clean alternative energy sources, and job training to make sure we have a workforce that can assess the feasibility and install new energy sources. We have supported environmentally responsible economic development here in the County – and development that adds tax rateables to our bottom line, and good-paying jobs for our workforce. Business development goals working in harmony with environmental goals, employment goals and financial goals - all achieving the same goal. Together.

I am focused on business and what we can do to cultivate more opportunity. We have revitalized our MWBE program after hearing the needs of Minority and Women Owned Businesses here in the County. MWBEs are an engine of economic development in Westchester, and the establishment of a task force has created a platform to make improvements to our program to help build capacity, and create more economic opportunities for our minority and women-owned businesses. I want to thank Martha Lopez, Liaison for Immigrant Affairs, for her work on this.

I have also signed the Certified Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses in County Contracts measure into law. The law aims to boost Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Businesses by ensuring they are considered for future County contracts, across all County Departments. The services these businesses offer range from construction to information technology. This is one of the most important things we can do to help disabled veterans make the transition to civilian and private life from a business standpoint. We believe this type of outreach will help us get a much higher percentage of veteran owned businesses to participate in the economic strength of this County. We have one of those veterans here tonight, William Segel who pushed for this law. Will is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who also owns Segel & Company based in Tarrytown. Will, please stand.

In January, I signed the North 60 deal. Fareri Associates President John Fareri and I signed the 99-year lease at the 2019 Westchester County Association Breakfast in front of hundreds. The move cemented Westchester County as a leader in the growing bio-tech field. The agreement with the County calls for Fareri to develop an innovative hub with a focus on biotech, life sciences and medical technology research and development – a rapidly expanding field – together with retail and hotel space. The initiation of this plan began under Rob Astorino, for which I have acknowledged his critical role. The day of full build out - the big ribbon cutting - may well come under the tenure of one of my successors. The “credit” is irrelevant; we are doing what we must to advance this project for all the benefits it promises, redefining Westchester’s business appeal.

Our office of Economic Development is invigorated under the leadership of our Economic Development Director Bridget Gibbons; through her vision, we recently launched Element 46 during a ceremony at the opening of The Business Council of Westchester’s 2019 Business Expo. Element 46 is designed to provide entrepreneurs whose businesses are in the early stages of development with free workspace, free mentoring from experts, free professional services, team-building and skill sessions.

By bringing together the very best entrepreneurial ideas, and supporting them with the immense talent and resources of this County, I am confident that we’ll be able to cultivate high-growth companies that will drive economic development for Westchester, and also serve as a great reminder of the benefits of working, living and playing right here in our County.

The first cohort will consist of 15 entrepreneurs - and applications can be submitted through Element 46’s website, element46.org.

Also this last year we launched the “Big Ideas” Series - a series of breakfast meetings bringing together local Chambers of Commerce under the direction of Advocacy and Community Liaison Shari Rosen Ascher. We pulled together over 200 members of those chamber leaders across this County to develop plans on how local government can help local business, and what incentives and opportunities are available to local business owners. 

The bottom line is this – we need to attract businesses and keep businesses here in Westchester County to keep our economy thriving. When our businesses thrive, our County thrives, and we want to partner with those businesses, large and small, to meet their employment and technology needs. We also need to recognize that new Economic Development also means new opportunities. That is also why our executive team has gone on site to meet with executives at MasterCard, Regeneron, Danone NA, some of our major and prestigious HQ companies.

Further, we are excited to welcome MGM Resorts International to Westchester County. Empire City Casino President and COO Uri Clinton is here tonight, I would like him to stand for a round of applause. They are the largest private employer in the largest city of our County, Yonkers, with exciting expansion plans.

Last Spring under the lights of the Westchester County Center, the WNBA’s New York Liberty moved in, and I was there with many members of my team - woman and men - to cheer them on.  I’m proud to say they will be back in 2019 at their home court, our own County Center.

And, the WNBA is just the beginning. On April 20, we will be welcoming The New York Streets, a National Arena League Football franchise to the County Center. The owner and CEO of the New York Streets is Corey Galloway who, with his wife Tamara Galloway, the team’s Chief Revenue Officer, reside in New Rochelle. We have Corey and Tamara and some players here with us tonight, and I ask them to stand up.

Saturday April 20, the Streets will play their first ever home-opener against the Orlando Predators at the historic Westchester County Center. Kickoff for all home games is 7 p.m. And, while normally I wouldn't want people pulling out their phones during my speech, please pull out your phones right now and go to NYStreetsFootball.com and order tickets to the game. We’ll see you there!

Along with the professional athletes gracing our courts and fields - I am also incredibly proud of our local student teams.

It has been a great season for girls basketball in Westchester County, with local high schools Irvington and Ossining winning New York State Championships. The Archbishop Stepanic Crusaders brought home a Catholic High School Football State Championship this past fall. Westchester is also the proud home of four New York Wrestling State Champions this year, Jake Logan from New Rochelle, Aaron Wolk from Horace Greeley, AJ Kovacs from Iona Prep and Edgemont’s Nick Meglino. Nick Perrone of Walter Panas was the first-place finisher at the bowling state championships this winter, and Laina Campos and Vanessa Ciano from Ursuline girls tennis repeated as State doubles champions. These young Westchester athletes do us all proud.

Let us speak forthrightly about the costs of living here. The tax burden in this County is a heavy one, made up of school taxes, local taxes and County tax levy. This year, due to the politics of Washington DC, we have seen an exponential increase in our federal income taxes, far greater than any other single year tax increase ever seen, thanks to the loss of the full SALT deduction. That policy imposed was purposefully devastating. People are seeing it now as they file their 2018 Federal Income taxes. A few may benefit, but the many are struggling with thousands more owed to the Federal government. This is what happens when a level of government chooses not to work together, but rather to divide and conquer. That tax policy punishes the states that build necessary mass transit; that punishes the states that provide more professional police and fire services, and ensures a higher quality of K-12 education. Those of us in local government are left to our own devices to try to offset a massive redistribution of Federal dollars taken away from us, to benefit those that do not provide full services to their residents.

Shortly after taking office we started a New Shared Services Program. I encouraged municipalities to find ways to save money and improve services by banding together and sharing equipment, contracted services and facilities where possible. We crafted a new plan in 2018 with public and local government input, that offers greater savings than the previous effort, and we look to adjust the plan in 2019 and beyond to find more areas where we can realize savings. 

Let me give you one example. In Westchester County -  together with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran - we have announced a cooperative buying plan for police vehicles – estimated to save around a million dollars. The strategy was to combine the three counties - and the local governments therein -  aggregate purchasing power into a single request for bids, in order to leverage better pricing. This initiative is being led by Deputy Operations Director Emily Saltzman and Special Advisor for Intergovernmental Affairs Susan Spear, and I thank them for recognizing the potential in this program.

We delivered our first budget for Fiscal Year 2019 under the State tax cap, with a modest 2% tax increase. That rate is below the adopted budgets of Rockland and Putnam Counties, and below many of our municipal partners. Moreover, we have crafted a comprehensive Property Taxpayers Protection Act that will ensure a 0% County tax freeze for Fiscal Year 2020 and Fiscal Year 2021; will share as much as $40-plus million additional revenue to towns, villages, small city governments and school districts, over an annual basis; will phase out one-shot financing at budget time; begin to restore our depleted reserve funds and raise back our bond rating to AAA status over time, all for one penny on every dollar of consumer spending. This plan has received bi-partisan support from our town supervisors and village mayors, from our County Legislature, from the State Assembly and passage by the State Senate. Over the coming weeks, we hope to get final approvals - based on the merit of the proposal - and thereby stabilize our County finances without relying on a dime more of property taxes. This is our response to SALT.

We also responded this year negotiating a five-year extension of our contract with Liberty Lines for a Bee Line Bus system, saving $20 million over those five years. We signed a contract with NuEnergen that will involve reducing electric usage in peak demand periods, generating revenue to the County. And, we are close to a contract with Airbnb that will generate occupancy tax revenues. All of these actions, and more, are the actions of a government committed to saving money to reduce tax burden, even as we run this complicated regional government. Your support of these initiatives cements our partnership, legislators and executives, and represents our joint achievement for the people of Westchester.

Working with our neighboring counties has been at the forefront of this past year.  In December, on a cold and rainy day, I traveled to the Bronx to stand with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. to call for Penn Station Access. Shortly after our press conference, Governor Cuomo announced that an agreement had been reached among the MTA, Empire State Development and Amtrak that will lead to four new Metro-North Railroad stations being built in the east Bronx with access to Penn Station. 

The parties signed an MOU allowing the project to move forward. For businesses here in Westchester whose workforce commutes from the Bronx, this agreement between Amtrak and the MTA is a major victory, with the creation of a one-seat ride into Penn Station from Westchester for the first time ever. This agreement makes these communities even more attractive to live in, and raises property values in the process.  I would like to thank all who worked on this, especially my friend the Bronx Borough President. And we are not done. Once New Haven Line riders can access Penn Station, we will work towards doing the same for Hudson Line riders.  

This past year I visited with many of you on a Saturday morning over a cup of coffee - my Coffee and Conversation Town Halls were all about you. I upheld my promise to listen to the concerns of Westchester residents across the County, holding each event in conjunction with a County Legislator. Coffee and Conversation serves as a wonderful listening opportunity, and government is best served when everyone has a seat at the table - and opinions on all issues, both big and small - are heard.

And hear you I did. That is why this year I signed a number of pieces of legislation that you told me were important to you. 

We have set aside $3 million to refurbish and upgrade the historic Elijah Miller House site in North White Plains.

We finalized CSEA union contracts with the County’s largest labor union, officially bringing this years-long saga to a close. I want to thank Westchester County CSEA Unit President Karen Pecora and her negotiating team for their work on this - now every labor contract is settled. And we came to agreement with NYS Nurses and DA Investigators, and fully funded contracts with our Corrections, Police and Teamsters unions.

I signed the Earned Sick Leave bill, a public health measure that allows hardworking Westchester residents to accrue Earned Sick Time at their place of employment.

Also aimed at protecting workers, I signed the Salary History bill into law, this time surrounded by female colleagues.  The Wage History Anti-Discrimination law prohibits employers from asking prospective employees about their previous salary history.

I also signed an Executive Order aimed at putting Westchester residents back to work. The “Fair Chance to Work” Executive Order, that you the Board followed with a law, prohibits the County’s employers from eliminating applicants during the initial application process when they “check a box.”  This policy in no way prohibits background checks or fingerprinting following the submission of an application for employment. But it does give people who have paid their debt to society a second chance to be assessed on their skills and merit, not merely by a mistake made.

I was also proud to sign the bipartisan, unanimously passed Ban on Conversion Therapy. The bill, which I proudly signed shoulder to shoulder with advocates and young people from across this County, bans the practice of trying to alter a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Thank you to Intergovernmental Relations Advisor Steve Bass for his work on this important measure. It was so well received, that the State passed a statewide ban earlier this year.

My message is simple - here is Westchester you belong, you are respected and you are supported.  As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, judged not by the color of your skin, or any other external, but by the content of your character.

This coming June, Westchester is proudly taking part in World Pride that is coming to the United States and New York for the first time. The event is a celebration which also coincides with the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, which is the beginning of the LGBTQ movement.  Our Tourism Department is working with the LGBTQ advistory and The Loft on this important effort.

In Westchester everyone belongs and everyone is welcome. That is why I went to the Generoso Pope Foundation headquarters in Tuckahoe, surrounded by dozens of people speaking Italian, Spanish, Albanian, Chinese and more to sign the Language Access Executive Order, directing all vital County documents be made available in Spanish, Italian, Chinese, French (including Haitian Creole), Arabic, Tagalog, Japanese and Albanian. 

In Westchester we all count, and that is why just last week, on the one year mark to the launch of Census 2020, I introduced Westchester County’s “Complete Count Committee.”  The Committee created by executive order is charged with developing strategies for an accurate count, and encouraging every County resident to participate in the 2020 Census. This data is vital for our budget process because it allows us to have a better understanding of how much funding we are going to receive, and how we can properly allocate it. I want to ensure that every person, regardless of citizenship status, be accounted for without fear of retaliation. I want to thank Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins for his important work on this.

The new and existing committees and advisory boards - the Board of Health, the Parks Board, the Planning Board, the Women’s Advisory Board, the Council for Seniors, the Hispanic and African-American Advisory Boards and so many more -  have become a vital part of the workings of this administration. I am pleased that, since taking office, we have appointed over 250 men and women to serve voluntarily on our boards and commissions, bringing a huge influx of talent and experience to support the work of County government.

By an Executive Order I created the Westchester County Correction Advisory Board and the Westchester County Probation Advisory Board. The Boards are comprised of a diverse group of members who have a deep knowledge of our local communities and criminal justice system, who can assist with providing guidance to both departments.

Tonight I am announcing that I am submitting legislation to expand the Police Advisory Board - moving from five to nine members consistent with our other law enforcement advisory boards. 

The September 11th Memorial Committee was also announced on the last anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I am committed to constructing a memorial to Westchester residents who have died from 9/11 related illnesses. Westchester is home to many heroes who ran toward the chaos on that fateful day, and in the days following it. These heroes subjected themselves to various dangerous fumes and chemicals which caused permanent damage. They deserve to be honored, and we here in Westchester are going to honor them. I want to thank the members of that committee who are here with us tonight for helping us find a fitting tribute to your loved ones. 

This past year I also announced the appointment of new members to the Westchester County Airport Advisory Board. When it comes to the operations at the Westchester County Airport - never has an administration been so responsive.  We heard from the public about water, air quality and noise concerns - and my administration is in constant communication with the Airport Advisory Board. We have hosted three Public Hearings on the airport to hear directly from the public. Every community impacted by the airport had a seat at the table. I am proud to say that we re-instituted the water testing program, we are doing an emissions study on the quality of the air around the airport, we have converted many of the airport’s vehicles to electric, replaced old oil burning boilers at the airport, and deployed several portable noise monitors in areas of the County where noise complaints are spiking. We are in the process of upgrading our fixed noise monitors to state-of- the-art technology in order to better address the noise complaints.

I am pleased to announce that in 2018 VRFFs, also known as overnight flights, have been reduced after an active outreach and education program with both the FBOs and commercial airlines. A significant victory for our residents.  We intend to continue these efforts towards even further improvements.

Earlier this year, we received the unanimous approval to begin the routine maintenance runway repaving project. This construction project, which will create numerous construction jobs, has with it a project labor agreement, the largest public works project this year, that will employ union workers at good wages.  We want to thank for brothers and sisters in the building trades for this exciting time in Westchester history.

This airport is not merely about airplanes - there are people who make it run smoothly day to day.  In January, we watched TSA workers continue to do their jobs amid a federal government shutdown. They carried themselves with decorum, and I was proud to stand with them and hear their stories, and provide them with recognition and respect for their patience during a trying time.

The men and women of the County departments work tirelessly to help and protect the people of Westchester. We recognize them monthly in our “Above and Beyond” email, and while there are too many to name in this speech, we ensure that all our workers see the accomplishments of their co-workers. 

A few months ago, our Office for People with Disabilities and the Department of Social Services went above and beyond for a little boy named Gian Raul. Gian was stuck in the hospital for four months, first being hospitalized for anemia. Gian was still not approved for a Medicaid waiver, something he needed for Medicaid insurance to cover around the clock in-home nurse care.

Without the care in place, the hospital could not discharge him to return home to his mother and father, and brothers. When the Westchester County Department of Social Services heard about the problem, they stepped in and approved the much needed Medicaid waiver to help Gian get back home. While Gian is non-verbal, his eyes and his heart are, and I was lucky enough to get to read him a book when I visited with him and his parents at his home.  Gian and his family are with us tonight.  I want to thank Department of Social Services Commissioner Kevin McGuire and Office for People with Disabilities Director Evan Latainer for their efforts.  Let's give them all a round of applause.

While here in Westchester we are hard at work making sure we don’t turn our backs on those who need us most – we must be sure to always have the backs of those who served our Country.  Under the leadership of the Director of the Westchester County Veterans Agency Ron Tocci, my Administration has begun an unprecedented dialogue with some of our County’s newest veterans to ensure they are getting all the support they need as they transition back to civilian life.

These efforts include roundtable discussions at Westchester’s colleges with campus veterans groups to hear directly from veteran-students about what they need most – and how to best provide it to them. Based on these discussions, we are proud to announce a new approach – mobile office hours for the Veterans Service Agency.

Monthly, this office will set up shop in different student unions and other places where the newest generation of veterans gather in an effort to provide them a chance to learn more about all of the services that we can provide them. Just this past Thursday, my office proudly co-hosted a Student-Veteran Resource Fair at Concordia College, where we brought together service providers, prospective employers and government officials who could meet with these young vets face to face, and help them in any way they may need. 

Friends, we must always be sure to remember the sacrifice of all of our veterans - both young and old – because without them we wouldn’t be here tonight celebrating the freedoms we all hold so dearly. All veterans please stand - you deserve our applause.

My administration is also focused on celebrating the women of this County. In the spirit of empowerment, inspiration and encouraging women across all boundaries to recognize their own potential, Westchester County hosted WOW Conversations, a Women’s Empowerment Breakfast. The event, held on International Women’s Day at Purchase College, was created to bring together women of different backgrounds, professions and experiences, to celebrate community and the commitment to supporting one another. With a diverse panel of public servants, business owners, educational and spiritual leaders, the Women of Westchester shared their own personal stories and obstacles they overcame to achieve success. The event drew nearly 1,000 women, and some men, from all walks of life.

Since taking office we have been focused on what Westchester can do to reduce our carbon footprint. We started off my term by taking the Green Westchester Pledge, and encouraging others to do the same.

We announced the creation of a Climate Crisis Task Force. Steered by Sustainability and Energy Conservation Director Peter McCartt, the Task Force led by Janet Harckham, Beth Sauerhaft and Anjali (On-ge-lee) Sauthoff (SOW-Toff), will be creating short-term action initiatives the County can take, while in parallel working on an updated long-term Climate Action Plan. Both of these moves will help shape Westchester’s climate future, both now and going forward.

The task force joins an already extensive list of actions taken by my Administration aimed at combating global climate change. A few of these actions include: the aforementioned Demand Response Program that eliminates the chance of brown-outs and black-outs, and the subsequent need for more expansive infrastructure repairs and upgrades; solarizing County properties and facilities; electrifying County fleets, reducing reliance on fossil-fuels and reducing pollutants; expanding recycling measures, including new programs for textile and food scrap recycling, and installing 30,000 LED bulbs County-wide.

Westchester County continues to be a leader in environmental stewardship. Last year, Westchester posted a 50 percent County-wide recycling rate and held three Household Recycling Day Events, the first ones held in the County since 2012. They were a tremendous success, attracting over 7,250 visitors, who delivered over 200,000 pounds of household waste.

There has been much recent media attention given to municipalities throughout the U.S. that have either ended or suspended their recycling programs. A severe downturn in the recyclables markets, caused in large part by China’s stringent import restrictions, has forced jurisdictions across the country to halt recycling.  However, amid all the market chaos, Westchester County’s Refuse Disposal District has continued to market all of its residents’ recyclables. In order to ensure that Westchester will continue to be able to recycle during the recycling market recession, the County is launching a new public education campaign based on a concept known as “Recycle Right.”  In the past, we’ve placed the emphasis on recycling more, but now it’s important that we recycle right, which means including only those items that are recyclable in the bins, keeping recyclables as clean as possible, and never putting them in plastic bags.

50 years have passed since the establishment of the County’s Department of Correction in 1969. In those fifty years - and even in just these last few years - criminal justice has changed and continues to change as we sit here. Our Department of Correction continues to be a national leader by staying ahead of these changes. We are thankfully seeing far fewer people in custody at the jail. But, we recognize that most of the folks at the jail are not headed to state prison. They are more likely returning home, to our cities and small towns. That is why it is absolutely critical that they be equipped with the skills necessary to succeed. In the last year we have added three keynote re-entry programs to the several dozen existing at the jail.

This past year the Department of Correction launched a program with Manhattan College to teach inmates, alongside college students in the jail. The course, “Criminal Justice Ethics: Why We Punish,” is an elective in Manhattan College’s Religious Studies Department. I had the opportunity to sit in on one of these classes, and the biggest take away for me was how focused these men and women were on changing the trajectory of their lives. None of this costs the taxpayers a penny. I’d like to recognize Professor Andrew Skotnicki, who leads the program and is here with us tonight.

Also last November, the Obama Foundation awarded one of our jail-related programs a National My Brother’s Keeper Award. The Program centers on the efforts of the Nepperhan Community Center under the leadership of Dr. Jim Bostic, and the Yonkers City School District, to mentor over two hundred young men of color. Twenty-five of those young men will be getting that mentoring within the walls of the Department of Correction, preparing them to return to Yonkers positioned to not only survive, but to succeed. Commissioner Joe Spano, First Deputy Commissioner Lou Molina, please stand up to be recognized for the tremendous work you are doing.

While we are making great strides - Westchester is in the grip of a crisis brought about by opiates and other drugs.  People of all ages, from all backgrounds and all races and ethnicities have been caught in the web of addiction.  It is a crisis that affects families, communities, public safety and ultimately taxpayers, now, and in the future.  Our Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health along with our Department of Health lead in education prevention and treatment in partnership with community stakeholders.  Commissioner Michael Orth and Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler thank you for the work you do. 

The Department of Probation under the direction of Commissioner Rocco Pozzi is standing side by side with our law enforcement agencies, courts and treatment providers, working one person at a time to ensure that they receive and accept the help that’s out there for them—the help they need. That benefits us all.

This past October, the Hazardous Devices Unit of the Westchester County Department of Public Safety were on the frontlines of pipe bombs mailed to George Soros and Hillary Clinton.  They exhibited bravery during a time of national concern.  Joining us tonight are: Detectives Kenneth Hasko, Anthony Cucinell, Thomas Barker and Jonathan Gould. The commanding officer of the Bomb Squad, Sgt. Edward Devlin, and Detective Nicholas Piqueras could not be with us tonight because they are currently training at the New York State Preparedness Training Center upstate. Please stand, you all deserve a round of applause for your bravery.

In the spirit of streamlining, this year we developed a new process aimed at speeding up and strengthening the County’s infrastructure project process. This new process improves the County’s capital project system by allowing design and construction costs to be bonded together, getting the project out to bid so it is ready for the upcoming construction season. Bidding on design and construction together makes the cost estimate much more realistic, eliminating the need to go back and add additional funds.

While we recognize our roads need fixing, one bridge I’m rather annoyed to constantly hear about is the King Street Bridge. But thankfully, the strikes are getting fewer and fewer. I, along with my Director of Operations Joan McDonald, worked with state to receive $1.8 million for King Street Bridge work.  I want to thank the Governor for understanding just how dangerous and disruptive the bridge strikes are, especially the strikes at the King Street Bridge on the Hutchinson River Parkway.  This money will go a long way towards making sure that only those vehicles that should be on the parkway, are.

While we are focused on keeping roads safe, we are also focused on affordable housing. Along with Planning Commissioner Norma Drummond, we announced plans for the development of 74 units of affordable senior rental housing - at the WestHELP site. That’s hardly a start, but like the Miller House and the Sprain Ridge Pools, we believe in saving things worth saving. We understand the cost of things, and we understand the value of things.

The Westchester Urban County Consortium has been reinvigorated, enabling Westchester’s municipalities to apply for federal community development funding to help municipalities make improvements, to help the County’s neediest population, and to help people stay in their homes.

The new consortium is comprised of 25 towns and villages in the County, with a combined population of over 347,000 residents. Westchester County is now eligible to apply for three grant programs:

Community Development Block Grants, which provides funds to local municipalities and nonprofits for physical facilities and public services and HOME Program which provides funds to developers of affordable housing. All of these programs bring federal dollars back to our communities for projects our towns have identified as meeting their priority needs. We look forward to even more Westchester towns joining the consortium this year.

We will continue our commitment to the development of affordable housing, not because an outside entity tells us we have to, but because it is the right and just thing to do and essential to the growth and development of this County. 

A housing needs assessment is underway. Westchester County has selected “Pattern for Progress,” a not for profit policy, planning, advocacy and research organization. Through this housing needs assessment - we are now able to determine where the demand is greatest - as well as the condition of our housing stock.

Today it was obvious with a warm breeze in the air that spring is upon us, and with that comes time to go out to the Parks. The Westchester County Parks System boasts more than 50 parks facilities and has,  for the fourth time, earned the distinction of being accredited by the National Recreation and Parks Association. Commissioner Kathy O’Connor and Deputy Commissioner Peter Tartaglia please stand, you deserve a round of applause. 

Let us consider Playland. I believe what most of my predecessors believed; this is the jewel of our Parks System. While there are still many unanswered questions about Playland’s governance, which we hope to resolve in the next few weeks, one thing I can tell you with total certainty is - it is going to be a great summer at the park. We are committed to improving the park’s energy and results in 2019.

I am happy to unveil our new advertising campaign. If you could please look to the screen…

Introducing our new and improved Coaster… Playland’s mascot.

Coaster is the brainchild of Carol Genovese (Geno-vee-cee), a graphic designer in our Parks Department.  Our new ad campaign is focused on fun. Modernizing the look of the iconic dragon, and speaking to the children. We have revamped our ad campaign and the ads - with a tremendous focus on social media. We are partnering with “The Peak” to bring live radio broadcasts to the park, and repurposing space. We heard from many residents of the County that they wanted to see public art at the Park, and a museum to celebrate the Park’s past, and this summer we will have both.  On the Boardwalk just north of the Children’s Museum we will have a Playland Museum and a Playland Art Gallery. 

And the celebration doesn’t end there. We are also proud to be introducing “Town Days” this summer.  Each town in Westchester will get their own day at the park with special perks just for their town, on that day.  Also we have booked musical guests beyond Westchester, this summer we are proud to be having Brandi and the Alexanders grace our stage - a WFUV regular and straight out of Brooklyn, we are working to expand our reach. 

We are partnering with the Bronx Tourism Department to cross-advertise, and with local art groups, like Hudson Valley Portraits and Westchester County Photography, to invite artists to use the iconic park as their muse. 

You spoke and we listened - this summer you will have a clean and safe park - with new rides and new food options!

Often on this job I think back to my days as a boy in Mount Vernon.  It was a long time ago.  But as many of you know, I am still a kid from the South Side - just with less hair.

I graduated from Mount Vernon High School in 1970 on Memorial Field - and I want to see that field restored to what it was.  I want children to cheer in the stands watching their older siblings play football on the field, I want to hear music fill the air from concerts and I want to see the High School graduates - the Knights - graduate on that field again.

Just last week, in a packed auditorium at Graham Elementary School, I was proud to be part of a public forum on the future of Memorial Field. The event was an open opportunity for Mount Vernon residents to share their concerns, and ask questions about the future of Memorial Field. It was a great evening, and we aren’t done listening to the public yet. If you were unable to attend the meeting but have a concern you wish to be addressed, please email 

I want to remind everyone, this field belongs to the residents of Mount Vernon - and we are going to restore it - together - for them.  

Ladies and gentleman, for all of this and more, the State of our County is progressing, modernizing and achieving.  And it is our unity and collegiality that opens the door to greatness. We as a County have not yet reached where we want to be, or where we need to be, but we are advancing - and we are doing it together. 

From community activists, to the mothers marching with signs, to the County employees clocking in at 6 a.m., to business leaders cultivating the next great idea, to the business workers working right through their lunch - these are the men and women who keep this County great. 

Let me close with an inconvenient truth: everyday people have lost their faith in government. They have been told that when we work together in self-government, in the slow give-and-take of discussion, and the checks and balances of shared power, all of which protect our personal freedoms, we are out of step with the times. We are told - and many of us believe - that we need only a singular leader, and what is left is our only job, personally: to look out for ourselves, to take care of number one. Just leave us alone; our neighbors will fend for themselves. If I don’t use a public bus, why should I care about it? If I have access to my own flu shots, why should I pay for public health shots for others?

This County is a small part of a big nation. And it is now, and has always been, a great nation. Not “great” because of our military arms or our GDP. Great because we were founded on great principles, ones which we strive everyday to fulfill. In this moment of time, we are not going to give up on democracy - and we’re not going to give up on common purpose. We aim to restore people’s faith and trust - not in “government” per se, but in the mutual commitment we make to each other, to address the problems we face, and to live in harmony.

200 years ago, my ancestors were rural farmers in Ireland and Italy. Each of you have your own family story. I am here today, a native of this County, because of the risk those ancestors took to journey across an ocean to a new world, a better world. We are here, right now together, in this moment, in this land, in all our glorious differences.

Now, it falls to you and me, to strive so that everyone can realize that opportunity. That we rise to the challenges at hand, that we find common ground - Democrats and Republicans, women and men, young, old and middle aged, all religions, all skin colors. The greatest challenge is to give people hope, that we can rebuild trust, by accomplishing tangible things that benefit their lives.

That challenge is greater than any one bill, any one budget. It is greater than any one speech, and it is greater than any one County Executive.

But, it is the challenge of our generation. Other generations who lived here once fought in our backyards for independence, and other generations went off to to end slavery and maintain a union. Other generations dealt with the changes of industrialization - the motorcar replacing the horse and buggy, and others survived a Depression and defeated Fascism that sought world wide domination.

In this generation, we have untold wealth - but not for everyone. We have constant change in communication and knowledge and social connection...but that connection often turns angry and ugly and a way to vent dissatisfaction. In this generation, we have doubt and conflict and cynicism. But we have never failed, in this land, to rise up and meet those challenges and persevere and overcome them. And we will do so again.

Here in Westchester, in New York, let us meet that challenge head on. Together. 

Together.

Together.

Pictured here:  George Latimer.

Photo by N. Bower
 
Editor's note: As a public service, MyhometownBronxville publishes articles from local institutions, officeholders, and individuals. MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements therein, and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff.