Editorial: Eight Westchester Democrats choose dysfunction over governing

Democrat Michael Kaplowitz speaks at the podium as, Democrat Michael Kaplowitz speaks at the podium as, from left, Minority Whip Gordon Burrows (R), Minority Leader James Maisano (R) and Virginia Perez (D) stand by at their announcement of a bipartisan budget proposal before a Westchester County Board of Legislators meeting in White Plains. (Dec. 7, 2012) Photo Credit: Xavier Mascarenas

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Just when you think you've had enough partisan politics to last awhile, a handful of Westchester County lawmakers showed they can still foolishly walk the party line.

Eight Democrats, that's the party in the majority, flicked off the lights and microphones and stormed out of the chamber before a crucial budget vote Friday, after they no longer had enough support for their plans to restore union jobs and programs. Only they didn't properly adjourn the meeting, leaving behind a new majority coalition of Republicans and independent Democrats willing to work together. Soon after, the remaining members of the Board of Legislators approved a $1.7 billion budget by a 9-0 vote.

The walkers ceded the gavel, and with it their power, effectively stripping themselves of any ability to fight for their constituents in the budget talks. Now the ugliness of budget season is sure to bleed over to the 2013 races for legislature and county executive.

The childish theatrics and irresponsible behavior in White Plains shows that the typical partisanship and gridlock of Albany and Washington have nothing on Westchester County.

Fortunately, two frustrated Democrats -- Legis. Mike Kaplowitz of Somers and Virginia Perez of Yonkers - wouldn't follow their colleagues out of the room. They broke rank with the majority on the 17-member county board and hammered out a compromise with Republicans.

While not perfect -- no budget is -- this one restored 30 jobs in public safety, emergency services and public works, and increased funds for not-for-profits like Cornell Cooperative Extension, ArtsWestchester and legal services for immigrants. Left in the final product were more than 100 layoffs, mostly Civil Service Employees Association workers who have not agreed to health care contributions as part of contract negotiations.

While the budget doesn't raise property taxes, this hybrid plan also lessens County Executive Rob Astorino's proposed increase on parents who need subsidized day care.

We've seen this sort of independent thinking in recent weeks, as Democrats with an independent conference in Albany joined Republicans in a welcome power-sharing agreement that should be good for New Yorkers. It's appreciated in the state Capitol -- and here, too.

As expected, Democrats are now complaining about the process, and Board Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) on Monday said lawmakers are assessing a "plethora of actions," including having the board's staff analyze the procedure, presumably for any legal openings.

But overturning this budget, which Astorino quickly signed, on a technicality or even through a lawsuit, is not just a long shot but ill-advised.

This fractured majority gave up their high ground and ability to compromise when they left the room in darkness. It's too late to turn those lights back on.

 

This is a corrected version of the editorial. An earlier version misstated the number of Democrats who walked out.

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