LoHud: Latimer budget, balanced with $88 million one-shot revenue, funds hundreds of vacant jobs
November 12th, 2020 • 4 minute read
Reported in the Somers Record: The pandemic is posing some serious politicking problems for folks seeking public office. There can’t be any…
Reported in the Somers Record:
The pandemic is posing some serious politicking problems for folks seeking public office.
There can’t be any of that traditional stuff. No door-to-door, no handshaking, and definitely no baby-kissing.
But that hasn’t discouraged Somers resident Dan Branda, who launched his front-porch campaign for Westchester county executive this Thursday, Aug. 13.
A Republican, he hopes to unseat incumbent Democrat George Latimer in fall 2021 elections.
Branda, a 40-year-old digital marketing expert, said Thursday that he plans to do his running -- virtually -- by “aggressively interacting with voters across multiple media and internet channels.”
The former political strategist was an aide to Republican Rob Astorino, who was bested by Democrat Latimer in a contentious 2017 election that resulted in Democrats gaining a majority on the Westchester Board of Legislators (County executives serve four-year terms).
Branda said his agenda includes cutting property taxes, investing in county infrastructure, and improving constituent services by building an effective “bi-partisan” government.
The father of two, Branda said he is seeking the post because he wants to raise his children in Westchester and, at present, the county is “simply unaffordable for too many – including us.”
“The crushing burdens of property taxes and housing costs are proving to be outright barriers for seniors to remain in their homes, for a young family like mine to stay here and settle into a home of our own, for young professionals looking to live in the county where they grew up or currently work, or for anyone simply seeking the opportunity that Westchester offers,” he said Thursday.
One of Branda’s top issues is the county’s multi-million-dollar budget deficit. Although it existed before COVID-19 hit, it was exacerbated by the resulting drop in sales tax revenue, he said.
But Branda blames the widening gap on “poor planning” on the county’s part, claiming that his potential political rival spent dollars the county didn’t have by increasing spending to cover raises for non-union management and lawmakers.
He also cited the addition of what he called “hundreds of needless new government jobs.”
Branda, who claims Westchester is trying to deal with the deficit by reducing its workforce through buyouts, said the county can wean itself off its reliance on property taxes by building a stronger tax base, reducing costs, and effectively advocating against “unfunded state mandates.”
“Property taxes are completely disconnected from our ability to pay, especially in today’s economic climate,” he said. “We’re seeing a combustible mix of high unemployment, economic recession, and feckless management of the government’s finances that will force significant property tax increases.”
The county is also facing deep cuts in state aid.
“People are going to lose their homes, or be evicted from their apartments, without a significant bailout from the federal government because George Latimer spent money he never had and now has no better plan,” the candidate opined.
Branda said he also thinks Westchester should invest in major infrastructure projects such as bridges and dams in order to rebuild the economy.
Calling for a “unified Westchester that rises above the toxic partisan fighting in D.C. and Albany,” he said: “Local government is about asking our neighbors to manage our affairs and progress our community, not identity politics, corrupt self-dealing and backroom deals, or mental gymnastics to justify political trolling.”
Public safety reform and emergency preparedness can benefit from a common-sense approach and a willingness to learn from the past and by building on community expertise, Branda said, adding: it does not necessarily have to “recreate the wheel.”
He also supports a “customer service” approach to governmental interactions with constituents.
Branda’s suggestions for being more transparent and accountable include speeding up Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) responses and expanding web publishing of “key figures, contracts, and external communications.”
Branda admits he is more used to working behind the scenes in politics than being front and center.
Former campaign staffers like himself tend to make terrible candidates because “they think they know too much,” he joked recently.
Branda had that in mind when he was weighing his decision to run. But what really “flipped the switch” for him was encouragement from his wife, Julia.
“You know these issues backward and forwards,” she told him, adding: “You are passionate about this; you should run.”
Branda was director of policy for Reclaim New York, a government watchdog group started by Rebekah Mercer, daughter of billionaire Robert Mercer; and a director of administrative services for the Westchester County Probation Department.
He was Astorino’s communications specialist from 2013 to 2017, leading policy research on political and governmental issues, including education, taxes, and economic development; and Astorino’s director of field operations during his re-election campaigns.
Branda also worked for the state Assembly as an executive director in the 40th District.
He was a policy advisor for George Oros, Astorino’s chief of staff in 2010, and worked for Greg Ball when the Republican served in the state Senate and state Assembly. He also worked on Ball’s Senate campaigns in 2010 and 2012 (Ball now lives in Texas).
From 2018-2019, he chaired the Suffolk County Reduce County Spending Task Force.
Branda runs Branding Company LLC, a web development and digital marketing agency, and is working on a website for Astorino, who recently announced his intentions to run for state Sen. Pete Harckham’s seat. Harckham is a Democrat from South Salem and represents the 40th District, which includes Somers, North Salem, Lewisboro and Yorktown.
A graduate of John Jay Senior High School in Hopewell Junction in Dutchess County, Branda has a master’s degree from Iona College and a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University.
He and Julia have two children, Lucy and Jack.
Branda promises to take on all challengers should there be a Republican primary. As of Wednesday, Aug. 12, it didn’t appear that anyone else has thrown their hat into the ring.
If the winner of that contest, he still faces a tough fight. Democrats outnumber Republicans in Westchester 2-to-1.
Reacting to Branda’s informal announcement last month, Latimer spokesman Rich Orsillo said that “elections are a marker of a free and open society.”
Latimer welcomes “this entry into the race” and is looking forward to “engaging the public” on his “record of cutting taxes, expanding services, and working toward a more equitable Westchester.”
In the meantime, Orsillo said, the county executive is “laser-focused on continuing his work with all local governments on keeping residents safe while reopening the economy in the wake of a global pandemic.”
Latimer served on the county Board of Legislators as its minority leader and the first Democratic chairman in the county’s history. He was elected county executive in 2017.
Prior to that, he was a member of the state Senate, serving the 37th District.
And before that, the longtime Rye resident had served on the Rye City Council, on the Westchester County Legislature, and in the state Assembly, serving the 91st District.
A marketing executive by profession, Latimer has worked for major corporations such as Nestle, ITT, AT&T and IBM.
After attending Mt. Vernon public schools, Latimer graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University in the Bronx and a master’s degree in public administration from New York University’s Wagner School.
Source: Carol Reif for the Somers Record