McKinstry: Westchester needs compromise
Walking down the halls of the Westchester County Office Building in White Plains earlier this week, a longtime staffer said, with a shake of the head, that relations between the county executive and the Board of Legislators had never been this bad.
Not during Democrat Andy Spano's 12 years as county executive. Nor during Republican Andy O'Rourke's 15-year tenure before that.
Relations weren't even this tenuous in the 1970s, when Alfred DelBello was the first Democrat elected in what was then a Republican county.
"It has never been this bad," said Legis. Michael Kaplowitz, a Democrat from Somers who no longer participates in the caucus, closed-door political meetings, with his colleagues. "It doesn't have to be this way. . . . It's the death of compromise."
Two years after Republican County Executive Rob Astorino's upset win over Spano, the battles between the Democrats on the Board of Legislators and the executive are as predictable as the sun rising. But the impasses often cloud any good they've done.
And sometimes the political maneuverings are downright petty.
The board, in mostly partisan 9-8 votes, with Kaplowitz siding with seven Republicans, this week authorized Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) to go ahead with at least five lawsuits against Astorino's administration. There are suits over child care, appointments, a contracts board, the housing settlement and capital projects.
More are apparently in the works.
Some differences are already in court, like the child care conflict, where the two branches are battling over parental-fee increases and subsidy cuts. So lawmakers have been stripped of their ability to legislate until there's an outcome in the case.
The partisan divide parallels the political polarization going on across the country. Much like the stark differences playing out inside the Beltway, local fissures won't be healed until after county elections in 2013 when, many believe, Jenkins will challenge Astorino.
And compromise seems to be a dirty word in politics right now. Like bell-bottoms or break-dancing, it's out of fashion. Maybe, like most fashion trends, it'll come back -- but don't count on it for this season.
Even Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who earlier in the week appeared before business leaders in Westchester County, said Congress would be more productive after a winner is declared in November.
Back in White Plains, the branches of county government are like a Yankees-Boston fan rivalry or the Hatfields and McCoys -- without the pistols, thankfully.
"It's a failure of leadership by everyone involved," said Minority Leader James Maisano, a Republican from New Rochelle, of going to court. "Everybody needs to sit down and negotiate rather than punt the decision to a judge. . . . Important decisions of county government are being made by lawsuits rather than compromise or negotiation."
He's right. There's no need to go to court.
Deft leaders should be able to carve out a compromise or find middle ground through horse-trading. Give the board a win on child care and back the administration on housing -- or vice versa. Those deals would likely be more acceptable than any court-ordered ones.
When DelBello was interviewed in 2011 after the death of Edward Brady, a two-term Republican county board chairman known for his no-nonsense leadership, he said Brady would be sure to take an ounce of political blood in any fight.
But despite their differences, they'd agree on something they believed was right for taxpayers. And then go out for a drink and have a laugh.
Wouldn't that be something? Astorino and Jenkins having a drink or a good yuck after a board meeting?
If you saw it, you'd swear you'd had one too many.
Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board. This is a corrected version of the column; an earlier version gave the wrong date for the next county elections.