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DEMOCRATS RETAIN ONE SEAT MAJORITY ON COUNTY BOARD OF LEGISLATORS

Democrats who were hoping to pick up enough seats on the Westchester County Board of Legislators to have a supermajority wound up losing a seat in today’s election, with Democrats next year holding only a 9-8 majority.

Republicans picked up a seat in former Majority Leader Pete Harkham’s district in northern Westchester which Mr. Harkham vacated this summer to take a position with the Cuomo administration in Albany, and Republicans easily beat back what were expected to be strong challenges in a few other contested districts.

Democratic leaders said tonight that even though the Democratic challenger was leading in District 10, which consists of normally Democratic New Rochelle and normally Republican Eastchester, they expected the Republican would eventually win, so that Democrats would go from a 10-7 majority to a 9-8 majority.  UPDATE:  the Democrats were right as the Republican won handily.

In an effort to help the Republican incumbent legislator Sheila Marcotte by keeping Democratic vote totals down in New Rochelle,  where Democrat Noam Bramson was up for re-election, Republicans let him run unopposed. While there were contested elections for New Rochelle’s city council, which Democrats won, the vote totals were not nearly robust enough to overcome the strong Republican turnout in Eastchester.

Thus, even though Democrats substantially outnumber Republicans in terms of party registration in Westchester  County, Republicans once again found ways to get out the vote in the few contested districts where they needed to win, while Democrats county-wide eked out a victory in the one contested county-wide election for a Supreme Court justice (which also includes Rockland and Putnam Counties), and otherwise failed to get out the votes they needed in swing districts where many thought they had a chance of winning.

The Democrats, though, did not seem to have any partisan political issues to run on locally this year and with no popular Democratic candidates in any “up ballot” contests, Republicans clearly did a much better job than the Democrats of getting their voters to the polls.

Voter turnout was reported to be very low everywhere, most especially in Greenburgh, where there were no contested elections.  In Edgemont’s 34th Election district, for example, only 77 votes were tallied out of a potential 911, for a turnout of only 8.45%, which is generally unheard of even in an off-year  general election such as this one.

The Democrats’ loss of one seat is not expected to change the county board’s  leadership though since two of the nine Democrats who won re-election today already vote with the Republican minority in order to elect a Democrat as board chairman.  Democrat Michael Kaplowitz, the current board chair, is therefore expected to continue in that role.

However, all it now takes is one Democratic vote on the board of legislators to swing the chairmanship to the Republicans next year and it is rumored that Virginia Perez, a Democrat from Yonkers, will switch her vote to elect Republican legislator John Testa as the next chairman of the board, replacing Mr. Kaplowitz.

The Democrats’ inability to gain a supermajority is not likely to have much impact on Greenburgh.  It was thought that the current impasse over WestHELP might be resolved if the Democrats won a supermajority that could push through action to force the county to take the vacant and deteriorating 108-bedroom facility back from the Town, which has done nothing with it for the past four years, and use it for badly needed affordable housing  for seniors or veterans.

But with the status quo likely to remain, so too is the impasse, with County Executive Rob Astorino refusing to approve any deal with the Town that extends beyond the 15 years remaining on the Town’s lease on the ground that he does not know whether Westchester Community College might need the property at that time.

Unless the county were willing to let an affordable housing developer use the property for at least 30 years, low-cost financing to subsidize the needed renovation at the site would be unavailable. As a result, experienced affordable housing companies such as Marathon in Peekskill cannot make the required investment to make the building habitable and be able to amortize the debt over the 15 years remaining on the Town’s lease with the county.

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