By CHRIS EBERHART
Two local Democrats representing the Sound Shore area appear to be running unopposed in this November’s state elections after a couple of local Republican officials turned down the opportunity to run for higher office.
State Sen. George Latimer and state Assemblyman Steve Otis, both Rye Democrats, are seeking second terms in office. As of press time, there are no Republican candidates to contest their re-election runs.
Rye City Councilwoman Julie Killian and Westchester County Legislator Sheila Marcotte, both of which would’ve opposed Latimer for Senate, were approached by the Republican Party and considered running, but both said they turned down the opportunity.
Latimer, who prides himself on his bipartisanship, said on Monday, “Since it’s June 2 and there’s been no Republican candidate, I take that as a sign that I’m doing a good job because, if the Republicans hated me, they’d have someone by now.”
Otis echoed Latimer’s sentiment.
“I’m going to run on a record of hard work and working with both Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “I’ve received a lot of support in Republican areas like Rye. People see my record of success that I’ve had and vote based on that.”
Latimer, 60, is running for his second two-year term as the representative of the 37th District in the Senate following an eight-year stint in the Assembly, 13 years on the Westchester County Board of Legislators and four years as a member of the Rye City Council.
The 37th District includes North Castle, Bedford, Bronxville, Eastchester, Harrison Larchmont, Mamaroneck, parts of New Rochelle, Port Chester, Rye City, Rye Brook, Tuckahoe, parts of White Plains and the eastern half of Yonkers.
Otis, 57, who replaced Latimer in the Assembly in 2012, is running for his second two-year term as the representative of the 91st Assembly District after serving as the longest tenured Rye City mayor from—1998 to 2010—and serving as a longtime counsel and chief of staff for former Democratic state Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer. Otis worked with Oppenheimer on Westchester issues after he joined her staff in 1985.
The 91st Assembly District includes Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Port Chester, Rye Brook, Rye City and a portion of New Rochelle.
Latimer and Otis had different priorities over the past two years, but both said they were passionate about education reform and lowering property taxes.
Latimer said he’s been focused on working on municipality-specific needs, such as changing parking laws in Bronxville to accommodate development and changing the fire district election date in Eastchester to be in-line with the November elections.
Otis said he has been focused on flood control and emergency management, Metro-North reform and small business development. He said the first committee he wanted to be on as a member of the state Assembly was the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, which has oversight over legislation dealing with Metro-North, the state Thruway Authority and the Public Service Commission.
Otis said, on the Public Service Commission front, there were “major deficiencies” in Con Edison’s response during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and other storms over the past 15 years. In order to combat these deficiencies, the state expanded the powers of the commission.
“In last year’s budget, the Public Service Commission was given more power to require emergency preparedness standards from utility companies and to have the heads of those companies certified for those standards,” Otis said. “Emergency preparedness and flood control has been something I’ve been involved with since I was a mayor and I’ve followed up with those issues as an assemblyman.”
As for Metro-North, Otis said he has been concerned with the issues that have plagued the service—especially the New Haven line. He said there has been “a lack of reliability” with that train line, which he said has resulted in “the worst service in my lifetime” with major delays caused by equipment, infrastructure and track issues as well as safety issues like the December 2013 derailment that resulted in passenger deaths and injuries.
Otis said he’s been working with the new head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Joseph J. Giulietti, who took over after Howard Permut retired in late January 2014.
While their main priorities have been different, education at the state level has been a passion for both Otis and Latimer, each citing recent successes such as increased state aid for their districts’ schools and fixing the controversial Common Core Learning Standards, which they say includes excessive testing and collecting personally identifiable student data to be stored in a statewide database known as inBloom, which was eliminated as part of the state budget passed in March.
After the state budget passed on March 31, New York State schools saw a $56 million increase in state aid, which went a long way towards balancing local school districts’ budgets.
“Education is the flipside to lowering property taxes,” Otis said. “The schools account for the majority of the tax bill, so increasing funding for schools will help lower property taxes.”
The budget also came with the elimination of inBloom, which Latimer said was a step in a positive direction, but “we’re not done yet.”
Lowering property taxes has been the other topic of particular interest of Latimer and Otis.
Latimer said he knows the pressure local municipalities are facing because of unfunded state mandates and has been working to lighten the load.
“Property taxes are the biggest issue…and the state puts more costs and stress on local governments,” Latimer said. “I have a bill that would have the state pick up the unfunded mandates and I have a bill that would require the state to pick up a percentage of the pension costs.”
Latimer’s bill, which he co-sponsored with Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, a Greenburgh Democrat, would cap a municipality’s pension expenditure at 2 percent, meaning the amount a community pays can’t exceed more than 2 percent of the prior year’s expenditures. The 2 percent pension cap, Latimer argues, would be in line with the 2 percent tax levy cap already imposed by the state.
The proposal does not cut the pension benefit retirees are entitled to.
Instead, it would force the state to pay into the pension fund and stop, as Latimer sees it, kicking the can down the road.
Doug Coltey, chairman of the Westchester County Republican Party, could not be reached as of press time.