CROTON-ON-HUDSON - As Westchester Democrats prepare to take on County Executive Rob Astorino in November, a coalition of local activist organizations hosted a standing-room only candidate forum Sunday afternoon for State Sen. George Latimer, D-Rye, and Ken Jenkins, D-Yonkers.
Both have announced their intention to run for county executive in recent weeks.
Assemblyman Tom Abinanti did not attend because organizers said he no longer intends to run for the position.
Both organizers and the candidates spent much of the meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation Church linking Astorino to the policies of President Donald Trump, with Jenkins referring to him as "Trump-lite."
"We're looking for someone to deliver us from Trumperino," said forum moderator Bruce Campbell. "The question is who and how."
Jenkins and Latimer also connected the afternoon's event to a rise in grassroots progressive activism nationwide after Trump's election.
"We can't have a repeat of 2013," Jenkins said, referring to Astorino's win over Democrat Noam Bramson for the county executive seat. "We need an army of volunteers to get this done, we can't have Democrats sitting on the sidelines. Westchester used to be a leading county and we're now at the back of the bus, recalcitrant and screaming, but this is an exciting time of resistance."
Latimer echoed the point.
"We've stopped knocking on doors as Democrats," he said. "We can't just say we will reach them through mass mailings."
Eight Westchester-based grassroots groups sponsored the event, including Up & Up Action Initiative, Indivisible Westchester-Rivertowns, and Yorktown Together.
Democrats outnumber Republicans in Westchester by a more than 2-to-1 ratio and there are now more registered voters without a party than there are members of the GOP. Still, Astorino has defied those numbers by winning election in 2009 and 2013, and the county Legislature's Republican caucus has gained three seats during the last three elections.
Both candidates painted Astorino's tax record as an ideologically-driven attempt to “hollow out” government services.
"Astorino tries to blame everything on the federal government," Jenkins said.
As Westchester Democrats prepare to take on County Executive Rob Astorino in November, a coalition of local activist organizations hosted a forum Sunday, April 23, 2017, for state Sen. George Latimer, D-Rye, and Ken Jenkins, D-Yonkers.
If elected, Jenkins said he would work to make Westchester a sanctuary county and increase funding to the county Human Rights Commission.
Latimer hammered Astorino's tax record, calling it unsustainable.
"The last eight years have been out of step not just with Westchester Democratic philosophy, but Westchester Republican philosophy," he said. "We've seen our budget drained of money just to make a political statement."
Astorino pledged last week at his annual State of the County address that he would not raise taxes in 2018.
While both candidates largely echoed each other on policy and strategy, Latimer appealed to his ability to compete in heavily Republican districts within the county, specifically Harrison and Rye.
County Democrats will hold their convention May 10, but Jenkins said he may stay in the race even if he doesn’t receive the party’s nomination out of the convention.
If Latimer doesn't get the nomination, he said he will step aside and support the party's chosen candidate.
The county executive serves a four-year term at an annual salary of $160,760.