Astorino, Law Enforcement Working to Protect Public Safety Against Violent MS-13 Gang

Westchester lawmakers’ welcome mat for MS-13

This article was originally published on It was published on 8/9/17. 

When even the Legal Aid Society opposes a bill that ties cops’ hands, you can be pretty sure it’s fatally flawed.

Alas, the concerns of Westchester’s LAS — and a raft of law-enforcement and other groups — didn’t stop the county Board of Legislators from passing the Immigration Protection Act by a 10-5 vote this week.

The bill limits county cooperation with the feds, making Westchester New York’s first “sanctuary county” — and seriously boosting the risks of crime for residents.

The good news? County Executive Rob Astorino vows to veto the bill, and lawmakers need 12 votes to override him. The IPA, he says, “puts public safety at risk” — including for the very immigrants it claims to protect.

That fear is justified. Recall the horror stories of illegal immigrants shielded by “sanctuary cities” who go on to commit heinous crimes. In the city, Mayor de Blasio’s policies recently led to the release from Rikers Island of an admitted gang member sought by the feds.

No wonder Westchester public-safety boss George Longworth worries the bill would make “families and police officers less safe.”

As does the county Hispanic Law Enforcement Association: It “opens the doors for undocumented immigrants involved in criminal activity, such as the ruthless MS-13 gang, to migrate to Westchester and prey on other immigrants,” argues President Hector Lopez.

With Team Trump targeting MS-13’s heavy presence on Long Island, it’d be nuts to offer those thugs another nearby refuge.

Dedicated as it is to standing up for criminal defendants, the Westchester Legal Aid Society also sees problems. Executive Director Clare Degnan rejects the IPA “as drafted and passed,” based on its language and tone.

Plus, warns Astorino, the bill “puts Westchester at odds” with Washington, “creates rights not available to ordinary citizens” and endangers $13 million in federal funds by undermining cooperation with the feds.

County lawmakers may think they’ll score political points by seeming to champion illegal immigrants. In reality, their stunt is a slap at every Westchester resident.

Astorino, DA Team Up To Fight Opioid Overdoses In Westchester

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and District Attorney Anthony Scarpino, Jr. announced the formation of a joint task force to address the region’s growing heroin and opioid epidemic Thursday.

Astorino and Scarpino said members of the County Department of Public Safety would serve on the task force alongside prosecutors and criminal investigators from the District Attorney’s Office. The Westchester County Intelligence Center, established by the District Attorney’s Office in 2008, will dedicate three analysts to assist the task force in compiling, analyzing and reporting on statistical and evidentiary trends and patterns.

In addition, Astorino and Scarpino said the task force would work closely with local police departments to combat illegal heroin and opioid trafficking through enhanced intelligence gathering and coordinated investigations, arrests, and prosecutions.

“It’s not enough to put our best resources into the fight against opioid addiction,” Astorino said. “They must be coordinated and that’s the idea behind the task force — to have Public Safety, the District Attorney, and local police all working together to get illegal opioids off the streets and arrest and prosecute the people selling them.”

Opioid fatalities in Westchester County increased more than 200 percent from 2010 to 2015.

“This epidemic is destroying too many of our young people and tearing families apart,” Scarpino said. “This task force will vigorously investigate and prosecute the suppliers in an effort to reduce the number of overdoses. At the same time, we will continue to support alternatives to incarceration for those who are willing to get the help they need.”

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Westchester Beats [Washington] The feds concede that the suburb’s zoning laws aren’t discriminatory

Wall Street Journal Editorial

Westchester County Chief Executive Rob Astorino spent seven years fighting Obama-era Department of Housing and Urban Development accusations that his county’s zoning laws are racist. Now HUD has conceded that the suburban New Yorker was right all along.

In a one-paragraph memo sent to Westchester recently, HUD Regional Director Jay Golden accepted the county’s latest report demonstrating that local zoning laws are race-neutral. Westchester was required to produce this “analysis of impediments” to housing as part of a 2009 legal settlement between Mr. Astorino’s Democratic predecessor, Andrew Spano, and a liberal activist group.

Mr. Astorino called HUD’s memo a “vindication,” and it is—not least because Westchester demonstrated as early as 2010 that the county didn’t have racially exclusionary zoning practices. Westchester’s residents live where they want and can afford to live. Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses (the most recent available), the county’s African-American and Hispanic populations rose 56%.

The Obama Administration had a larger social and political agenda, which was to use federal anti-discrimination law as a battering ram to rewrite local zoning laws. Westchester would be the model for the rest of the country, and as a Republican Mr. Astorino was an ideal foil to portray as a racist and then point to as a precedent to force racial housing quotas on neighborhoods across America.

As part of the settlement implementation, the agency deemed standard zoning, such as building heights or sewer placement to protect drinking water, as “restrictive practices” that the feds wanted to change. Westchester balked, recognizing the move as a federal takeover of local policy. The agency also ignored that Mr. Astorino exceeded the 2009 settlement’s mandate to facilitate the construction of 750 housing units in 31 mostly white communities over seven years.

Mr. Astorino fought back in court, producing 11 reports about the county’s zoning practices. The agency responded by withholding $23.4 million in development money meant for Westchester’s poorest communities over four years. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo used the dispute to portray the Republican as hostile to minorities when Mr. Astorino ran against the Democrat in 2014.

Now Mr. Astorino looks like a hero to Westchester residents who have already forked out $81.6 million for land acquisition and construction costs for the new housing, plus the $172 million contributed by state and federal taxpayers.

The misuse of federal regulatory enforcement to impose its liberal policy preferences was one of the worst excesses of the Obama Administration. Congratulations to Mr. Astorino and Westchester for refusing to give in to the extortion—and for winning in the end.

By The Editorial Board

A New Strategy for Collecting Child Support: Debt Forgiveness

This article was originally published on The article is by J.B. Wogan. It was published on 6/27/17. 

Westchester County, N.Y., is using debt forgiveness as an incentive for finding employment and paying child support. Will it work?

Clinton Bess talking before participating in Westchester County’s pilot, Clinton Bess says his “take-home pay was sometimes negative.” (Vimeo/Westchester County Government)

Officials in Westchester County, N.Y., want to help low-income fathers who are behind in their child support payments.

“These guys aren’t deadbeats,” says Kevin McGuire, the county’s social services commissioner. “They’re dead broke.”

In a 2006 study of nine states, 70 percent of late child support payments were owed by parents who made no more than $10,000 a year. For these parents, the average child support obligation equaled about 83 percent of their reported income, according to the Urban Institute.

Once child support debt piles up, interest can be added to it every month it goes unpaid. For some, the punishment is jail, which further limits their ability to pay. Nationally, about a third of child support isn’t paid each year, and only 15 percent of related debt and interest gets collected.

In Westchester, officials see employment as the main solution for getting fathers to comply with child support orders. But job assistance programs alone hadn’t solved the problem in the past, and Joseph Kenner, the county’s deputy commissioner of social services, thought he knew why.

“What I felt was missing was some kind of carrot,” Kenner says.

In the county’s Responsible Employed Active Loving (R.E.A.L) Parenting Pilot for Stronger Families, the carrot is the opportunity for non-custodial parents to eliminate most of the debt they owe to the county government. (It does not, however, affect debt they owe to families.)

Here’s how the program works: The county Department of Social Services recruited 25 volunteers — unemployed fathers on public assistance who have child support debt anywhere from $2,000 to $80,000 — to take 40 hours of classes over 10 weeks. The classes cover a range of topics, from financial management to parenting to career counseling. At the end of the 40 hours, the county reduces participants’ debt by 25 percent. That’s the first carrot.

If the fathers find a job and keep it for 90 days, they can get their debt reduced another 25 percent. And if the fathers keep up with their current child support payments for an entire year, they can get their debt reduced to $500.

The result so far? Almost three-fourths of the fathers will have their debt reduced. At least five are on track to complete all three milestones, having already attended the classes and kept a new job for at least 90 days. Another 12 have completed the classes but haven’t met the program’s employment and child support payment goals yet.

Clinton Bess, one of the volunteers who is set to have his debt reduced to $500, says his last few jobs didn’t cover his child support obligations. “My take-home pay was sometimes negative,” he says. Bess now works as a motorman for the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority and as a street cleaner for the Yonkers Business Improvement District.

Westchester County isn’t the only government testing the waters on this issue.

In Wisconsin, a debt forgiveness program made participating parents more likely to pay child support and pay down their debt than parents outside the program. Texas was also able to increase the frequency and consistency of child support payments by adding mandatory courses on parenting, budgeting and relationship skills to the workforce development program.

The R.E.A.L. Parenting pilot is an amalgam of these promising initiatives. The pilot’s strength, Kenner says, is that it does more than forgive debt. It also incorporates intensive case management, drawing lessons from a statewide debt forgiveness pilot conducted by New York’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance in 2009.

Kenner and his boss, McGuire, tell the pilot’s participants that the program might one day go statewide — information they hope will motivate them to succeed.

“What you’re doing is going to help a lot of other guys in a lot of other parts of the state,” McGuire told a group of fathers in early June. “We have an investment in you. You are not just a name on a birth certificate.”

Besides the potential financial benefits of the pilot, county leadership hope it will lead to stronger relationships between children and their parents. When parents are current on child support payments, research suggests they interact more with their children.

“We owe it to our kids — and we owe it to our dads who have fallen away — to try and get them a second chance,” says Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino.

Astorino, a Republican, noted that the pilot ought to appeal to people across the political spectrum. As a conservative, he likes that the program rewards parents for finding employment and paying their current child support. Left-leaning officials in the county, he says, tell him they like its emphasis on second chances.

“This is something in today’s climate,” he says, “that everybody can get behind.”

Astorino Puts Environmental Concerns, Taxpayers on Front Burner of Indian Point Closure

Whether you’re for or against the closure of Indian Point, County Executive Rob Astorino wants to ensure the health, safety and pocketbooks of nine million New Yorkers are protected.

Astorino took the step this week of filing a lawsuit to ensure that any actions to close Indian Point fully comply with the state’s environmental laws, citing numerous breaches resulting from what he described as a “three men in a room” deal to close the plant. The closure was arranged in secret by Governor Cuomo, Riverkeeper and Entergy and failed to meet its obligations to New York State’s Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).

Indian Point provides 25 percent of New York City and Westchester’s electricity supply. Astorino cited the detrimental economic impact the closure would have on Westchester ratepayers and taxpayers. “The poor and senior citizens on fixed incomes will be hit the hardest by higher electricity costs once the plant is closed,” said County Executive Astorino.

Astorino also warned that the plant site, located in the Village of Buchanan, would become a nuclear waste cemetery, with spent radioactive fuel rods stored there for generations.

The state was required by law to file an environmental impact statement prior to its Jan. 9 agreement to close Indian Point. An EIS is meant to provide the public with detailed information about the environmental consequences of the proposal, including social and economic impacts to local communities and the region, and contains both a cost analysis and a range of alternatives.

“If our environmental laws are to mean anything, then surely they must apply to the closing of a nuclear power plant that affects the lives and livelihoods of nine million New Yorkers. If ever there was a case for the State Environmental Quality Review Act to be enforced, this is it.”

Astorino posed these questions that demand answers from the state:

Astorino Blasts ‘Hypocrisy’ Of Property Tax Plan

Original article published on The State of Politics blog by Spectrum News on 4/10/17. Article by Nick Reisman. Click here for the original article on Friends of Rob Astorino does not retain copyright.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino in a radio interview on Monday blasted the plan approved in the 2017-18 state budget that encourages local government consolidation and sharing of services.

“It’s so hypocritical of this governor to order everyone in a room and come up with a plan,” he told Fred Dicker on his Talk-1300 radio show.

The plan approved in the finalized budget is aimed at nudging county government leaders to have local municipalities develop ways of consolidating functions in order to reduce property taxes. A key provision of the initial proposal — the measure be put to voters this year in a referendum — was not included in the final deal.

Instead, county leaders will have to hold public forums on the proposals.

In the interview, Astorino knocked the mandated spending requirements in the budget he says make it harder for local governments to cut costs and keep taxes down.

“It’s all for show,” Astorino said. “From one end of the mouth they’re saying you have to cut costs and consolidate and yet on the other side of the mouth they’re voting on measures to make it harder to do so.”

He added: “It is the height of hypocrisy what the governor did and the Legislature did, too.”

Astorino overall was down on the budget, critical of the plan to provide free tuition to families earning under $125,000 to SUNY and CUNY schools.

“I’m trying to think where we’re going as a state here or if anyone cares,” he said. “The people with incomes are leaving. There is mobility and they’re choosing to get in the moving vans and they’re leaving the state.”

Astorino was the Republican nominee for governor in 2014 and is considering a second run statewide in 2018, but is also running for a third term as county executive this year.

For now, he remains non-committal on his plans for next year.

“Honestly I have no idea. I don’t know where the world is going to be next year,” he said, questioning Cuomo’s political plans as well as the discussions of other Republicans considering campaigns. “It’s so up in the air. It’s always one step at a time.”