What might cause the New York Times editorial board to find, in New York’s suburban Westchester County, an example of “a struggle for racial integration [that] is neither bygone nor exclusively Southern”? Why might “county leaders [be] stonewalling federal authorities over a longstanding housing desegregation case”?
More or less, a Republican executive in a deep blue district. Over the past two years, county executive Rob Astorino has garnered widespread attention and praise for defending his county against racially tinged federal overreach in a mundane affordable-housing case, while also reducing the onerous costs of county government.
In recent decades, Westchester’s wealth has fed a gargantuan government, which levies the fifth-highest property-tax rates of any county in America — residents pay a staggering 7.8 percent of the median income in property taxes.
New York State also requires a particularly burdensome system of local government — regional government, county legislatures, county executives, and a wide range of county services all weigh down Westchester with a budget of $1.8 billion.
In 2009, residents decided that their taxes had grown too oppressive and their government too big, and ended a twelve-year Democratic reign in the executive’s office. A year after Obama won more than 65 percent of the vote in the county, Republican Rob Astorino was elected as Westchester’s county executive by a margin of 16 points.
Astorino, a successful radio commentator first on ESPN Radio and then with Sirius’s Catholic Channel, is a calm but convincing advocate for conservative principles. In an interview in his office with National Review Online, Astorino highlighted the three issues he has emphasized as county executive, which he considers the key roles of local government anywhere: making sure property taxes are reasonable, maintaining essential services, and attracting businesses and economic development.
Astorino’s victory in a prominently liberal area garnered him national media attention, but he says that he wasn’t aware of his national profile at all until the morning after his election — when “CNN and the networks were outside my front door, and Rush Limbaugh was talking about me.” Limbaugh cited Astorino as a successful candidate crusading against big government in a “deep blue” region.
Prior to Astorino’s election, Westchester had begun a large affordable-housing project with funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The previous county executive, Andrew Spano, had settled a 2009 suit by a local anti-discrimination group with the federal government, agreeing that Westchester would build 750 units of housing in predominately white areas, in order to meet its obligation to “affirmatively further fair and affordable housing.”