Westchester County Democrats running for county executive in 2013 have agreed not to run against one another in a primary election largely because they don't want to waste money or time fighting fellow Democrats when they could be raising funds to fight Republican incumbent Rob Astorino, whom they view as a formidable opponent.
"This year's general election will be a significant challenge," said New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, one of the candidates. "We face a well-funded, entrenched incumbent. It is important for Democrats to have a unified effort in the fall. Resolving the nomination in a convention would enable us to enter the general election in a strong position."
On Wednesday, Bramson, Board of Legislators chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) and Legis. Bill Ryan (D-White Plains) told leaders of the Westchester County Democratic Committee that they would abide by a party convention's nomination for county executive rather than square off against one another in a primary.
The agreement was struck a day after the state Board of Elections released campaign filings for the past six months. The filings showed that Astorino had raised $1.03 million in that period, giving him $2.2 million in his re-election account. That is more than Democrats had expected to spend over the entire campaign, with many months remaining until the election.
The filings showed that Bramson was the best-financed Democrat in the field. He raised $537,000 for his campaign fund -- about $320,000 more than Jenkins. Ryan has yet to begin serious fundraising, he said recently.
Jenkins and Ryan didn't return calls for comment.
Many Westchester County Democrats had mixed feelings about the agreement to bypass the primary, saying it would have educated the winning candidate about the attitudes of voters and given rank-and-file Democrats a chance to participate.
"I have mixed emotions about it," said Assemb. Tom Abinanti (D-Greenburgh). "I guess there's competing principles. From the Democratic Party's point of view, it is best to come together behind a candidate as quickly as possible. On the other hand, the Democratic Party believes in giving the rank and file a chance."
Timing was a key factor leading up to the decision, Democratic leaders said. Greenburgh Democratic Committee chairwoman Suzanne Berger said that, were the party to engage in a primary, the winner would not have sufficient time to raise the cash needed to mount a real challenge to Astorino.
"My view is that the Democrats will have a clearer path of success to November if they avoid the expense and the usual distraction of a primary," she said. "Its unfortunate that that conflicts with the goal of allowing the most people into the process. Process for the sake of process is not always the best alternative."
The proposal to eliminate the primary came from County Democratic Party boss Reginald Lafayette and was discussed with the candidates at the county party's headquarters in White Plains Wednesday, party officials said.
"I would like for there not to be a primary," Lafayette said Thursday. "I would like us to go out and run an election on a united front. I think it's a good thing that three people got together and said they would abide by the wishes of the convention."
The party likely will have its convention in April or May, Lafayette said.
"The electorate will still have a choice. They won't be disenfranchised," said Legis. Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers).
Kaplowitz triggered a controversy in county government in December, when he and another lawmaker broke with Jenkins and joined with Republicans to approve Astorino's county budget. He noted that Jenkins and Ryan are up for re-election as legislators in November. Under state law, they can't run for two offices at once. The convention gives them an opportunity to try for the county executive nomination and, in the event they fail, still seek re-election to the board.
"It's not like you have an easy ride," Lafayette said. "It's a little pressure on anyone who is running. Someone commits themselves to running for your legislative seat just as you are running for executive."
Astorino campaign spokeswoman Jessica Proud said it didn't matter whom the county executive faced in November.
"It's up to them to try to unite their party," Proud said. "But it has no bearing on the county executive's effort to continue to reform Westchester County government. The Democratic process will play out."