By CHRISTIAN FALCONE
It turned out Rob Astorino wasn’t too extreme for Westchester after all.
Facing constant attacks from his opponent on issues that some would argue don’t belong in local politics and a two-to-one voter registration disadvantage, Republican County Executive Astorino still managed to retain his seat for a second four-year term. Astorino defeated his Democratic challenger, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, in surprisingly comfortable fashion.
As of press time, the county executive had captured 55 percent of the vote, 76,088 votes, to Bramson’s 45 percent, 61,805 votes, with 81 percent of districts reporting, according to unofficial tallies from the Westchester Board of Elections.
Of the 550,000 registered voters in Westchester, more than 130,000 took to the polls on Election Day.
The campaign was hard-fought and over the better part of this year. Throughout, Astorino banked on his first-term record, touting promises he made while campaigning for the seat in a 2009 climate rife with what he called over-taxation; promises he said were kept four years later.
At times the race was ugly, with both candidates on the offensive. In the end, voters seemed to feel Astorino was able to stay on message and run a campaign that was more issues-based.
Bill O’Reilly, Astorino’s campaign manager, said the county executive’s focus was not only taxes, but also the perceived overreach of the federal government in regard to the county’s 2009 affordable housing settlement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Voters respected Rob’s stance [on HUD],” he said.
Conversely, Bramson spent the bulk of his campaign attempting to characterize Astorino as a Tea Party extremist, a gun enthusiast and backwards in his thinking on women’s reproductive rights.
With the candidate’s defeat, the Bramson campaign’s decision to highlight national-level issues as the focal point in a campaign for a countywide seat is left open to analysis. Many in the local punditry likened Bramson’s county run to a congressional campaign.
According to filings with the state Board of Elections, Bramson spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with consulting firms based in Washington D.C. and the Virginia area that specialize in a broader, more national approach to platform building.
In the end, that approach does not seem to have resonated with a majority of Westchester voters, nor did it turn out the Democratic voting base, which did not show for the second consecutive county executive election.
“That campaign was run out of Washington D.C.,” Astorino said. “They were doing the national playbook; the Tea Party stuff, which didn’t work anywhere.”
Astorino said the national issues approach was also employed by Democrats in Nassau and Orange counties, as well.
“People see through that,” he said.
O’Reilly didn’t begrudge the attacks on his candidate; he felt it was the only approach the Bramson campaign could take.
“I don’t blame their strategists for trying that,” he said. “It was a sound strategy. I don’t question the judgment, but, to the credit of the voters, it didn’t work.”
Astorino was also able to fight off what once was considered to be a crippling blow to his campaign, the loss of the Independence Party line. Historically, Republicans in Westchester have had difficulty winning countywide offices without carrying the Independence Party, the county’s third-largest. Prior to Astorino’s victory on Tuesday, no Republican county executive had ever won the seat without support from the Independence Party.
Preliminary tallies showed Bramson, even with the controversial endorsement of the party, only received about1,200 Independence votes. In 2009, Astorino captured more than 10 times that number.
O’Reilly said there was no other way to explain the drop in numbers from that voting bloc other than Westchester voters doing their homework.
“That party has to decide what it wants to be,” he said regarding Independence Party leadership. “I think that line may have become radioactive.”
Astorino, stationed at the Crowne Plaza in White Plains, celebrated amongst hundreds of cheering supporters as the results began to shift in the Republican’s favor quickly on Tuesday night.
With his re-election now behind him and little time to bask in his victory, the county executive will quickly shift his focus to the county’s 2014 budget with his political stock at an all-time high.
O’Reilly also credited Astorino with his ability to gain bipartisan support. In one of the team’s final internal polls, O’Reilly said, Astorino won roughly 61 percent of the Latino vote and 30 percent of the Democratic vote.
“Just extraordinary,” O’Reilly said. “There is a lot of crossover.”
Astorino also did well in predominately Democratic districts like Scarsdale and Greenburgh, according to O’Reilly.
I knew we weren’t going to win in 2005,” Astorino said. “In 2009, the day before the election, I just knew I was going to win. This was sort of the same thing.”
In defeat, Bramson addressed a crowd of supporters at the Westchester Hilton Tuesday night as the results began to swing in Astorino’s favor.
“Running against a well-liked and well-financed incumbent is always a tough challenge. The fact that we came as close as we did is a tribute to the extraordinary effort and dedication of so many people here,” Bramson said. “The regret I feel tonight is not for myself…My regret is that I wasn’t able to bring home the victory that each of you deserved.”
Now, Bramson is left to ponder his own political future.
He will go back to governing New Rochelle for another two years before his term as mayor expires. Bramson is in his third-term as mayor and has served on the New Rochelle City Council since the age of 25. But the loss to Astorino was Bramson’s second defeat in a bid for higher office—he ran unsuccessfully for state Assembly more than a decade ago. Long a rumored successor to U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, a Democrat, Bramson was removed from her district when congressional lines were redrawn last year.