Locals Praise Astorino’s Concern for Community
Political Success, Gubernatorial Run Hasn’t Changed County Exec
County Executive Rob Astorino may be behind in the polls in next week’s gubernatorial race, but local residents who know him best and have followed his political career since high school aren’t counting him out yet.
Growing up in Thornwood, Astorino attended Westlake High School, where he was involved in student government and frequently sought out leadership roles, according to former superintendent John Whearty. It came as no surprise to him when Astorino was elected to a seat on the Mount Pleasant Board of Education while he was still a student at Fordham University.
As the youngest board member in the state at that time, Whearty said Astorino was a highly effective trustee, always financially responsible while working for what was best for students. Whearty recalled Astorino as someone who could tackle tough issues delicately and appreciated straight, honest answers.
“He certainly is not one that wants to hurt anybody, but he also knows that in this area it’s pretty hard to keep living here if the expenses override you,” Whearty said. “I think he’s really a caring person.”
Concern over the financial well-being of town residents is something that Astorino brought with him to the Mount Pleasant Town Board starting in 1992.
Former supervisor Joan Maybury, who ran alongside Astorino that year for another vacant council seat, remembered being impressed by how he worked with people to get them to understand difficult issues. She recalled his enthusiasm and energy on the board, where he served as deputy supervisor for six years, and said he was always well respected in the community.
Although Astorino, a Hawthorne resident, is often busy serving as county executive and more recently while campaigning for governor, it’s not uncommon to see him throughout Mount Pleasant.
Michael Aerakis, owner of the Thornwood Coach Diner, said Astorino has been a regular customer for more than 20 years and still visits a few times a month, often with his family. Whenever he visits, Astorino always takes time to speak with residents about issues and their personal lives, Aerakis said.
“He’s the best person in the town,” exclaimed Aerakis, who said he would love to see Astorino elected governor.
Resident Margaret Gelardo, who has also known Astorino for more than two decades, described him as an honest and personable man who has always made time to speak with people and address their concerns.
“He just is very down to earth and very in tune with the residents and with the community,” Gelardo said.
Whearty said he has kept in touch with Astorino and is impressed that he’s remained active in the community, even keeping his membership in the Mount Pleasant Rotary Club.
Whearty, a founding member of the organization, explained that even though Astorino no longer has the time to attend the club’s weekly meetings, he always makes himself available for special events.
“We’re very proud of the fact that Rob is a member and has kept his membership,” Whearty said. “He knows so many of the people and they’re so happy to see him, so just having him there makes a difference.”
Whearty said he introduced Astorino, while he was president of his senior class, to Kevin Plunkett in the halls of Westlake High School. Plunkett, then an attorney for the school district, lead a leadership workshop with students, including Astorino. For the past five years, Plunkett has served as deputy county executive under Astorino.
Astorino is frequently described by those who know him as a family man. Gelardo said she frequently runs into the county executive at the supermarket or at church with his children.
She said he wants to make sure his family’s life is as normal as possible, despite a highly visible position in the county and this high-profile campaign, but she believes that the transition from elected official to community member is seamless for him because he feels most comfortable when mingling with neighbors.
Although Astorino is the cousin of one of Gelardo’s best friends, she didn’t know him until he joined the town board while she was working as an administrative assistant to former supervisor Robert Meehan. At the time, she was impressed that somebody his age was able to be so polished. She said she isn’t surprised Astorino is running for high office because he was always able to handle himself in the public eye so well.
While Astorino has achieved political success since she first met him in the 1990s, he hasn’t changed much, which to Gelardo is the most important factor in his continuing popularity in the town.
“I’ve known him for so many years and I’ve seen him in different positions … different circumstances, and he’s always Rob and I think that that goes a long way,” she said. “That’s what makes him the person that he is, because I don’t think that he’s going to let any of this really change him.”
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