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McKinstry: Rob Astorino harvests Westchester campaign dollars

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino announces the 2013

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino announces the 2013 county budget during a news conference in White Plains. (Nov. 14, 2012) Credit: Faye Murman

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino added about $100,000 on Thursday night to a growing war chest that he’ll need to fend off a Democratic challenger this fall in his bid for a second term.

The Republican, whose fundraiser at the Double Tree Hotel in Tarrytown cost top donors $5,000 a piece, mingled with the 350 or so guests, including business leaders, public officials, GOP and Conservative party bosses, county workers and even a few union honchos -- but not the Civil Service Employees Association, in case you were wondering.

“Labor is in this room,” Astorino said, a reference to corrections union officials in attendance. But it was also a reference to Astorino’s ongoing disagreements with the 3,300-member CSEA and other county unions -- including police, nurses and county investigators -- that have neither settled contracts nor agreed to contribute to their health care costs.

Astorino has reached deals with three of the eight labor unions that represent county employees. They include Teamsters Local 456, which represents 120 midlevel managers; the Corrections Officers Benevolent Association, which includes a few hundred officers at the county jail; and the Superior Officers Association, which includes higher ranking correction officers.

This week saw Astorino mentioned by state GOP chairman Edward Cox as a possible 2014 gubernatorial candidate, but Thursday’s event was the unofficial campaign kickoff for Astorino’s bid for county executive. The cocktail party added about $100,000 to the $2.2 million in campaign funds he reported earlier this month. His campaign has long said it needs to raise a lot of money to fend off powerful unions and a roughly 2-to-1 Democratic enrollment advantage in Westchester.

You can be sure he’ll spend heavily on messaging -- advertisements, mailings and on-the-street campaigning as the effort gets rolling and Democrats pick their candidate. Astorino will surely target a growing number of nonaffiliated voters, the fastest-growing segment of Westchester voters, approaching the size of the Republican base.

Thus far, three Democrats are vying for the job: Board of Legislators chairman Ken Jenkins of Yonkers, Legis. Bill Ryan of White Plains and New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson.

Bramson leads the Democrats in fundraising with roughly $500,000, and the candidates have agreed not to have a costly and potentially divisive primary. Whoever is picked out of the convention in the spring is expected to be Astorino’s challenger.

Regardless of whom Democrats pick, the race will be expensive: Astorino expects to raise $3 million and Democrats have said they’ll spend about $2 million.

“The politics will come at some point,” Astorino told his supporters. “It will come. But right now, we’re concentrating on governing.”

Yes, the politics will come, but the fundraising is already here.