Just hours before an anti-privatization rally was set to take place on the steps of the Westchester County Office Building, Legislator David Gelfarb announced that he will not support any plan to privatize the Westchester County Airport.
Gelfarb, a Republican whose district include Harrison, Rye Brook and Port Chester, cited a number of reasons for his opposition, including the length of the proposed lease term.
“I question whether a 40-year lease is in the best interest of the county,” Gelfarb said in his office on Monday. “Forty years is an extremely long time to lose control of an asset.”
Gelfarb added that a loss of control over capital projects at the airport was another glaring concern, along with excess traffic and environmental issues.
“I urge my fellow legislators not to support any airport privatization whether this year or in subsequent legislative years,” he said.
The announcement came only a few hours before a rally organized by opponents to the airport’s privatization plans was set to begin. That rally will be held today at 5:30 at the Westchester County Office Building at 148 Martine Ave. in White Plains.
Gelfarb is scheduled to speak at the rally, along with County Legislator Catherine Parker, a Rye Democrat.
The event is sponsored by a number of organizations, including Citizens for a Responsible County Airport, Westchester for Change, WESPAC, Sierra Club, Federated Conservationists of Westchester County, Purchase Environmental Protective Association, Food & Water Watch, Grassroots Environmental Education, We Persist and Indivisible Westchester.
The rally’s announcement follows the unveiling of Westchester County’s draft master plan for the airport. A public hearing and presentation on the master plan will be held on July 27 at 7 p.m. in the Little Theater at the Westchester County Center.
While Gelfarb said he had reviewed the master plan, he would reserve his judgment until after the public hearing.
“My concerns about privatization really are not integrally related to the airport master plan,” Gelfarb said. “I’m concerned about privatization as it is, and the master plan, while we certainly have concerns about that, is to me, an issue for another day.”
Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino announced a $140 million, 40-year revenue-sharing lease with California-based Oaktree Capital Management in November.
Some members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators balked at the administration’s plan, criticizing the lack of a competitive bid process and calling the deal a gimmick to balance an unbalanced budget. The full lease agreement proposal was sent to the board just days before Astorino was set to deliver the 2017 budget, one that included $15 million in revenue from the airport deal.
“We cannot solve one year’s budget through a 40-year mechanism,” Gelfarb said.
In April, legislators issued a request for proposals from potential private operators for the airport. The deadline for those proposals was originally July 14 but was extended two weeks to July 28, Gelfarb said.
Gelfarb said that instead of privatizing the airport, he plans to urge the county’s representatives in Washington D.C. to draft legislation that would allow the county to unlock revenue from the airport, particularly with respect to parking.