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Former Westchester County Executive Andrew O'Rourke dies at 79

A grouping of Westchester County executives of past

A grouping of Westchester County executives of past and present: from left, Alfred DelBello, current Executive Rob Astorino, Andy O'Rourke and Andy Spano cut a ribbon at an event celebrating the completion of the final major section of the county's 36-mile combined South and North County Trailways at Redmond Park in Yonkers. (April 30, 2012) Photo Credit: Nancy Siesel

Former Westchester County Executive and State Supreme Court Justice Andrew O'Rourke, of Yorktown, whose political and judicial career spanned several decades, died Thursday night at a Bronx hospital after a longtime illness, according to friends and former colleagues.

He was 79.

"Despite our political differences, my family and I have always considered Andy a close friend and colleague, and he will be dearly missed," Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a statement Friday on O'Rourke's passing. "Andy always put his deep intellect, self-deprecating humor, and unwavering integrity toward serving the people of New York."

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino ordered flags across the county to be lowered to half-staff until O'Rourke's funeral on Wednesday in Yorktown Heights.

"Those who knew him will remember him for his extraordinary wit and charm as well as his compassion for all," said Astorino, who described O'Rourke as a political mentor. "I have often turned to him for his wise counsel and historic perspective."

O'Rourke, a Republican who lived in Westchester and Putnam counties, began his political career as a member of the Yonkers City Council from 1966 to 1973, followed by a stint as a member of the County Board of Legislators from 1973 to 1982, including the last four years as chairman.

He then went on to serve as county executive from 1983 to 1998. O'Rourke replaced Alfred Del Bello, who resigned to become lieutenant governor, then went on to win three more terms to the office.

While he was county executive, he ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1986 against then-incumbent Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo. O'Rourke returned to local politics to continue serving as county executive.

A fiscal conservative, O'Rourke worked on reducing the county's welfare rolls, to keep taxes down and tax revenues stable and to cut government costs by privatizing some county jobs. He pushed through multimillion-dollar projects to rebuild the Westchester County Center, renovate Westchester County Airport and expand the county jail.

"Although we had tremendous political differences, he would always come down on the right side of an issue," said Del Bello, who began his long political career with O'Rourke on the Yonkers City Council in 1965. "That's what really made him succeed."

O'Rourke later served as state Supreme Court justice in Rockland and Putnam counties. He was appointed to a judgeship on the New York Court of Claims. He was elected as a justice of the State Supreme Court and served concurrently as both a justice of the Court of Claims and the Supreme Court, and later on the bench in the Putnam County Supreme Court.

"Andy O'Rourke was a great judge, an outstanding county executive and most important, he possessed a warm, funny and generous spirit," former Gov. George Pataki said in a statement. "He brought excellence and integrity to all he did in public life and will be greatly missed."

Born in Plainfield, N.J., O'Rourke grew up in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. He later moved to Yonkers and graduated from Fordham College in 1954. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, he returned to Fordham for his law degree and was admitted to the bar in 1962. He later enrolled in NYU School of Law and obtained a law doctorate in 1965.

In recent years, he remained active in local political issues -- participating in the opening of a new section of the county's North and South County Trailways in 2012, a project that he had pushed as executive, and more recently voicing his support for Gov. Cuomo's Tappan Zee project.

He is also the author of two adventure novels: "Red Banner Mutiny" (1985) and "Hawkwood" (1989), according to his biography.

O'Rourke is survived by his wife, Flora; his children Aileen, Alice and Andy Jr.; and his six grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday and from 3 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Clark Funeral Home, 2104 Saw Mill River Rd. in Yorktown Heights. A Mass will be celebrated beginning at 10 a.m. Wednesday in St. Patrick's Church on 137 Moseman Rd. in Yorktown Heights. The burial will be held in private, according to the funeral home.


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