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McKinstry: Don’t take your eyes off Ken Jenkins

Ken Jenkins attends the Westchester County Democratic convention

Ken Jenkins attends the Westchester County Democratic convention at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. (April 24, 2013) (Credit: Xavier Mascarenas)

Before losing the Democratic nod to run for Westchester County executive, Ken Jenkins gave a rousing speech.

He was clear, focused and inspired.

He was part preacher, part politician, and didn’t fumble around for words or speak in circles. In all my years covering county government, it was the best I’ve ever seen Jenkins.

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Before a crowd of roughly 2,000 Democrats at the Westchester County Center, Jenkins railed against Republican County Executive Rob Astorino, saying he was the wrong leader in the wrong county. He called on Democrats to unite behind a candidate to ensure a GOP loss.

The crowd soaked it up. Big time.

The strong showing didn’t propel him past New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, who won with roughly 54 percent (give or take a few points) of the delegates’ votes, but it is yet another example why you shouldn’t write off the pugnacious chairman of the Board of Legislators; he may have been knocked down, but he wasn’t knocked out.

Not even after losing at the convention.

He's not running for county executive, but you can be sure he’ll somehow be in the mix come November.

That’s why so many insiders are speculating on his next move. Last week he squashed rumors that he was going to run for Yonkers City Council president. He told me he wasn’t interested in that job and that he’s going to seek his county legislative seat.

It’s expected that Jenkins would cruise in a re-election bid on the county board, but that in no way guarantees that he’ll have the votes from his colleagues on the legislature for another term as chairman, which comes with a $40,000 stipend on top of the $49,500 a year salary.

In fact, even if the makeup of the board stays the same – 10 Democrats and seven Republicans – Jenkins still might not be able to secure another term with the gavel. Two Democrats broke ranks last year when they voted with Republicans for a $1.78 billion budget.

So let the speculation begin.

Jenkins could go to work in the private sector. Jenkins and people close to him say he’s mulling his options. But I can’t imagine him leaving public office, even if he does take a larger role behind the scenes with the Yonkers Democratic Party.

If Astorino wins, he might pick up a few Republican seats, all but guaranteeing “Mr. Chairman” won’t be a salutation Jenkins would be hearing in January 2014.

But if Astorino loses to Bramson, the New Rochelle mayor might just need a few county insiders on the ninth floor of the county office building. Jenkins could be valuable, and might want an office on the ninth floor, even if it’s not the “big one.” … Especially if he helps deliver the Yonkers vote.

It’s a long way until November, and many people are looking forward to an Astorino-Bramson run. But don’t take your eyes off Jenkins. Even though he lost the convention, he’s going to be part of this county executive race. 

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