WPCNR CAMPAIGN 20013 By John F. Bailey October 3, 2013:
The second Robert Astorino- Noam Bramson debate unfolded at the Reckson Center in White Plains and drew the choice Westchester faces:
Noam Bramson, whose opening statement centered on values of how county government should govern by which he would guide his administration vs. incumbent County Executive Robert P. Astorino’s promise to stay the course and continue what he considers his pragmatic approach to holding taxes down: expense cutting.
Mr. Bramson (left) was buffeted repeatedly by Mr. Astorino’s pointing out his 109% tax increase record in New Rochelle, which Bramson said was over 18 years. Astorino returned to this theme every chance he got.
When Mr. Astorino said that the 18 year record of 109% total tax increase (Mr. Bramson was elected to the New Rochelle City Council in 1995), Mr. Bramson did not counter that with specifics. Astorino said that is true but it works out to a 6-1/2% tax increase a year each year over those 18 years. Astorino clearly undressed Bramson on his tax record with Bramson reduced to shaking his head “no” when Astorino pointed out that the White Plains tax rate is lower than New Rochelle and that New Rochelle is tied with Yonkers. Astorino hammered on this, saying Bramson depleted New Rochelle reserves, paid for services by installing new fees. Bramson did not defend those depictions of New Rochelle financial planning.
On child care, Bramson lashed out at Astorino for raising the costs of child care. Astorino retorted that he had actually increased the number of day care slots by 631 in day care in a spirit of compromise with the County Board of Legislators by raising the cost of present children. Bramson accused Astorino of distorting that, because Bramson said the price increase had resulted in hundreds of children being withdrawn from day care without giving a specific number or an attribution.
Opening with a vision:
Mr. Bramson’s Opening statement stressed his purity of spirit and good heart, saying
”Nothing that is said tonight about our personal character it is about the character of our leadership, it is about the goals we set for county government and the values we apply to public life. There are very significant differences in this election. I’m running for county executive to accomplish things that are important to the future of our region and, in my opinion, have been neglected or undermined the last four years—good planning to create jobs and protect our quality of life.” He said he extolled the values upheld by Democrats and Republicans in Westchester and have been rejected by Rob Astorino: A woman’s right to choose. Common sense gun safety standards. Equal rights for all of us. These are big issues. This is a big election. We should have high standards. I know we can do better. With your help I cannot wait to get to work.”
Mr. Astorino had a record to tout in his Opening Statement:
“I flash back to when I was running in October of 2009 four years ago, you remember what it was like: the county was in a tailspin; the county was spending way beyond its means; taxing way beyond its means; jobs were fleeing. Starwood left Westchester. Blue Sky left Westchester. We had to get in there and do what we said we were going to do and that’s why the voters got a big turnaround in what they were used to in this county. We did everything we said we were going to do. We’re proud of that.
We have to make sure we don’t go back to where we were four years ago where people are being continuously taxed out of their neighborhood. 91% said they loved their neighborhood, they’d love to stay there, but property taxes have crushed the people. Governor Cuomo today said property taxes have become a scourge in this county and in this stare. And we have to do something about that. We have. We go by what I call the three P’s: protecting tax payers, and we have done that we have dropped the tax levy 2%. We are going in a different direction – 17% increase (over the last five years of the Spano administration) before we got there. I’m going to talk about those three P’s: Protecting Taxpayers, Promoting economic growth, Protecting essential Services.”
This morning the Bramson Campaign issued their assessment of their candidate’s performance, writing to supporters with video clip from lohud:
Last night, Noam and Rob Astorino went head-to-head for the first time in this campaign, and Noam scored a big win by presenting a clear choice between the most extreme, right-wing administration of our lifetimes and the moderate, mainstream values Westchester has traditionally held dear.
We need everyone everyone in Westchester to watch this 2 minute video today. There are so many people in the county who don’t know Noam as well as you do — you need to get their attention now and tell them what’s at stake in this election. Post it, tweet it, like it, share it — do whatever you can do to make sure we get this message out.
Rob has revealed himself time and again as being the ideological clone of the Tea Partiers in Washington who just shut down our federal government. Noam offers a very different approach, one that puts our values first, and that difference is crystal clear in this clip.
After opening statements, the panelists chosen from the Business Council of Westchester, started asking the debate questions.
The first was how would the candidates create jobs.
Bramson said businesses are concerned about costs but also where are employees going to live and how they are going to get to work. He said a good economic developement strategy “rests on top of a good planning strategy.” He said,
“It’s not enough to provide tax incentives and low cost financing for particular deals. We have to be concerned about the fabric of our land-use regulations, and the county can be working with municipalities on zoning codes, comprehensive plans, generic environmental impact statements that encourage transit oriented development, which is the right way to grow.
It depends on infrastructure…we have to make strategic investments that can unlock the economical potential of particular locations instead of having a backlog of hundreds of millions of dollars restraining economic growth. We have to be thinking about the skills that our young employees potential employees have. Are they able to seize the jobs of the future. Unless we’re addressing those things, we do not have an economic strategy and I think it’s critical we get one right away.”
He gave no specifics on how he would do these things. Or how he accomplished this in New Rochelle.
Answering with Specifics
Mr. Astorino responded with statistics, saying, 27,000 new private sector jobs had been created in the county. He said he did not take credit for them. “That means that businesses are seeing Westchester is a bright spot again. A place to settle down in business, create jobs, expand, or stay here when they were thinking of leaving.” He cited keeping Pepsico and his lobbying hard against the sugar tax Governor Paterson proposed as a factor in keeping Pepsico. He said his IDA put together a comprehensive package that kept Pepsico and 1,100 jobs and they are building a new $215 Million headquarters.
Bramson said the county has 6 million square feet of vacant office space in Westchester County and a “brain drain” of people under 45 leaving the county that is our future. He said it was “not enough” to be focusing on specific deals, which in his opinion “would always be dwarfed by those that occur on a purely private basis.” “We have to have a broader vision.”
Next Question was what would the candidates do to keep taxes down:
Astorino took the question saying he had not raised the tax levy at all and cut it 2% over the last three years. He said “The arrow is going the right way. Mr. Bramson has raised taxes in New Rochelle 109%. There’s no reason for something like that. That is the sharp difference between us. He’s not only raised the property taxes he’s raised every tax he can get his hands on. And he created new ones. Throwing more money at a problem is not going to fix it. We said we are going to take a hard stance here. We are not going to ask for more money because we don’t need to. Right now we have to work on expenses and that’s what we do. Our budget is smaller today than it was four years ago.”
Bramson responded to the tax attack that the bipartisan Westchester Fair Campaign Practices Committee found Mr. Astorino’s claims about New Rochelle were wrong in most every regard. Five falsehoods in a single 30-second ad.” He said Astorino took the 109% out of context because it is over 18 years. He claimed the rate in New Rochelle over those 18 years was the lowest of all the cities over those 18 years, pointing out that Astorino as town board member in Mount Pleasant the increase was exactly the same as New Rochelle.
He said “what’s relevant to all of us is the total amount we’re all paying for services.” He pointed out that all the property taxes in the county in the last four (Astorino) years have cost taxpayers $800 Million in property tax increases:
“This is not mission accomplished. What we have to do is deal with the level of duplication and waste among dozens of municipalities and dozens of school districts all doing things separately that they could be doing together. That doesn’t mean eliminating villages and school districts, it means creating a framework that lets them work together on things like road resurfacing, back office administrative, planning functions, flood mitigation, distribution of payroll and taxes – all the things that where we could be achieving economies of scale and efficiencies by doing things on a regional basis.
That is not happening in any significant degree right now. If we are serious about mitigating the tax burden all of us confront, we have to have a more serious strategy for doing those things.. For me it means commitment to the tax cap, an approach to economic development and shared services that deal with the total tax bill.”
9 of 10 on Fairness Committee are Democrats, Astorino says:
Astorino struck back, saying the Fair Campaign Practices Committee that made the untrue ruling about his ad claims had 9 Democrats on it and one Republican. (Mr. Bramson is the Democratic nominee.) ” I don’t think 6-1/2% (tax increase) a year is acceptable, Astorino tweaked. “I’m going to take care of my (county) 20% of the tax bill that we have, and we have not raised taxes.”
On Playland, a panelist asked their positions on turning Playland over to a private sector operator.
Mr. Bramson said he had an open mind on who would run it, but said the Astorino administration had not vetted the plan thoroughly (and by inference, the Democratic majority Board of Legislators), not examined the financial projections, revenue projections based on attendance.
He said he He wanted to preserve Playland so it could be enjoyed by the widest range of people, and reduce the subsidy required. He called the Astorino Playland strategy as “a textbook example of how not to make decisions,” saying there has never been an independent financial analysis of the Sustainable Playland plan, the front runner. He said everything in the plan on possible capital improvements was “maybe,maybe,maybe” He said this was not the fault of the applicant. Laying it on the County Executive. He called for clear decision making process that was transparent.
Astorino disputed this: “Playland loses $3 to $5 Million a year and that was not exceptable. I think this plan is great. It has been a 2-1/2 year plan I signed the Playland Improvement Plan today and sent it to the Board of Legislators. We’re going to have the historic rides, Kiddyland, restaurants there, field house, a little mini-waterfront and open year round, instead of praying for good weather.”
Bramson said this is speculative: ”No time table for when the $3 to 5 Million subsidy will be weaned off. There is no guarantee that any of the physical improvements will happen, all being phrased in maybes and conditional terms. There’s no evidence to suggest that available parking in this plan is sufficient to support the attendance levels needed to support the revenues discussed. This is no way to run a railroad. If we’re concerned about the future of Playland Park we have to be sure our planning is structured in a more professional way.“
He did not say how he would approach a Playland reboot after January 1 if he became County Executive.
On their plans for the HUD HOUSING SETTLEMENT…
Mr. Astorino said, “This settlement would take Westchester County and twist it all around. What we need to consider is who is going to control local zoning? We’re well ahead of schedule (on the 750 units we’re building).Fundamentally the question comes down to who controls local zoning?”
Bramson differed with a late rally and critique of the Astorino style:
: “It is time to get this expensive, devisive mess behind us and the strategy employed by Mr. Astorino has been a self-evident disaster that has prolonged unnecessarily this dispute and is costing $20 Million to the county. Number 1 we need to start telling the truth. The requirement is 750 units and not 11,000 Mr. Astorino suggested in his state of the county address. When it comes to zoning there is no attempt to abrogate our local zoning so a high rise is built on every block. Those are scare tactics. Second, we need to stop shouting and start talking. This communication by press release and by press conference (by Mr. Astorino) instead of constructive working sessions (with whom he did not say) is not accomplishing anything. The county is washing its hands of this and letting the municipalities fend for themselves which puts them all at risk. I want to work with the municipalities to make sure we get this right (without saying what working with them entailed).”
Bramson said the county “needed a sensible affordable housing for police, firefighters ,teachers, and not for profit workers and others who do essential work in our communities can live in the places they serve, ” He did not define what he thought was a sensible affordable housing policy.
He said not solving the housing settlement was impeding the county ability to move forward and plan its future.
Astorino chided Bramson for not reading letters from HUD on the settlement defending his comments on the 11,000 housing units he said HUD eventually required.
A question on mandates
Bramson said a constructive relationship would help to solve the mandate relieve the county needs. He suggested being consultive rather than combative.
Mr. Astorino accused Mr. Bramson of “chirping about this stuff (mandates)on the sidelines” and said how he went to Albany with Mayor Bloomberg talked with the legislators and pushed for the Tier 6 pension reform. He felt that was not enough, though. He cited his work in organizing Stop Albany to draw attention to the ballooning pension burden.
He said of Bramson, you can just “say there’s nothing I can do and just raise taxes that is what they did in New Rochelle. We decided we would cut expenses. We also cut the work force in the county. That’s why we got this budget under control.”
Bramson bristled saying New Rochelle cut expenses and New Rochelle had the lowest municipal tax rate in Westchester County. He said the County Executive achieved part of his tax decrease by borrowing to meet expenses (from the fund balance), but did not say would he, Bramson, would do to rein in taxes
The debate between County Executive Rob Astorino and his challenger Noam Bramson sponsored by the Business Council of Westchester got under way thirty minutes late and lasted 45 minutes Wednesday, after 10 minutes of introductions by its moderator before rhetoric began. There was no explanation for the delay of the start.
The debate was monitored by WPCNR on the Lohud feed which was unfortunately plagued with breakup and halts in the audio and video, but at least it was there. I did not hear the closing statements because the feed cut out and I could not get it back.
The moderator from the Marist Polling organization rattled off some intriguing stats to begin the debate.
He said homeowners are especially displeased with the school and property taxes.
He noted 63% said economic conditions in the County were about the same; 21% said it was better and 16% said it had gotten worse. This was better than four years ago, he said.
He said 64% said the County was headed in the right direction and 69% said the county was not affordable for the average family.
There is concern in that 24% said they might relocate within the next five years and 40% of those were under 35.
A group of 91% said they gave the neighborhoods they live in high marks and overall all they are satisfied with the county as a place to live.