Voter turnout is on the minds of Westchester Democrats as their freshly nominated candidate for county executive, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, embarks on his campaign to unseat Republican incumbent Rob Astorino.
Last week at the Democratic convention, where Bramson won a three-way race for the party nod, delegates repeatedly said Astorino's 2009 election was a fluke given how registered Democrats outnumber Republicans roughly 2 to 1 in Westchester County. Victory in November is assured, they felt, if they can leverage that advantage.
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"The biggest challenge is to make sure all the people in this room bring their families and vote on Election Day," said Neil Gross, a Yorktown resident, during the convention. "We have more Democrats in this county than Republicans. Let's get them out, and get this man out of office."
'NUMBERS TO WIN'
Returns from the past two county executive elections would suggest Gross is correct.
But Astorino's gains at the ballot box were dwarfed by Spano's losses. Spano got a whopping 41,000 fewer votes in 2009 than four years earlier.
Democrats point to Spano's poor showing as proof that turnout is crucial to defeating Astorino.
"There are plenty of Democrats that stay home," said Kevin Davis, a Cortlandt Democrat. "So we're going to go to those Democrats that didn't vote the last time, and we're going to get them out of their house and into the polls. We have the numbers to win."
Astorino's controversial tenure in office will help Bramson's campaign drive voters to the polls, Democrats said.
The Republican county executive has cut taxes by borrowing millions and slashing spending on social services, has proposed handing management of Rye Playland to a nonprofit organization, has fought bitterly with the Democratic majority that controls the Board of Legislators and has locked horns with the federal government over his opposition to a 2009 court settlement on affordable housing.
OUTREACH VIEWED AS KEY
Westchester County residents are sick of the controversies, said Justin Wagner, a Croton Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for state Senate last year. Bramson needs to capitalize on the discontent Astorino has stirred up, he said.
"It's about communicating with voters and actually talking about Rob Astorino's real record of being a Tea Party conservative," Wagner said. "He's been extreme on a lot of issues. Taking that message and talking to voters will be the challenge between now and November"
It's no secret that Democrats make up the largest bloc of voters in Westchester County, said Astorino campaign strategist Bill O'Reilly.
"We're going to have to reach out to Democrats and independents as we've always done," O'Reilly said. "We'll need those votes. You can't win in Westchester without attracting Democrats and independents. When we won in 2009, the first thing [Astorino] did was thank Westchester Democrats."
Taxes could be a way for Astorino to peel away some of those Democrats, O'Reilly added. Bramson has raised city property taxes by nearly 49 percent since he became New Rochelle mayor in 2006.
Astorino ran on a pledge to control county taxes. He has decreased them by 2 percent since he took office in 2010. Between his traditional advantage as an incumbent and his record of keeping his promises, Astorino is likely to attract support from across the aisle, O'Reilly said.
"More Democrats coming out doesn't necessarily hurt us," O'Reilly said. "It could help us in some places -- Democrats who are sick of the tax load."
O'Reilly also noted how Astorino managed last year to persuade two Democratic legislators to break from their party and join Republicans in voting in favor of his $1.7 billion budget.
"Bipartisan government has worked in Westchester," O'Reilly said. "That's something that voters from both parties are desperate for. They want people with principles who are willing to compromise at the end of the day."
SWING VOTER FACTOR
Bramson is banking on greater turnout among Democrats this year than in 2009, said his campaign manager, Jeremy Sherber. But he couldn't rest on that strategy alone, he said. Equally important would be persuading Westchester County's more than 123,000 nonaffiliated voters to support the Democratic cause.
"Turnout is half the challenge," Sherber said. "I do not think it is the full challenge. The other half is convincing swing voters. We need to pay attention to both of those things. We can't ignore either one."
Luckily for Bramson, the same message will appeal to both Democrats and independents, Sherber said.
"We can talk to both of those sets of voters by stressing the mainstream progressive values I think most Westchester voters are going to believe in and showing how out of the mainstream Rob Astorino administration has been," he said.
Jennifer Sullivan contributed to this report.