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Westchester County Executive George Latimer makes Congressional bid official

Westchester County Executive George Latimer present his operating budget plan for 2024.
Facebook: Westchester County Government
Westchester County Executive George Latimer present his operating budget plan for 2024.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer has held a variety of positions during his long career in government. Now, he wants to go to Washington. The former state Senator and Assemblyman has just kicked off a bid for Congress, filing to run in New York’s 16th House district — a seat currently held by fellow Democrat Jamaal Bowman. Latimer is unable to seek a third term in Westchester in 2025.

So you're watching what's going on in Congress the last couple of years and you want to go there? How come?

Well, I think what's happened in Congress over the last few years is pretty embarrassing. Frankly, it has become a place for performance art, rather than performance. And you're watching individuals all across the ideological spectrum more interested in arguing about cultural wars, getting in each other's faces and doing this kind of thing. I was a legislator for 30 years before I became a county executive. And whether I was in the state legislature, or now my current position as county executive, I focused on results. And I think that's what people want. They want to know how can you make my life better? How can you get affordable housing units that I could potentially benefit from? Expansion of jobs. How are you going to improve the infrastructure for things like flooding in the quality of transportation systems? How are you going to reduce our carbon footprint? All of these are things that I've done as a county executive in a concrete way. And these are also things that I worked for and advocated for when I was in the state Senate and this state Assembly. I understand what it is to be a legislator, and to be a legislator is more, no offense to the conversation we're having right now, but it's more than just getting in the media. It's more than just making the statement that attracts attention, bombastic statements, or representing a demographic, it really is grunt work. A lot of it is not particularly exciting to the outside world. But it's how you move legislation. And it's how you move resources from within an executive branch to benefit the people that you represent. That's my focus in this race.

I talked to Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko of the 20th district just before your bid was made official, here's what he had to say: 

I think that it's important for us to regain the majority status in the House. And I think that, you know, primaries can be a very difficult the process in the midst of all of that, but, you know, I'll rely on the people of those districts to choose who they like. I would hope we could avoid primaries, but as we know, they happen. And we'll see what happens.

So to follow up, why are you running in a district that has a Democratic incumbent as opposed to against someone like Republican Mike Lawler? 

Well, you could have asked the same question four years ago to the current incumbent, because the prior incumbent, Eliot Engel, had served for a number of years, was a powerful legislator heading a committee and the current incumbent, Mr. Bowman, made a choice to run against Eliot Engel. In 2020, we worked as Democrats to try to get Donald Trump out of the White House. And the same factors that my friend Paul Tonko referenced were at play then. What happens in these things is you look at a primary not as a knockdown battle between two boxers, but you view it as a choice. And the voters go to the polls, and particularly in a heavily Democratic district where it is not really in play in November. And that makes this unlike some other districts where there may be primaries. The primary voter, the Democratic primary voter in June, if it's June, is going to pretty much decide who the Congressmember is going to be. So I'm offering a choice.

I have a background and an experience of having been a legislator at every level short of the Washington situation. I've been an effective county executive; only county executive to greet migrants with any kind of compassion and management skill. We've done environmental initiatives, we've done social justice initiatives in Westchester County, you've reported on them already in the past, we've cut taxes, we've reduced crime, we've done so many things. And that's the basis upon which a person would look and see the choice. Now in terms of what happens at the end of a primary, I've already said, Well, this primary is over if I don't win, that's the end of my primary challenge. I'm out. I'm done. I will support the Democratic ticket in 2024. And I will be a loyal person to assist those who are in competitive districts. I served with Paul Tonko in the Assembly. Also Hakeem Jeffries, Grace Meng, Joe Morelli, and people I've worked with before, they've worked with me before. We know each other. And if I go to Congress, I'm going to be a productive member of the Democratic majority. If I don't go to Congress, I'm going to continue to be a good county executive. I'm going to support the principles that unite us as Democrats. So I don't think that's a negative at all. 

So specifically, what differentiates you and Congressman Bowman? 

Well, I'll give you one example. And that would be the vote on the infrastructure bill that happened a couple of years ago. It was a bipartisan bill offered by the Biden administration that was probably the centerpiece of his legislative agenda for that year. And almost all the Democrats voted for it. A couple, probably about a half dozen Democrats, did not vote for it. They made a philosophical point about wanting a social infrastructure bill, which I also would have voted for. And they wanted to have that on the agenda. And if that couldn't be on the agenda, they weren’t gonna vote for the physical infrastructure bill. And the incumbent also voted no on the infrastructure bill but it passed anyway. That infrastructure bill is where local governments get money in my home district here to help fight flooding. We've got a flooding problem, you look at what Westchester is on the map, you look at the Bronx, Hudson River to the west, Long Island Sound to the east, things drain out in that fashion, and we get a lot of backup rain. You need that money. And what's important to the district, what's important to the district, not to your philosophical allies, the point you want to make on a national level, what's important to your district is that you have access to that additional money. That's what the infrastructure proposal did. To vote no on it was a bad vote. And if you did a bad vote and you come back a little while later, maybe you say you know what, in retrospect, I think that probably was a bad vote, I probably should have voted for it. I'm glad it got done. You don't double down on it and say, Well, this is my principle. And that's what, I stand by my principles. So it's how you view the job. And that's indicative. I view the job very differently for the way he views the job. I think this is about representing the people that you have in the district, and the needs of the district very directly. I'm not looking to get on cable TV and try to be a national spokesperson for anything. Most Congressmen do not achieve that, most congressmen try to achieve for the district what is the district's needs.

You know, age is a key focus in American politics today. And if my math is right, you'd be a 71-year-old freshman if elected. Are you up for it? 

Absolutely. The way to do that is to look at the way I operate my schedule every day, the places I go, how I handle myself on public forums. Every week, Monday at 2 o'clock, we do an update. You've seen some of them. You certainly heard me being interviewed by David Guistina. And previously Alan Chartock. You're listening to me right now. The intellectual acuity is there. And I think, as I had to prove once at the other end of my career, I was a 33-year-old when I got elected to the Rye city council, I had to prove to people that I had the maturity that as a young man I wasn't irresponsible and unknowledgeable and I could be an effective public official. And I think I passed that test by moving from that job on to other jobs into my 40s and 50s. So now I have to prove again, that my acuity is what matters. Dr. Martin Luther King said something very important: judge me not by the color of my skin, but by the content of my character. And that applies to every externality. I happen to be white, male, straight, Roman Catholic, those are all the externalities. You judge me by me what I've done, what I would do, and how I perform. And I have every confidence that for the two-year term that I'm running for, I will be able to provide the energy and the drive necessary. 

So just one more thing for now. We might get new maps for the next year's Congressional races. If there's redistricting and the 16th District suddenly looks a lot different, will you commit to running against Jamaal Bowman? Or might you reconsider where you're running?

I'm in this race absent them taking my house out of the district. And if that were to happen, that would be a sharp differentiation of maps, that would have to take either District 17 way down or District 14 way up in order to specifically take me out of the 16th. But I understand that the maps could be disadvantageous to me. I'm known in Westchester, the less Westchester you have in the district, currently 90% of the district is Westchester. If you decided to make the district, you know, 62%, Bronx and 38% Westchester, that would disadvantage me pretty dramatically. But I would continue on. I think we'd all know that the climate had been changed. But I'm in this race because there are reasons to offer an alternate vision of what a congressman should do. And that's why I'm in it. I'm not doing it as a calculation of my self-interest. And to use the age argument, I'm at a point in my life where I don't have to have this job. I run for this job because I see a need that has to be filled, and I believe I can fill that need.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.