The race between Westchester County Board of Legislators Chairman Vedat Gashi and Somers Republican Dan Branda reached a boiling point following months of sparing over various ethics allegations.
The race is for District 4, which covers New Castle, portions of Somers and Yorktown and a piece of Ossining.
In late September, Branda filed a 16-page list of complaints with the county Board of Ethics targeting Gashi’s finances and real estate holdings. He also filed a complaint with the Westchester County Fair Campaign Practices Committee after Gashi’s spokesman charged that Branda would cut emergency services personnel. The committee did not issue a finding ruling it fair or unfair.
Earlier this year, Gashi attempted to disqualify Branda from being on the ballot because he claimed his residence is in Cold Spring in Putnam County, not Somers as Branda cites. That was dismissed by both the state Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.
Branda runs his own digital marketing company from his Somers home, which he and his wife purchased in 2017. He has three young children ages one, three and seven. His political experience includes working for five years in the communications office of former county executive Rob Astorino, three years as an aide for ex-assemblyman Greg Ball and as policy director for Reclaim NY, a right-leaning state watchdog organization.
Gashi, a Yorktown Democrat is seeking his third term and was elected as the board’s chair last spring, a post he will hold until the end of the year. Born in Kosovo, Gashi and his family fled from an oppressive regime when he was four to come to the United States. He has been a county resident for most of the past two decades.
Branda has criticized the county’s fiscal practices.
“I am looking at ways to make the county budget more efficient,” he said. “One of my goals would be to reduce tuition to $1,100 at Westchester Community College, which could be accomplished by eliminating some 250 vacant jobs still on the county books and are still funded by county taxpayers. The county would be able to double their sponsorship for the college from $25 million to $50 million a year.”
Currently, tuition at SUNY Westchester Community College for undergraduate students residing in New York is $4,980 a year.
Gashi said there is a need throughout Westchester for more affordable housing, but disagreed, as most local elected officials did, with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed Transit Oriented Development plan to build housing near transportation hubs.
“At the county level we plan to invest $100 million for housing projects but we are also trying to drive down the required household earnings of 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI) so more people would be eligible for affordable housing,” he said.
Gashi said he’d like to see Yorktown adopt a regulation supporting affordable housing. The town has no requirement to legally build affordable units. Under his plan, discretionary funds from the county would likely be withheld from the capital improvement budget to towns like Yorktown that have no mechanism on the books to produce affordable housing, he said.
“There is an urgent need for housing and it’s up to the municipalities to adopt a model to allow affordable housing for seniors and first responders,” Gashi said.
A more proactive county would be talking to towns and developers to promote building affordable housing, Branda responded.
“The county can buy property slated for development, negotiate a deal with developers to provide affordable housing and subsidize the cost and construction with an economic development grant,” Branda said. “Towns won’t have to change their zoning laws but there would have to be a local buy-in that considers impacts on the schools, sewer districts and other density issues.”
Immigrants arriving in large numbers in New York City and being transported to Westchester requires an intermunicipal agreement, a suggestion Branda said would prepare the county to provide additional services.
“We have an obligation to provide for them but we have to consider where they would live, if there is access to public transportation to get to work or to shopping and if youngsters can go to the local school,” Branda said. “First and foremost, this is a humanitarian mission and we have to meet the moment.”
As a youngster coming to America with his parents, Gashi said arriving in a new and strange country was scary. He also acknowledges that the federal government controls the asylum process and to allow migrants to work.
“It’s a disappointing process, especially since we are notified after immigrants come here from New York City,” Gashi said. “We have to be vigilant and out in front of this great challenge.”
Equipping school buses throughout Westchester with stop arm cameras to capture images of vehicles illegally passing busses has been a time-consuming and complicated process. All costs for the monitoring system are covered by the county, which must have an agreement with school districts to bid on a vendor for the equipment’s installation.
Gashi said he strongly advocated for the law since his children attend middle school in Yorktown and he is always concerned about bus safety. He supported the legislation for the stop camera arms pilot program.
“The schools are the local, governing authority and they are authorized to install the monitoring systems,” Gashi said.
He admitted he hadn’t followed through on making sure the cameras have been put on buses.
Branda said the legislation is unnecessarily complex, which is jeopardizing children’s safety.
“The county waited so long to enact it four years after the state said we could have this program,” he said. “By the time cameras are installed it will be February or March of 2024. By December of next year, the law says cameras will have to be taken down unless the state extends the law. Will the four or five months we have these cameras even cover the cost of the program?”
Abby is a local journalist who has reported on breaking news for more than 20 years. She currently covers community issues in The Examiner as a full-time reporter and has written for the paper since its inception in 2007. Read more from Abby’s editor-author bio here. Read Abbys’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/ab-lub2019/