WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino is a Republican in a Democratic county. His opponent for re-election, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, is doing his best to tie him to the tea party. And Astorino is waging an expensive battle with the federal government over zoning.
But he has kept his promise not to raise property taxes in the suburban New York county, a position that helped him to a landslide victory four years ago as an underdog challenger.
That victory presaged Republican gains in Congress the following year, said Lawrence Levy of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. If Astorino, 46, wins again Tuesday, it could be a sign that anti-Republican sentiment stemming from the federal government shutdown won't hurt the GOP terribly in congressional elections in 2014, he said.
The chance to take the post back from Astorino has brought out former President Bill Clinton, who lives in Westchester and praised Bramson lavishly at a fundraiser.
Clinton pushed for Democratic turnout in the race, saying he had already voted for Bramson by absentee ballot. He said the county needs an atmosphere of "cooperation, not conflict."
Bramson cited Astorino's "conflict mentality" in the fight over zoning. Astorino has been battling the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs over how he's implementing a 2009 settlement of a housing discrimination lawsuit.
Because the county hasn't produced what HUD considers an acceptable analysis of local zoning laws, Westchester has lost $7.4 million in grants. More than $10 million more is at risk.
Bramson, 43, said in an interview, "We've got to get this expensive, divisive mess behind us." He said he would bring federal, county and local officials together to collaborate on a solution.
"The problem is not so much that Rob is fighting, it's that he's losing and he's taking all of us down with him," Bramson said. The county executive, he said, is "constructing an imaginary threat" when he says the federal government wants to force more than 11,000 affordable housing units on Westchester. The settlement demands 750.
Astorino said in an interview that "capitulation or compromise" would mean "bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., would control local neighborhoods."
Bramson also is campaigning on Astorino's personal opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, and his decision to allow a gun show back into a county-owned auditorium. The previous county executive had banned gun shows.
"His record and his positions are indistinguishable from those of the tea party," Bramson said.
Astorino said none of those issues is relevant to county government. Asked if he's comfortable with a tea party label, Astorino said, "I'm me. I govern the way I govern."
Bramson said Astorino's success in keeping county property taxes flat has been costly to the poor, with neighborhood health centers closed and higher costs imposed on families using county day care. Astorino said he has to find a balance between raising taxes and deciding what people can afford to pay themselves.
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