George Latimer, the Westchester County executive-elect, promised to practice the politics of pragmatism, in a speech this morning to members of The Business Council of Westchester.
The politics of pragmatism includes collaborating closely with the business community, working with political adversaries and paying attention to the realities of economics and politics.
“We need to talk the truth,” he said.
Politicians who ignore economics, and business people who ignore politics, he said, do so at their peril.
Latimer, a Democrat, set the tone for the breakfast gathering at Abigail Kirsch at Tappan Hill Mansion in Tarrytown, by saluting Rob Astorino, the Republican county executive he defeated in the November election.
Despite their policy differences, he said, Astorino deserves respect for his eight years of service to Westchester.
Latimer learned something about pragmatism on the first day of sales training for a job he held during the corporate phase of his career.
People buy for their reasons, he was instructed, not his. It was a lesson that can easily be applied to governing.
“People make decisions on what they prioritize, not your priorities.” And what motivates them are money and politics.
But he sees the whole country bouncing back and forth between left and right, Democrat and Republican, failing to grasp economic and political realities and unwilling to adjust to those realities.
One of Latimer’s goals is to spur economic development in high unemployment neighborhoods in Mount Vernon, Yonkers, New Rochelle, Port Chester and other distressed areas. Ignoring those human needs, he said “would be wrong morally.”
But tough choices will have to be made as the county works with a tight budget.
He promised to work with all county legislators, Republicans and Democrats, as “17 equal decision-makers.”
One of the first things he will do when he takes office will be a small symbolic act. He will not put his name on county signs.
“The county is not owned by the executive,” he said. “It is owned by the people.”
Latimer cited the Bronx River Parkway, Playland and the county airport as examples of projects built many years ago that make Westchester a great place to live.
“This county was built by people with guts and vision,” he said.
“Fifty years from now, no one will remember my name.”
But with a politics of pragmatism and the kind of political courage that previous political and business leaders practiced, he said, today’s leaders can do the right things for the future.