The White Plains Examiner

Astorino Forum Attracts Hundreds to White Plains, Verbal Fights Break Out

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Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino made his “Ask Astorino” Town Hall presentation inside the gate of Common Council Chambers on the second floor of White Plains City Hall. A solid security component was present. Anna Young P

By Anna Young – (Updated 3-6-17) What began as an informative public forum hosted by County Executive Rob Astorino last Monday evening was marred by an angry, aggressive overflow crowd at White Plains City Hall that continually disrupted the meeting.

Astorino’s appearance was the next event in the ongoing “Ask Astorino” series, which has been making its rounds throughout the county, where he discusses issues such as affordable housing, Indian Point, county taxes, plans to include an outdoor ice skating rink at Kensico Dam Plaza and the proposed privatization of Westchester Airport.

But similar to elsewhere throughout the nation, where Republican officials have tried to address constituents at town hall meetings, last week’s forum turned ugly as chants that included “Rob Astorino has to go,” from the roughly 300 people in attendance took over the event.

The overflow crowd packed the main floor of City Hall and spilled outside on several sides of the building.

Heavy security surrounded Astorino, with almost 200 people inside City Hall and about another 100 protestors outside, forced to stand behind police lines. About 20 uniformed White Plains police officers were on hand, indicating that large numbers were expected.

But security didn’t stop the crowd from screaming at Astorino and turning on one another as residents inside and outside of the building began arguing issues such as gun control, immigration, climate change and funding for Planned Parenthood.

After Astorino finished his 20-minute presentation, he opened the floor to answer questions, which included inquiries about President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting travel by refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, environmental issues, police relations, recent Westchester hate crimes and his veto allowing a gun show at the County Center.

“The purpose of our immigration laws is to make sure the right people come into our country,” Astorino said. “I am not, nor will I ever, favor a religious test to enter our country, but a background check absolutely.”

Inside City Hall on the first floor, an overflow crowd watched Astorino’s presentation on TV monitors.

As Astorino defended his decision to veto legislation allowing gun shows to be held on county property, he received scattered applause, but also loud yelling and chants of “Shame.”

He explained the pistol permit process and how his decision was based on the law. The county executive added that there’s been a surge in pistol permit applications from women and small business owners.

“These are legitimate rights of people whether you like it or not,” he said.

When it was suggested by a county resident that banning gun shows would reduce bias incidents within the county, Astorino stated officials throughout the county do not tolerate hate crimes, but are unable to control the actions of all of those bent on

During the 90-minute forum, members of the crowd grew increasingly frustrated, screaming “Answer the question,” “This is what democracy looks like,” and “Do your job.” Many said they felt Astorino evaded their questions.

“This is very discouraging to see how citizens are shoved aside by our county executive, to be treated like outsiders and not citizens is a total insult,” said an Ossining resident who refused to give her name. “I would like to see a public hearing really be a public hearing because we’re here to make our voices heard because we care about democracy.”

White Plains Police and Westchester County Police controlled the overflow crowd with police tape. There were about 20 uniformed officers on the scene.

Others argued that their free speech was limited, asserting that security confiscated homemade signs they had brought to the event.

Joseph Dalli, a county public safety employee, explained that wood signs or large signs that obstructed the views of other people were removed for safety reasons.

Larchmont resident Lori Wells said her two signs made out of 8-by-10-inch construction paper were seized and thrown away in front of her.

Stacy DiCristofaro, also from Larchmont, was critical of Astorino, saying that Westchester needs a leader to support its most citizens.

“Call my office is not a good enough response, it’s not acceptable because he works for me,” she said.

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