For the 100 local business leaders who attended a candidates forum for the county Board of Legislators at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in White Plains Thursday night, the evening’s agenda was pretty predictable: taxes, runaway spending and the implications of an anemic economy.
The Westchester County Business Alliance organized the event. The Alliance is comprised of the Building and Realty Institute, the Construction Industry Council, the Business Council of Westchester and the Westchester Putnam Association of Realtors. Each of these groups got to ask one question to all the candidates. Each candidate also responded to four more questions submitted by audience members.
“This is about giving business people the opportunity to make informed decisions when they go to the polls,” said Marsha Gordon, President/CEO of the Business Council of Westchester.
Plenty of participants played the blame game, complaining about how an opposing political party or other branch or level of government bore responsibility for thwarting progress, but the atmosphere remained civil even when the discussion turned to hot-button issues.
Both Judy Myers of the 7th District (Mamaroneck, Rye, Larchmont, Harrison and New Rochelle) and her Republican challenger Suzanna Keith agreed that flood relief is a major concern along the Sound Shore. Myers pointed to the raft of studies and programs undertaken by the county aimed at helping to reduce flooding, telling Patch that county government is the perfect body to tackle the issue on a regional level and help cut individual municipalities’ costs.
Participants spoke favorably about working in a bipartisan fashion, but some acrimony did emerge. At times, James Maisano, a Republican from the 11th District (Pelham, Pelham Manor and New Rochelle) spoke emphatically about the need to be “extremely aggressive cutting spending.” Michael Kaplowitz, a Democrat form the 4th District (Yorktown, New Castle and Somers), said the county had successfully cut spending without reducing services.
“You can cut the rose back far enough so that you kill it; our job is to pare and prune for future growth,” he said.
Michael Smith, Republican challenger for the 3rd District against incumbent John Nonna (Mount Pleasant, Pleasantville and North Castle), empathized with constituents who are fed up with both parties.
“When people get their tax bill, it doesn’t say Democrat or Republican,” he said.
Questions ranged from how the tax cap would affect the county budget and how the county could ease high unemployment in the construction industry, to the willingness to oppose raising real estate costs like closing fees and property transfer taxes to make up for budget deficits.
When Albert Annunziata, who served as moderator for the forum, asked if there were any lessons to be taken from the recent win by a Republican in former congressman Anthony Weiner’s district in New York City, Board Chairman Ken Jenkins (Yonkers) replied that the victory had “nothing to do with taxes.” Nonna added that in upstate New York, a Democrat won in a traditionally Republican district in a recent special election so “it can go both ways.”
But Peter Michaelis, Republican challenger in the 2nd District, who is taking on incumbent Peter Harckham (D-Katonah), told Patch, “it’s a good time to be a Republican.”
The economy will be the driving factor behind most voting decisions when people go to the polls for countywide elections on Nov. 8, many audience members said.
“Westchester used to be a center for corporate headquarters, but now mid-size to small businesses are the economic engine,” said Yorktown resident Cynthia Rubino, Vice President for Government Relations at Berkeley College in White Plains. “The county Industrial Development Agency is beating the bushes to bring new business here. Economic development is a huge issue and we’re competing fiercely with Connecticut and New Jersey to attract the jobs we so desperately need.”