All Politics are Local: Interview with George Latimer

In this column I will be interviewing different politicians that represent Rye Brook. I will be asking each politician many of the same questions. I hope that these interviews will help you learn about the people who represent us in government. For my first interview, I spoke with  George Latimer, Westchester County Executive.

Prior to being elected Executive of the 7th most populous county in New York State, Latimer was a member of the New York State Senate, beginning in 2012. Latimer previously served on the Rye City council, in the Westchester County legislature, and in the New York State Assembly. Latimer was elected Westchester County Executive in November 2017, defeating incumbent Republican Rob Astorino. Below are selected excerpts from our 30 minute interview: 

What or who inspired you to get involved with politics? 

“I grew up during the Vietnam Era, I was in college during the Watergate Era. Politics was very prominent to people in my age group. These events created a political level of interest for my generation. I didn’t think that I was going to go into politics. I started out in a corporate career, my political career didn’t start until I was 50 years old.”

What was your career before going into politics?

“I worked in the hospitality industry prior to going into politics.” County Executive Latimer stated that he gained a great deal of experience from his corporate job which helped him later in life when he went into politics. 

What is your favorite part of the job?

“Definitely Pre-Covid! I am comfortable interacting with people of all different sorts, my corporate career helped as I was a salesman and you must be comfortable interacting with people of all different sorts. I am comfortable with lots of diversity.” Latimer grew up in a lower income and extremely diverse neighborhood in Westchester and says he was able to use the experiences he gained from growing up in that setting when he became a politician. “In politics you get the chance to create a result that matters more to people than just you. Corporate jobs don’t really help other people, and don’t have any lasting effect. If I stayed at a corporate job I would’ve missed out on the chance to help people and make a lasting difference. In politics you get a sense of accomplishment for helping people.”

What is your least favorite or most difficult thing about the job ? 

“The climate of hyper partisanship really concerns me for your generation. Partisanship has switched from saying we’re both Americans to you’re my enemy and I hate everything that you stand for. That is really concerning to me, I worry about the America of the future if we can’t find a solution to these issues.”

What Surprised You The Most About The Job?

“The vastness of the county, I had represented only ⅓ of the County, I thought I had a good handle of the County, but when I became County Executive I saw that the County was more diverse than people thought. Westchester is looked at as this wealthy County, but in reality not everyone is wealthy and there is poverty.”

How did Covid impact your work?

“Bumped us off of many of the things we intended to do. We had to postpone our initiatives. For example, we had a plan to evaluate the airport, but when Covid hit all of the plans stopped. We don’t know how long we will be in this situation, we could be heading into a lockdown again and that causes lots of problems at both a health and an economic standpoint. I hope for the best, but we have never seen this in my lifetime or your lifetime before and we are just trying to figure everything out as we go along.”

How did your day to day change with Covid?

“We were keeping many people home from work as early as March and just had a skeleton crew running the top of the County government. We did the basic services, not much beyond. Much of what we were doing related to Covid, I had daily updates about the numbers.” 

Advice For Future Public Servants 

“If you’re interested in government or politics in high school, the first obvious thing is to get the education you need. I think a career in politics really has to tie into policy and that the reason you run for office is to accomplish something you think is a good thing as a policy. I think young people get caught up in the glamour of the game, the winning, running the campaign. If you know what you want to do, move into that direction, because you will be a far better politician once you start a career and live a normal life, the people who only think about politics tend to see everything through a political lense. You can’t begin to persuade others unless you have a real idea on how your constituents live their lives, and that requires you to live your life.”

Future Goal and Aspirations

“I expect to run for reelection next year, it’ll be my second term and I hope to serve it well. I did sign a term limit bill for the County Executive position so I will only be able to have two terms. I did this because executive power in the wrong hands is the most dangerous thing in the world. Perhaps after my second term a statewide race. But a statewide race is humungous, it is expensive, you have to have a lot of hubris to pull it off. We will just see what happens at the end of my second term.”

Anything else you would like to share with the readers at Blind Brook?

“You have to have an ego in the world, but you can’t be arrogant and we have seen four years of that in the Executive branch. My attitude is one of gratitude and I hope I can continue this job and finalize some of the achievements and then have a sense that it all matters.”