If the turnout of more than 600 business, community and political leaders on Nov. 13 to honor William M. Mooney Jr., retiring president and CEO of the Westchester County Association, didn’t send a strong enough message, New York’s Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo attended and presented Mooney with the Excelsior Medal, the state’s highest honor for public service.
WCA’s tribute highlighted Mooney’s leadership in developing initiatives in health care, real estate, workforce development and digital access, with Mooney having been an early proponent of bringing ultra-high speed internet service to Westchester.
The event was held at the Performing Arts Center at SUNY Purchase and honored Mooney’s Irish heritage with performances by Irish dancers and the Emerald Society Pipe & Drum ensemble. Tara Rosenblum of News 12 was the emcee for the evening.
In his remarks, Cuomo recalled that Mooney had a long and successful career in banking and originally intended his leadership of the WCA to be less permanent than it turned out to be. ”Bill took over the Westchester County Association in 2004 when he agreed to ‘babysit it for a while.’ That was 15 years ago and Bill was no babysitter,” Cuomo said. “Bill has played a pivotal role in Westchester’s fantastic growth and expansion from a perceived bedroom community of New York City to an economic powerhouse in and of itself.”
Cuomo cited Mooney for helping create support for the plan to replace the aging Tappan Zee Bridge and credited his leadership with helping expand commerce and the Westchester economy.
“That growth doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s not a process of evolution. It happens by forging partnerships between business and government and with a guiding hand of leadership along a path of smart growth, balancing economic, physical and social development to maximum potential for all and that’s exactly what Bill Mooney did at the Westchester County Association,” Cuomo said.
William P. Harrington, chairman of the WCA’s board of directors, drew laughs when he said, “This is supposed to be a combination of a celebration and a wake. I reject both notions. I’ve known Bill for a long time and the governor said all nice things about him and my job is to bring him back down to earth. In the last 15 years, he has transformed this organization into a regional think tank that has taken on the various issues…with passion for all levels of our society. This isn’t just business-driven enterprise. It is driven as you all know and led by Bill as taking care of everyone because if everyone is taken care of then we’ll all succeed,” Harrington said.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the New York Archdiocese was unable to attend because he was on a trip to Italy but sent a video message to Mooney.
He praised Mooney for his years of service to the Westchester Community and added, “If you know Bill, you know he’s really not going anywhere. He’s going to be around and we look forward to that.” Dolan said that the most important things to Mooney are his family, his faith and the community.
“My prayers and blessings are with you Bill, Joan (Bill’s wife) and the family, all of our beloved Westchester community, tonight and always. Have a great time everybody. I’ve got to go and get my pasta.”
Mooney was emotional as he walked to the podium. “I’m overwhelmed. I just don’t know what to say. I’m overwhelmed,” he said. “I can’t believe what’s happened here tonight. The emotions I’m feeling, the quite dramatic joy to be with all of you here tonight.” Mooney called on those at the event to play a special role in carrying forward the work of WCA and praised their past efforts. “It’s up to everyone here to work together to take that passion and commitment – and the WCA – to new heights,” he said.
A dinner reception was held in the upper lobby of the Performing Arts Center following the in-theater portion of the evening.
Mooney officially retires on Dec. 31. A seven-person search committee chaired by Jeffrey Menkes, president and CEO of The Burke Rehabilitation Hospital, has been tasked with finding a new president and CEO for WCA. Effective Jan. 1, John E. Ritacco will become interim president and CEO. He is the former president and CEO of CMS Bancorp Inc.