McKinstry: And in the Democrats' corner . . . it's Bramson
Hours before Noam Bramson snagged the Democratic nod in a hotly contested run for Westchester County executive, a party leader who was backing another candidate embraced the New Rochelle mayor and said: "If you win, tomorrow morning I'm with you."
In a word: unity.
To beat Astorino, a well-liked first-term incumbent who has delivered on his pledge of lowering taxes and shrinking county government, the Dems will first have to be simpatico. They couldn't have afforded a potentially expensive and bruising primary, as a divided ticket would certainly have been an express train to loserville -- and in the case of Bramson, right back to New Rochelle City Hall.
Those who were backing Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins of Yonkers and Legis. Bill Ryan of White Plains now say they're with Bramson all the way -- and many already have, or are sure to get, the "I'm with Noam" campaign T-shirts and placards.
Bramson, 43, won the nomination at the Democratic convention at the Westchester County Center in the early hours of Thursday morning. In a show of shared purpose of beating the Republican, the three men stood together on the stage and raised their locked arms before thousands of delegates.
"Strong, united . . . we go forward as one team," Bramson said. "We will win."
But even with their collective vision, they'll have a hard time knocking off the GOP's rising star -- a 45 year old county executive who many believe will one day have the muster to run for governor. Yes, there's a nearly 2-to-1 Democratic enrollment advantage over Republicans in the county, but the party will have to execute a well-orchestrated campaign and get out its base in Yonkers, Greenburgh, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle and elsewhere. And then they'll have to pick up, or at least neutralize, a growing number of Republican-leaning independent voters, or those not registered with any party.
Democrats will be spending a pretty penny for ads, mailers and rallies to get out the vote and excite the legions that took a pass in the 2009 county executive race. All told, candidates from both parties could spend upward of $4 million or even $5 million this year.
Expect issues like day care, bus routes and social services -- programs whose spending Astorino has cut during his term -- to be part of the Democratic playbook. Look, too, for the federal housing settlement and broader issues like gun control, women's rights and all the other social platforms typically common in a presidential run. There was nary a mention of these social issues in 2009 when Astorino campaigned on the simplest of messages -- cutting taxes -- and routed a three-term incumbent.
This year will be different.
And what about taxes, the linchpin of the Republican platform?
"I think he's all hat and no cattle," Bramson said to me about the county executive, moments after he delivered his victory speech Thursday morning.
Astorino has been bullish on taxes. In his State of the County address, he pledged another year with no tax increase, which would mean the levy is down 2.2 percent during his four years in office. In such a highly taxed county, that's got to count for some cattle.
The Dems and Republicans each claim to be united. But this election will take more than just herding their loyalists.
Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board.