Former local State Senator and State Assemblyman George Latimer was sworn in as Westchester County Executive Sunday at Westchester Community College’s Theatre. He is the first Democrat to serve as County Exec since Alfred Del Bello, who served until 1982.
Below is a copy of Latimer’s Inaugural Address:
To all the Honored Guests: Gov. Cuomo, Atty Gen Schneiderman, Congresswoman Lowey, Congressman Engel, Senator Stewart-Cousins, my friends and colleagues in the State Assembly, my friends and colleagues on the County Board of Legislators, my friends and colleagues in local government. Members of the Clergy – Friends and Neighbors
Thank you all for being here today. So many of you have been with me for this long journey of life. My sister, there in our parents’ living room since the 1950s…right up through those who were with me throughout this improbable race in 2017 that looked impossible in February, and unlikely in the early summer, somewhat possible in late October, followed by an overwhelming result in November. Who could know, on the first of each month, what lay ahead by month’s end?
Stacked end-on-end, I have scrapped to win election to the Rye City Council by going door to door to door all those years ago; to win a County Legislative seat never held by a person of my party affiliation; to guide and govern the County Board of Legislators, when it had never been controlled by someone of my party before. With a razor-thin 9-8 margin. And then, on through party leadership, and both houses of the State Legislature, including three brutal State Senate races, where I was outspent, but never outworked.
So here I am, an overnight success story, 30 years in the making. I never forget the cold nights on my own attending a Village meeting in Mamaroneck; days stopping by the Port Chester seniors, then the Rye Brook seniors, then the Hugh Doyle Seniors in New Rochelle for good measure. Train station mornings, strung out one after the other, Wakefield, Philipse Manor, Port Chester, Croton Falls, Hartsdale repeating my name over and over for 2+ hours to commuters otherwise engaged in starting their days. Campaigns are a crucible, which one must endure and master, if you hope to attain and use power for good public ends.
There are people, friends and acquaintances, and antagonists, too: some gone and forgotten, some whose departure from my life, or from this earthly life, still bring memories of sadness and loss. And we still go on.
By force of will…or faith…or whatever drive it is we have, to use our time and our energy and our abilities for the best possible outcome for the people we serve: our neighbors, and neighbors we haven’t met who share this particular time and place in the cosmos.
Today’s event is a celebration of our democracy. Not because I won this particular office, but because the American plan, authored by Founding Fathers long deceased, envisioned a republic that would allow for popular decision on leadership, and all would acquiesce to the wisdom of the ballot box. No armies march on Election Day or on Inauguration Day – this peaceful transfer of power is the absolute rock upon which we rest this experiment of democracy.
So I have sought, and you have granted me, four years to direct this county government of ours. I deeply appreciate your vote of confidence; I treat it not as blank check from you to me to do as I wish, but rather, a promissory note from me to you, asserting my intent to serve you wisely and well.
In a small plane, I once flew over Westchester from 10,000 feet or so. I looked down and could see the mighty Hudson River, and the beautiful Long Island Sound, the reservoirs of Northern Westchester, and the lush, green trees everywhere. This is, simply put, a beautiful piece of land.
From that height, I could not tell where the dotted line exists that separates Shrub Oak from Putnam Valley. I could not tell, from the air, the location of the street I grew up on the Southside of Mt. Vernon, a street where Westchester and the Bronx met. The jurisdictions of towns/villages/cities were invisible.
You could not tell, from that altitude, where people of one color lived, or those of another color lived; you could not see the old from the young, nor the religious affiliation of those who lived on the land below. Perhaps, this how God sees us.
But one inescapable impression was clear: we are all on this patch of land together – the strong, the weak; the skinny and the fat; the wise and the foolish, all together under the blanket of green.
Thus it is how I have tried to represent people in four legislative bodies, and now, how I hope to govern as County Executive. That we are all in this together. You and I and nearly a million people outside these walls, we share this land and this moment in time.
That people are concerned about the money they spend on taxes is assured. We will do our best to be wise stewards of the money we have, and to do our best not to raise taxes for sport, or for ideology. But it must also be true, that neither can we turn our backs on the assets created and accumulated over the years – the physical assets of parks and roadways and the fiscal assets of cash flow and high bond rating – and disregard them because in the moment we have let the anger and ideology make us fearful to do what is necessary to protect those assets.
We may lose a future election, but we lose so much more when we fail to protect what our fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers gave us – this magnificent Westchester – which we can lose by worrying only about today’s needs and desires, and today’s ideology. This Administration will not be captive to the moment; we will do what is practical and pragmatic and correct, for the long run, not just for the next election.
There are people of resources in this county, and we want to keep them, and treat them with respect they deserve and have earned. There are people in poverty and need and we want to keep them and treat them with the respect they deserve and have earned. And there are those in the middle and working classes – people like my father Stan and my mother Loretta, neither impoverished nor wealthy, and we want to keep them and treat them with the respect they deserve and have earned.
We want to treat our colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and in all branches of government, as partners in this continuing experiment of democracy. No Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Liberal or Moderate need fear that their voice will be ignored. But those voices should show respect for all other voices. When we raise rudeness to a right, we work at destroying this fragile democracy. When we turn strong beliefs into insulting, accusatory rhetoric, we pit neighbor against neighbor. It is tearing our country apart, and we cannot let it tear our county apart. Civility is not a dirty word. It is not weakness, it is true strength to show respect to those one disagrees with. For America is greater than any one ideology and the sooner we remember what got us through the great crises of our country – Revolution, Civil War, Depression, World War – that we held common purpose and made common effort, the sooner we repair the damage done to our unity by selfishness and excessive political partisanship.
The days of this Administration are already numbered: 1,454 days remain. I have stood quietly in the lobby of the 9th floor where pictures of my eight predecessors look down on me. Some of them I knew well; others are merely historical names. Each in their own time held this job, advanced their agendas, ruled, and were replaced. So it will be with me, as well. In a snap of the fingers, my time in this job will be done.
So let us use each day with urgency. Let us ensure our finances are sound. Let us ensure our facilities are repaired and maintained. Let us ensure the services we must deliver are done well daily, effectively and efficiently and honestly. Let us debate the issues before us – the Airport, Playland, social services, the environment, housing, consumer protection – and come to conclusion and decision. And let us do so in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation.
This I pledge to each of you – respect and cooperation. I am the boy from the Southside of Mt. Vernon still, by way of Fordham, NYU, Nestle, ITT, and Albany. I am simply one of you, given this great task for four years. Give me your help and your friendship, and I will give you the best of my effort.
And we, together, will have done our jobs as Americans, and as citizens of Westchester.
photo: Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo