Former Westchester County Executive, gubernatorial candidate and CNN contributor Rob Astorino is trying to retake the 40th Senate District from first-term incumbent Democratic Senator Peter Harckham.
The district is considered “in play” for both Democrats and Republicans. Harckham took the district from Republican Sen. Terrence Murphy in 2018. Prior to that, the district has favored Republican candidates since at least 1995.
According to the state Board of Elections, there are 76,925 active registered Democrats in the district as of February, 2020, compared to 58,820 active Republicans and 51,634 active independent voters.
The 40th Senate District includes parts of northern Westchester County and eastern Putnam County and Dutchess Counties. It includes the communities of Yorktown, Cortlandt, Somers, Peekskill, Carmel, Southeast, Patterson, Pawling and Beekman.
Before serving as a senator, Harckham spent four two-year terms on the Westchester County Board of Legislators. In 2018, Harckham ran against incumbent Republican State Senator Terrence Murphy and won by 51-48 percent. Harckham’s win over Murphy was notable as the district has favored Republican candidates in the past, voting red since at least 1995. In the Senate, he chairs the Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.
Republican Rob Astorino was elected to two four-year terms as Westchester County Executive from 2010 to 2017. Astorino also spent time as a member on the Mount Pleasant Board of Education, the Mount Pleasant Town Board, and the Westchester County Board of Legislators. Astorino has also has a background in media, having served as an executive producer for ESPN Radio in New York. Astorino’s most recent work in his media career was as a political commentator on CNN.
Astorno ran for governor in 2014, losing to Andrew Cuomo 54-40 percent.
A recent debate between Harckham and Astorino highlighted their different takes on issues such as the economy, education, the response to COVID-19 and the state’s bail reform laws.
Concerning the coronavirus pandemic and other serious economic issues, Harckham started out by honoring his Senate staff and colleagues and their hard work throughout this tough time.
“This year, my team and I focused a lot of attention on our constituents during the coronavirus pandemic but we still managed to pass the second most amount of legislation in the entire Senate, focused on the families and workers around Indian Point, saving taxpayers money in the Mahopac school district, also dealing with climate change, opioid crisis and local economic development…Challenging year but very productive.” Harckham said.
Following Harckham, Astorino said he is running for the same reason he ran back in 2009 to first become county executive.
“The county was in bad shape then, just like the state is in bad shape right now, with this pandemic we don’t need to just reopen the state, we need to completely rebuild it, taxpayers are fleeing, jobs have been lost… we have to sit around the table as adults in Albany just like we did at the county and come up with solutions to the problems that we face.”
Astorino then stated that these are “terrible times,” and he addressed the importance of making sure the people are safe, but with the stipulation that people can have “a little bit of both ways.”
He expressed his concern for the people who are out of work, the suffering of kids who are not going back to school, an increase in mental health issues and suicide rates, drug addiction and other serious issues that have arisen as a result of the state’s shutdown.
In response to Astorino’s beliefs, Harckham said he is concerned about how students will have equal access to quality education given the circumstances. Harckham brought up the “digital divide,” meaning, some students don’t have access to a device like a laptop or WiFi needed to complete their education.
Harckham also voiced concerns on the behalf of many parents, saying “Many of our parents don’t want their kids in school. Many of the superintendents I work with are at half attendance because parents are afraid to send their kids to school.”
The debate continued by covering the issue of racial injustice and inequality in the U.S. The candidates were asked what changes need to be made to law enforcement agencies to solve the issues.
Harckham believes that decisions need to be made on a community-by-community basis, because that is where local policing is done and each community provides local police departments with their funding. Harckham said Astorino has got to stop scaring the public with nonexistent crime waves in relation to bail reform, which was the most controversial issue in Albany at the start of 2020, before the virus hit.
It is still a major issue in many Senate and Assembly races across the state.
In defense to Astorino’s comments regarding Harckham co-sponsoring the original bail reform law, Harckham went on to say that he did not co-sponsor the original bail law but he co-sponsored the fixes and he emphasized the closure of repeat offender loopholes. The most significant fixes were the addition of more criminal cases where judges could impose cash bail. They were also given more discretion in setting bail and other conditions of pretrial release.
Astorino responded by bringing up a recent case of a repeat offender who the police could not keep detained because the offender did not qualify for bail under the “dangerous law.”
“Look, there is a reason why the judges and cops and lawyers and prosecutors think this is a dangerous law. Just ask them, Democrats and Republicans,” says Astorino. He continued by listing crimes that don’t qualify for cash bail.
“Here’s a list of crimes that don’t qualify for cash bail that Peter thought was a good idea to let criminals be arrested and released back into our communities: Domestic violence, animal cruelty, child pornography…”
In response, Harckham claimed that the statements made by Astorino were false. He said “There were flaws in the first version of the bill. We fixed most of those back in April, and if somebody was a repeat offender, DAs and judges have the ability to remand those people, and it’s in the law. Read the law, Rob.”
In Harckham’s closing remarks, he suggested Astorino still has aspirations to be governor. “Truth be told, my opponent, Rob, is running for governor. That’s not a secret. People know he’s running for governor and he’s using this as a stepping stone,” says Harckham.
“So when people decide as to what their vote is going to be,” Harckham said. “Do they want somebody who’s going to be there seven days a week and focus on their needs, or somebody who’s looking to use this for their personal and political aspiration?”
In Astorino’s closing remarks, he promised dedication to the people of the district, and the state, saying, “I will work across party lines in Albany because we have to. It’s not enough to just reopen New York, we have to rebuild it. People are hurting right now. We need jobs and we cannot raise taxes”
In an appeal to the Latin community, Astorino said in Spanish, “A mis amigos y amigas en la comunidad Latina, yo quisiera su apoyo y su vote [To my friends in the Latin community, I would like your support and vote] and to everybody, and to everybody — Democrat, Republican and independent — I would be honored to be your next state senator.”