Good Evening.

Tonight marks the fourth year that I have presented to you on the State of Westchester County, an event returned here to the People’s Chamber, before your Honorable Board of Legislators and the viewing public. Much has changed from year one - much has changed since year three.  

Just this past October, I stood here before you, and we were all at the mercy of COVID-19. We were bending and twisting trying to conform our lives to this deadly and destructive illness.  But today, seven months later, look at us - look at us, through sacrifice and discipline, vaccinated and fighting back.

We have a long way to go my friends; we still aren’t fully back, but ladies and gentlemen we are getting there - and we are united.

When the men and women who came before us built this great chamber, they didn’t know exactly the hardships we would face - but they knew - maybe we all knew, they would come one day. The grandness of this room and what it stands for - the people’s chamber - still astounds me - Chairman Ben Boykin and members of this Board, thank you for your leadership during this very difficult time. 

On a separate occasion standing here, I stated that the author Tom Wolfe was wrong when he wrote, you can’t go home again - because you canThis chamber is home to me, and this County will always be home to me - and I thank you Chairman Boykin for always making me feel right at home.  

I want to recognize those who serve us so well: our County Clerk Tim Idoni, District Attorney Mimi Rocah, former County Executive Andy Spano, Former Chairman of the Board of Legislators the legendary Herman Geist, and other elected officials - I thank you for your friendship and your willingness to work together. 

To my executive team, including my senior team - Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins, Director of Operations Joan McDonald, County Attorney John Nonna, Director of Communications Catherine Cioffi, Director of Intergovernmental Relations Steve Bass, my Chief of Staff Andrew Ferris and my Deputy Director of Operations Emily Saltzman - thank you for standing with me for these past almost four years.  

May I also take some pride in the many former Legislators who now serve in this Administration: Mike Kaplowitz, Jim Maisano, Richard Wishnie, Clinton Young, and many more on Boards and Commissions like Marty Rogowsky. This is the common purpose we share as legislators and executives.

Some days… it feels like we just started, and other days… well other days are other days.

I want to publicly thank the incredible 4,000 plus County Employees for their dedication to each other and the people of this County.  You have worked tirelessly - first during a lockdown, and then as we began to open up, you volunteered at vaccine clinics to get our people vaccinated!  

Some of you tonight are watching this at home on News 12 or on Facebook Live, or you are tuning in to the County’s webpage. To you I say thank you – thank you for being an active, engaged citizen, a part of this amazing County. Thank you for putting your faith in us - and most importantly, throughout this pandemic, your faith in science. 

President Harry Truman once said, “America was built on courage -- on imagination and unbeatable determination -- to do the job at hand.” Friends and colleagues, I’m here to tell you tonight I am here to do the job at hand, you are here to do the job at hand and together, united - we will do the job at hand. Because, we are the State of our County – and we are united to move forward.

Watch this short video, “Working to Move Forward.”

Our Administration gave you a bit of a sneak peak of this speech last week, just a taste of what the 2022 budget will be like. The Department of Budget forecasts a $16 million dollar increase in the County’s general fund balance for the 2021 fiscal year. The increase will bring the unrestricted fund balance to over $200 million dollars at the end of 2021– the largest in the County’s history.

Now this is all still a projection, with variables ahead - but clearly a very good one and one that drastically changes our economic forecast. 

We had to make hard financial decisions and we faced difficult financial times, but we made smart choices with federal dollars that not only saved the County money, but also provided essential services for the public when they needed it the most. We supported efforts to combat food insecurity, supported small businesses and remote learning centers for children. 

I want to be clear - this is how government is supposed to work. This is good government. We have worked every day for you, and I mean that. During this pandemic, many of our Westchester neighbors struggled mightily to survive. I know what it is like to struggle; I know what it is like to have mom and dad worried at the kitchen table about bills. I know because I have lived it.  

That is why it was so important to me, in the midst of a crippling pandemic, to keep the promise I made to you two years ago. We cut County property taxes for the second year in a row this year but we didn’t stop there. I signed the 2021 budget not only cutting taxes, but also maintaining County services, and cutting expenditures by $15.7 million dollars. We maintained our commitment to our workers and their families – no furloughs, no layoffs. We extended our deadline dates for property taxpayers last year, to give them some breathing room. 

So let me be clear - anyone who says County taxes are up, people are fleeing Westchester, is peddling fiction, running the rumor mill and trying to sell you what they call “common sense” - when it is in fact pure nonsense.   

We cut County property taxes for the second year in a row this year - and you know who we did it for - we did that for that mom and dad sitting at the kitchen table.

Watch this short video, “At Home with the Parker Family.”

We can’t make promises, but if projections hold true, we will be able to continue our tax policy and cut County property taxes again next year, for the third straight year. 

I promised you I would clean up this County, fix what was broken and neglected, and I promised you I would always do right by you - so I want to thank you for having faith.

The 2021 Budget also included:

  • $5 million dollars for Economic Development Programs
  • $5 million dollars for Housing Assistance Programs
  • $2 million dollars for Food Insecurity
  • $1 million dollars for the Emergency Services Response

Before entering 2021, the 2020 budget year closed - let me repeat - with no layoffs, no furloughs, no service cuts - and - no borrowing for pension costs. 

Fiscally sound policies.

We also wanted to do more to help those who have served us. I’ve submitted legislation raising the Veterans Real Property Tax Exemption caps to up to $75 thousand dollars for all veterans, up to $50 thousand dollars additionally for veterans who fought in a Combat Zone of Operations, and up to $250 thousand dollars for service-disabled veterans. Because, providing this tax relief for the brave men and women in our community who fought to protect our nation and all it stands for -- is a small gesture with a real impact. 

We were focused on our finances and on your finances, but we were also focused on your health - very literally.

Here in Westchester County we started vaccinating on January 5, and that day we started with ten Department of Health staff members at our clinic just down the block from here in White Plains.  We were learning and teaching each other how to vaccinate for COVID-19. From that moment it has been nonstop. Today, from all sources, we have vaccinated 552,214 people in Westchester County.  

There are workers out there, hands doing the jobs and carrying the load for many. They are the quiet voices and the steady hands. They don't get a lot of attention, nor do they seek it, but they deserve our thanks.

I thank the Westchester County Department of Health, under the leadership of Dr. Sherlita Amler, First Deputy Commissioner Renee Recchia, and Assistant Commissioner of Public Health Protection Peter DeLucia for their tireless work. The men and women of the Health Department who have educated us, tested us and now are vaccinating us - to all of you I say thank you.

I also thank the nearly one thousand County employees who volunteered their time to work at vaccination clinics - that is the Westchester spirit! 

We worked regularly with the County’s school superintendents to help them navigate the reopening process.  We also arranged to have their teachers, faculty and staff vaccinated, because we recognize that the schools need to be open and the children of this County need to be in the classroom. 

We worked regularly with the leaders of our Towns, Villages and Cities to cooperatively deal with this pandemic. And in that dialogue, our County legislators, and State Legislators were always welcomed partners, regardless of political party or philosophy.   

This pandemic also shined a light on the dedicated and committed work of our Westchester County Department of Public Safety, under the leadership of Commissioner/Sheriff Tom Gleason, vigilant in patrolling parkways and protecting County property including the County Center, Westchester County Airport, communities such as the Village of Mount Kisco and the Town of Cortlandt – and keeping watch over this very building.

As we have been - since day one of this crisis - County government has an all-hands-on-deck approach to help Westchester through this unprecedented pandemic. 

I instructed the County’s Department of Seniors Programs & Services, under the leadership of Commissioner Mae Carpenter, to use all available resources to help the County’s senior population navigate the vaccine appointment process.

We offered free transportation service, under the leadership of Office of People with Disabilities Director Evan Latainer, for senior citizens and disabled residents on ParaTransit, so they could receive the COVID-19 vaccine.  And we partnered with Empress Ambulance, Ossining Volunteer Ambulance Corps and Scarsdale Ambulance Corps to go and vaccinate those who could not leave their homes. 

At a time when we all needed a little breathing space and serenity, the Westchester County Parks System saw record numbers of visitors.  During spring and summer, Parks managed the successful reopening of golf courses, pools and beaches, camps, six sold-out outdoor movies and Bicycle Sundays - all with safety protocols in place.

Our beaches and pools had over 300,000 visitors. And our golf courses had over 260,000 rounds played - the most in 20 years. Thank you to all the Westchester County Parks workers and thank you to Commissioner Kathy O’Connor and First Deputy Commissioner Peter Tartaglia.

To get the word out, we launched an aggressive marketing program, first to get people tested, then to focus on their mental health and now to get vaccinated - we did this utilizing existing communication channels and tapping leaders in communities to record PSAs in English and in Spanish. Our campaign is vigorous, and we continue to do it to this day. 

We partnered with El Centro Hispano Executive Director Isabel Villar, The Business Council of Westchester President and CEO Marsha Gordon, the Radio City Rockettes and - newly playoff bound - New York Knicks Management and Players - including Ossining’s own Obi Toppin to get the word out about the importance of getting vaccinated:

Watch this short video, “Vaccination PSA Montage.”

As I stand here before you tonight, know that 2,270 (two thousand two hundred and seventy) of our brothers and sisters are gone. Lost to COVID-19. Last May, we unveiled a new memorial at Lenoir Preserve in Yonkers - Ribbons of Remembrance. At the one-year mark of COVID in Westchester, we memorialized the people lost at a ceremony in the lobby of this building. The Ribbons of Remembrance Memorial will again open at Lenoir Preserve this weekend.  

We want to honor those men and women as much as we can - the moms, the dads, the sisters and brothers, Nicholas Puja from White Plains, Juan Carlos Cintron from Sleepy Hollow and many others, that is why tonight I directed all the flags on County buildings to be flown at half-staff during this speech.  

No life lost is ever a statistic, they are people, they loved and they were loved. They laughed and cried and walked among us.

We all know the tragedy that struck our nation on September 11, 2001 but that smoldering pile at Ground Zero left many others, all these years later, suffering from 9-11 related illnesses.  

One of those men was retired New York City police sergeant Peter Woods. Peter served as a co-chair of our Westchester County 9/11 Related Illnesses Memorial Committee - working tirelessly to get a new memorial built at Kensico Dam Plaza to honor the Westchester residents lost since 9-11 from 9-11 related illnesses. 

Sadly, we lost Peter this year to one of those illnesses.

Please watch this short video, “9/11 Related Illnesses Memorial.”

We will never forget Peter and we will continue his mission to memorialize those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. We look forward to unveiling the new memorial this September 11 on the 20th anniversary. 

Perhaps the greatest way to honor those we have lost is to show love to our neighbors - the people with whom we share these streets.

We have seen hate crimes on the rise in other parts of the state and Country.  Here in Westchester we teamed up with the Asian American Advisory Board, the Westchester Human Rights Commission and District Attorney Mimi Rocah to urge residents to speak up. Together we launched the #SpeakUpWestchester campaign to encourage those who are the victim or witness a hate crime, bias or hate incident to report it.  The campaign was translated into four languages, with more to come.  

Friends, we live in a time of extraordinary change, how we work, where we work, how we educate our kids, how we take care of our planet and how we take care of ourselves. 

For the past three-and-a-half years our goal has been growing the economy, making sound financial decisions, and attracting new businesses to Westchester.  But, we have also been creating a community that works for everyone - because that is what good government is supposed to do.    

When I took office in 2018, I made it a priority to strengthen and revitalize the Westchester County Human Rights Commission – a commission I helped to establish with State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and former Board Chair Lois Bronz during my time serving at the Board of Legislators. Today, I’m proud to announce that the HRC’s Fair Housing Assistance Program partnership with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development has been recertified for five more years. I thank HRC Executive Director Tejash Sanchala for his work restoring the Commission.

Also, we expect to be completely compliant with the Federal Housing monitor by the fall.  I’m proud to say that the monitor recently said when considering all the County has done, and all we have committed to, that he believes “the County has substantially met its obligations under the requirement.”

Also, when young people needed it the most, we helped establish the Ossining Youth Bureau and reestablished the Port Chester and Yonkers Youth Bureaus. Prior to the economic devastation brought on by COVID-19, discussions surrounding the need for social, emotional, physical, educational and economic supports were ongoing; but the pandemic made this more pronounced. 

Westchester has become the first County to establish a new Youth Bureau since the 1980s.  I thank Westchester County Youth Bureau Executive Director Dr. DaMia Harris-Madden, County Legislators Ruth Walter, José Alvarado, Christopher Johnson and Catherine Borgia for their important work on this.

Someone who has long recognized the needs of children and young people - someone who has also been a champion of good government is our very own Vice Chairwoman and trailblazer - Alfreda Williams. Alfreda will be retiring from public service this year after decades of dedication to the people of Westchester.

Watch this short video, “A Tribute to Alfreda Williams.”

Ladies and Gentlemen – the Honorable Alfreda Williams.

As Alfreda would want me to do, I have put a heavy focus on our Boards and Commissions - because more people should be involved in government - and should have their voices heard - after all we are the State of our County.  

Thank you to the people - motivated and inspired to make change. The Asian American Advisory Board, the Arab American Advisory Board and the Advisory Council on People with Disabilities. These are boards all recently appointed and activated - thank you for all you do.  

This year, sadly we lost a Westchester icon Lawrence Otis Graham, a long-time advocate in the County who served on the Police Advisory Board. He was a lawyer, author, activist, and a hardworking family man who cared deeply about the community. He wanted to ensure fairness and equity across the board.  Because of his life experience, he was able to bridge both sides of a diverse conversation - and we miss him terribly. 

Every year, sometimes every day, we learn what we can do better.  This year I learned we could always do better when it comes to inclusion.  So I am here to say tonight, “Hi, I’m George Latimer.  He, him, his.” 

I have signed into law and formally codified the Westchester County LGBTQ Advisory Board. I was proud to stand with the Board and community to ban conversion therapy in October of 2018, to raise the Pride Flag for the first time at the Michaelian Office Building in June of 2019, and this June I will stand with them again as we paint the Progressive Pride flag at Playland, and raise the flag in the front circle. I want to thank Board President Chris Oldi and the entire board for their incredible work.  

You see, I want people to be involved - this is our government. That is why I have pulled together the Moving Westchester Forward Working Group that will explore the best ways for the County to use the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. The group will focus on various topics including providing economic opportunity, addressing health and mental health care needs and inequities, and local and small business development.

When I took office in 2018, I pledged to find solutions to some of the most pressing challenges at the Westchester County Airport.  

When it came to airport policy, I:

  • Halted all efforts to privatize the Airport  
  • Re-started well testing which identified sources of pollution.  And, as I give this speech we are addressing all chemical pollution from groundwater seepage that threatens our drinking water (PFAS, etc.)
  • Continued the program to ensure all de-icing fluids be diverted into tanks, rather than flowing into the Blind Brook and the Long Island Sound and 
  • Upgraded the system for storm water runoff collected in retention basins 

Further we did things that hadn’t been done before:

  • Held four community speak-outs to let voices be heard 
  • Obtained and implemented modern new noise monitors and
  • Overhauled the Airport Advisory Board with community-based members

Your Honorable Board and this Administration now must deal with the future of the Airport, and determine what strategies lead us forward

The Westchester County Airport is a major economic driver for our region – it is a source of jobs, and a major reason why corporations are headquartered here. And, at the very same time it is a presence that impacts its surrounding neighbors who seek protection from its environmental impact. These two realities are the bases for the discussion ahead.

I thank County Legislator Nancy Barr and Airport Advisory Board Chairman Nicholas Hartman for their tireless advocacy on our efforts to date. 

More broadly on the environmental front, I’m introducing two pieces of legislation, the first to require the County to purchase electric vehicles and that will essentially convert the majority of the fleet to electric, and the second to enhance and enforce the Westchester County Complete Streets policy encouraging multiple use roadways by widening shoulders for pedestrians and bikes. 

We have made progress in the conversion of our Bee Line bus fleet from diesel to hybrid and electric, and we have begun an aggressive commitment to electric vehicle charging stations. But, we must do more.

This year, Westchester residents have recycled at an unprecedented rate. Recycling was up almost 31 percent in September, curbside recycling is up over 10.5 percent and recycling revenue was up a whopping 107 percent. 

Also new this year, County residents now have a location to learn how to best divert food scraps from the waste stream as we officially cut the - homemade, compostable - ribbon on the County’s new Compost & Education Center. At CompostEd, Department of Environmental Facilities staff, under the leadership of Commissioner Vinny Kopicki, will operate a small-scale aerated static pile compost system. 

In the COVID world we now live in, we are choosing to focus on growing the economy, and workers, start-ups and small businesses are going to play a big role, because the spirit of innovation is there - it was always there - now it’s our job to help them grow and succeed.  

The Westchester County Industrial Development Agency provided financial incentives and tax-exempt bond financing to a variety of developments representing $370 million dollars in private investment in the County.  

In what is the largest County IDA transaction in recent years, the IDA board voted in November to approve financial incentives for Morgan Stanley’s multi-year renovation of its 750,000-square-foot corporate office complex at 2000 Westchester Avenue in the Town of Harrison. 

The number of jobs to be created over the course of the project is projected to be up to 1,100 new positions. The project is also estimated to create about 923 construction jobs.

  • We provided $14 million dollars in grants to over 400 businesses who were struggling due to the pandemic.
  • We started Launch1000 – a program to provide 1000 Westchester residents with the opportunity to launch a business. 
  • We initiated the second cohort of the Biosciences Accelerator.
  • And we recruited for the 3rd cohort of Element 46, the County’s premiere incubator program.  

In early June, I set in motion the Westchester County Reopening Task Force, co-chaired by Legislator Catherine Parker and Restauranteur Louie Lanza. The weekly meetings of the task force provide a platform for sharing news and information about the reopening of the County, and helpful insight into issues that businesses and other organizations are facing.  

This year, while the pandemic was raging, we decided it was the perfect time to celebrate the power, strength and independence of Westchester County women, with the first ever WOW Awards. We honored seven extraordinary, local women for their contributions during the pandemic.  

Watch this short video, “Highlights of the WOW Awards.”

In my administration we are committed to a diverse workforce, we aren’t where we need to be but we are working to get there.

We appointed Leonard Townes to take charge of the Department of Social Services – the County’s largest department. Leonard is a man dedicated to serving the people of Westchester, as evidenced by his 34-year career doing exactly that. 

We have brought onto our team Christopher Steers as Director of Administration; Andre Early as Deputy Commissioner of Parks; Kandy Davenport as Director of Risk Management in the Law Department; Lisa Reyes as a Communications Officer, along with prior appointments of department leaders like Dr. DaMia Harris-Madden and Leandra Eustace.

All of these leaders have been spotlighted in our campaign to attract new hires – a “Diverse Workforce for a Diverse County.” And, we are proud that we have an historic level of female top managers – the most ever in our County. Even the Board of Legislators has an historic female majority.

In the Westchester County Department of Correction we appointed Nory Padilla and Reverend Michael B. Gerald to senior leadership posts in the Department.  Nory, a veteran of the department, took on the role of First Deputy Commissioner. Additionally, Michael joined as Deputy Commissioner. Deputy Commissioner Leandro Diaz remained in his leadership position at the jail, rounding out a diverse leadership team. 

If you think you have fresh ideas and skills that would further enhance services at the County - we encourage you to visit the County’s human resources webpage.

We want diversity, and we want you.  

That desire to modernize was on full display this past weekend when we held the County Police Civil Service Exam for the first time in five years.  A special effort was made to encourage more people of color to take the test and pursue a law enforcement career.

It is more important now than ever that our police departments reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. That is a message we have heard consistently in a year where police reform and reimagining has been a top priority. 

The County’s own Police Reform and Reimagining Task Force issued an extensive report after seven months of intensive collaboration and that report was approved unanimously by the Board of Legislators.  The Task Force is made up of law enforcement, attorneys and key community stakeholders, who seek to implement positive reform. 

What we saw this past year, similar to what I lived through as a young man in the 1960’s, was a breaking point in our society. It became clearer than ever – following the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others – that real reform must occur. It also must occur with all stakeholders at the table. I believe this Task Force has done admirable work toward that goal, and I thank them all for their service. The County Department of Public Safety has already instituted multiple policies and we will work to do more. 

I want to thank the two chairs, Mayo Bartlett and Leroy Frazer and all the members of the task force for their superb work. We know there are changes to be made, we know the road is long.  But, we also know there are currently departments making tremendous strides.  

The Westchester County Department of Correction recently underwent an extensive three-day re-accreditation audit conducted by the American Correctional Association. The Auditors complimented the Department workforce and were also impressed with the Department’s healthcare services, including COVID-19 protocols, mental health treatment, food service operations, rehabilitation programs and overall safety and sanitation procedures.

Congratulations to Commissioner Joseph Spano and his staff. 

Good enough is never good enough. That is why I also signed a bill aimed at strengthening the ethics laws, which govern those who serve the people of Westchester County. This newly passed law will result in stronger ethics training and enhanced whistleblower protections for County employees, and would expand the County’s Board of Ethics from five to seven members.

The move continues my administration’s commitment to transparency and good government following the recent passage of stricter term limits on my own office proposed by me – the strictest limit of any County Executive in New York State – two four-year terms, and not a day more. 

The new ethics law will go before members of the public this November as a mandatory referendum, as is required by the County Charter. I thank County Legislator Kitley Covill for her work and commitment to elected officials being held to a higher standard of conduct. Kitley will be leaving the Board at the end of this year, and we recognize and thank her for her tremendous accomplishments.

In a year and a half when it feels so much has been torn down - I want you to know we are moving forward.  We are making progress. 

I submitted a Capital Budget that contained over $231 million dollars in new appropriations for capital projects. When it comes to infrastructure in Westchester - we are building in a way that has never been seen in recent memory.  I thank Department of Public Works and Transportation Commissioner Hugh Greechan for his leadership.

And here is just a sample of what we have in the works.  I just recently stood with Legislators MaryJane Shimsky, Ruth Walter and David Tubiolo at the construction kick-off of the South County Trailway.  And it doesn’t end there. Across the County:

  • The North County Trailway Reconstruction in Legislators Gashi, Smith and Cunzio’s districts is complete
  • Willson’s Woods Playground in Legislator Woodson-Samuels district - complete
  • Glen Island Seawall Rehabilitation in Legislator Clements’s district -  complete
  • Blue Mountain Dam Reconstruction - complete
  • Ward Pound Ridge Reservation Bridge Replacement - complete
  • New Rochelle Family Court - complete 
  • Lasdon Main House – rehab underway
  • Bronx River Pathway – near completed
  • Merestead Main House enveloping -completed this summer
  • Fulton Brook Rehabilitation Project - near completion  
  • Playland Pathway - near completion 
  • Tibbetts Site Work Project - scheduled to begin in the fall
  • Mountain Lakes Dam Reconstruction – scheduled to begin in the fall
  • Blue Mountain Site Work – scheduled to begin in the fall

At Playland, we are spending over $100 million dollars on a Capital Program to reconstruct the park. The Grand Carousel and Derby Racer will be completed and open for the 2021 season.  Ongoing work at Playland that will be completed in 2022 includes:

  • Fountain Plaza
  • Tower Replacement
  • Pool and Bathhouse Project
  • Switchgear Facility
  • Ice Casino

And coming soon:

  • The Airport Master Plan
  • The Economic Development Plan
  • Sewer Consolidation Project 
  • Environmental Justice at the Yonkers Wastewater Treatment Plant 
  • Lake Isle Dam
  • Memorial Field

In a post-war world, President Truman said: “At no time in our history has unity among our people been so vital as it is at the present time. Unity of purpose, unity of effort, and unity of spirit are essential to accomplish the task before us."  

Ladies and gentleman I am here to tell you tonight the State of our County - Westchester County - is strong - and getting stronger.  

Yes, we have more work to do - but I am here to do the job at hand, you are here to do the job at hand and together, united - we will do the job at hand. Because, we are the State of our County - and we are united to move forward.

I’m asking you to continue to travel with me on this journey - help us together to continue to rebuild our County. 

 Watch this short video, “Making Change work for Us.”

Westchester has been through big changes before – wars, depression, hurricanes, floods, terrorism and now a pandemic.  During every difficult part in our history, there have been those who told us we should fear these crises, we should do less and avoid change --- but I am here to tell you something you already know – change is constant and change is inevitable.  Rather than fighting change, we must embrace it and shape it and own it – because that is what Westchester residents do, that is what New Yorkers do and that is what Americans do. That is how we overcome the crisis of the moment.

We make change work for us, we always move forward and in the end, we always emerge stronger, wiser and better than before.

We are not tired and we are not done - we are reaching and striving always to do the job at hand.

May God bless each and every one of you, bless all of our people, our County, our state and our nation. Thank you. Goodnight.