The 2019 Westchester Power 100
The 2019 Westchester Power 100
Gov. Andrew Cuomo may be moving out of ex-girlfriend Sandra Lee’s New Castle house that’s up for sale, but there’s no shortage of politically powerful people who still call Westchester County home – and that’s not even including Hillary and Bill Clinton.
Take one of Albany’s biggest players: state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. The Yonkers resident has come a long way since serving in the county legislature, delivering a landmark legislative session for state Senate Democrats this year. And while there may be much tumult at the federal level, Westchester officials are sure to have important sway. Rep. Eliot Engel’s leadership on international affairs means he’ll likely be a key player in the impeachment inquiries into President Donald Trump. And Rep. Nita Lowey’s no political lightweight either, pulling the country’s purse strings as the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.
This year’s list has been doubled from 50 to include those top-ranking elected officials and government employees. City & State’s Westchester Power 100 highlights the movers and shakers who are shaping the county’s future – and how they stack up against each other.
1. Andrea Stewart-Cousins
State Senate Majority Leader
The leader of the first Democratic-controlled state Senate in a decade made history last year for disrupting Albany’s “three men in a room” tradition. But while Andrea Stewart-Cousins may be best known for overseeing the passage of landmark bills on reproductive rights, rent regulation and bail reform in Albany, she hasn’t forgotten her Westchester roots. In fact, she insists on living in Yonkers.
“Once session is done for the week I come right back down to the district, and it helps me to stay focused, frankly, on why I go there,” she told The Cut.
Stewart-Cousins began her new role with a pledge to support suburban interests – and she’s certainly achieved some legislative wins for the county this year. On congestion pricing, which seemed to favor New York City interests, Westchester received a boost in Metro-North Railroad funding. Stewart-Cousins also helped secure one of County Executive George Latimer’s largest policy priorities when the state passed a sales tax increase for the county, and she directly mediated a dispute to let Edgemont become Greenburgh’s seventh village.
2. Nita Lowey
Money makes the world go ’round, as the saying goes – and Rep. Nita Lowey manages a lot of it ($1.4 trillion to be exact) as the first woman to chair the House Appropriations Committee, directing how the country uses its discretionary funding. Lowey recently announced her surprising retirement, and will not seek reelection in 2020, but in the meantime, she remains one of the most powerful members of Congress.
With her district stretching from White Plains to Peekskill, Westchester reaps the benefits of Lowey’s representation. Just in the past year, she secured $14.9 million for improvements to Westchester County Airport, several million more for homeless services, energy grants for small businesses, as well as lead removal in White Plains. The investments fall in line with Lowey’s policy priorities, which include education, women’s issues and health care. Among her successes, Lowey has overseen an increase in federal funding for after-school programs and sponsored successful legislation on food labeling for allergens.
3. Eliot Engel
Rep. Eliot Engel may not be a Westchester native (he was born in the Bronx), but there’s no denying his status as a powerhouse in the county. A congressional veteran of 30 years, he represents the more densely populated southern half of the county and part of the Bronx. Although he faces an AOC-like challenger next year, history has shown Engel to be a formidable incumbent. He overwhelmingly won last year’s primary, earning a greater share of the vote than all three of his opponents combined.
As the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he is a critical voice at a time when foreign interference is a hot-button issue in the national sphere. He recently made waves as one of the first high-ranking members of Congress to call for President Donald Trump’s impeachment, and he led oversight inquiries into the president’s relationship with the Russian government. He also maintains a close relationship with fellow Westchester Rep. Nita Lowey, teaming up on everything from local issues to challenging Trump.
4. George Latimer
Westchester County Executive
George Latimer has never lost an election – not as a Rye city councilman, Westchester County legislator, assemblyman or state senator. But his victory in the county executive race two years ago was notably hard-won. Although he was going up against prominent incumbent Rob Astorino, Latimer managed to succeed despite being outspent 3-to-1.
Part of last year’s countywide “blue wave,” Latimer succeeded in passing backlogged liberal legislation like banning gun shows on county property, giving protections to undocumented immigrants and mandating paid sick time for most employees. But he has bristled at the suggestion that there is a leftward shift in the county’s government. Lately Latimer has been focusing on less ideological issues, like the $32 million deficit left by his predecessor, and has put in motion a plan to fix the budget. (The state recently approved his pitch for a countywide sales tax hike.)
5. Mike Spano
Leading the county’s largest city – the fourth-largest in the state – comes with a significant degree of influence. Add to that being a member of a political family dynasty (as the son of prominent Westchester legislator Leonard Spano) and you get one of the county’s most important elected officials.
Mike Spano is looking forward to staying mayor – a distinct possibility after the Yonkers City Council signed off on extending mayoral term limits – and he has plenty to tout after seven years in office. His noteworthy achievements include lower crime rates, more funding for city schools and an overall increase in high school graduation rates (despite a recent dip between 2017 and 2018). Spano supported MGM Resorts’ recent purchase of the Yonkers Raceway and Empire City Casino, noting that the sale would bring in up to $8 million in taxes for Yonkers. The city’s revitalization and development efforts have not gone unnoticed, with The New York Times declaring the city “a cleaner, greener place to call home” in 2017.