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Rob Astorino successfully ran for the office of Westchester County executive in New York in November 2009. The pro-life, pro-traditional marriage candidate won in an area that is not known for being conservative.
BY Stephen Vincent
Can a Republican, pro-life Catholic
get elected to the top office in a majority Democratic area in New York?
Astorino, who defeated the pro-abortion incumbent for the
Westchester County chief executive seat, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
Astorino, 42, gave up his job as
program director for The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM satellite radio to take
the reins of Westchester County on Jan. 3. He lives in Hawthorne, N.Y., with
his wife, Sheila, and their three children. He spoke with Register
correspondent Stephen Vincent.
defeated the incumbent with 57% of the vote. How did you get involved in
always thought it was an obligation for people to be involved in public
service. It’s something from my Catholic upbringing. When I was 21, I was
elected to the Mount Pleasant School District Board of Education [in Westchester],
and then served on the town board for 12 years, and a term on the Westchester
County Legislature. Four years ago, I ran for county executive and lost. So
when I was considering running again this year against the same incumbent
[Democrat Andrew Spano], I was uncertain for various reasons.
I was wavering, I met with Archbishop [Charles] Chaput of Denver, whom I knew
pretty well through my job at The Catholic Channel. I had lunch with him in
April [the day after Archbishop Timothy Dolan was installed in New York] and
told him my thoughts, and he put me over the edge. He was an inspiration to me,
saying that Catholics should be involved in public life. There were others who
encouraged me, as well, but that was a key moment.
How did the
pro-life issue play out in this election?
know I am pro-life, and the life issues were discussed in debates. I’ve made no
bones about who I am and what I stand for. I was proud to work for The Catholic
Channel for many years. So, while I didn’t shy away from the life issues and
being pro-life in this past election, it was not really an issue I ran on,
though I had strong support from the pro-life community.
should mention that when I ran four years ago, I was told at the beginning of
the campaign by a Republican staffer that I couldn’t say I was pro-life. “You
have to be pro-choice in a Democratic county,” he said. I put my foot down. I
was not going to compromise my principles to get elected.
the main issues this time around?
and jobs. Westchester County has the highest taxes of any county in America.
That to me is a matter of social justice. It is increasingly difficult for
people here to have any type of quality of life. Families suffer if the parents
are working all day into the night just to earn enough to continue living here
and kids don’t get to see their parents. It tears families apart, and there’s
nothing good about that. My wife, Sheila, and I were living through the same
problems as everybody else. There needs to be a change in the way government is
run in Westchester, otherwise we will lose more people, and the tax base will
New York state, the counties and towns are very dependent on the state in terms
of budget and services, and the state government determines what they do. We’ve
got to start scaling back because the taxpayer is paying three or four times
for the same things, between his local and state taxes. It’s a matter of
getting rid of the waste.
your years at The Catholic Channel?
thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of being a part of The Catholic Channel. The
people were terrific. What we did was groundbreaking, beginning under Cardinal
[Edward] Egan. We put on good, solid Catholic programming with a popular radio
format. If someone switches stations and comes upon us, the first thing they
hear is interesting discussion and lively back-and-forth, and only after a few
moments would it become clear that it was all from a Catholic perspective.
That’s the way we planned it, and I think it’s the kind of format that’s a
also have to thank Cardinal Egan and Archbishop Dolan for allowing me to run
for public office. I took a leave of absence from my job in September and
October to campaign full-time. I needed their permission, and they granted it.
They, too, thought it was important for Catholics to be in politics.
What advice would you give other
faithful Catholics who are thinking about politics?
You don’t have to compromise your
principles to win. But you also have to highlight the issues that are important
to everyone. I should point out that I would not have won without the support
of Democrats, and I intend to serve in office as the representative of all
people in Westchester. Hopefully, my election will tell other people that they
shouldn’t be afraid to step into the arena.
Stephen Vincent writes from Wallingford,