RYE BROOK, N.Y. – The contentious race between Republican Bob Cohen and Democrat George Latimer reached a fever pitch during a debate in Rye Brook Tuesday night that focused primarily on jobs, property taxes, and health care in Westchester County.
“It is not hyperbole to say this race in the 37th District may, indeed, decide the balance of power in the New York State Senate,” said Moderator Steve Scott of WCBS Radio at the debate, sponsored by the Westchester County Association and held at 800 Westchester Ave.
Latimer, a Democratic Assemblyman for the 91st District; and Cohen, a Republican businessman, are running for the 37th District seat of retiring state Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer. Cohen is making a second run for the seat, after losing to Oppenheimer in 2010.
The 37th encompasses Rye, Harrison, Mamaroneck, New Castle, New Rochelle, Scarsdale and White Plains. The hotly contested race is viewed as pivotal in deciding which party controls the state Senate in the next legislative session.
Scott asked the candidates what they planned to do to bring more jobs to Westchester County.
Latimer said that since the county is competing against Connecticut and New Jersey, financial incentives must be put on the table to attract companies to the area.
Cohen, meanwhile, argued that property taxes need to be lowered because they are the number one element driving people and businesses out of Westchester. Cohen also brought up the fact that Latimer did not vote for the 2 percent property-tax cap, which was introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and passed last year.
Latimer defended his action, as he has done before, arguing he did not vote on principle. “The tax cap can work with mandate relief now, not future mandate relief,” said Latimer, adding that mandate relief and a pension cap at a state level will bring property-tax levels down.
Scott also asked how the candidates would plan to keep young medical professionals in Westchester County, when so many are leaving for areas with lower medical malpractice insurance.
Latimer said the cost of medical malpractice insurance is “phenomenal.” He said that rates need to be lower for responsible practitioners, likening the issue to car-insurance rates for drivers.
Cohen raised the tension levels by claiming Latimer’s response was evasive and more “Albany-speak.” After a brief argument between the two, Cohen reaffirmed that he was very much in favor of lowering insurance rates for medical malpractice to get younger doctors to stay in New York State.
Scott also asked what each candidate would do to create jobs for Westchester County’s skilled labor force. Cohen said he supports the rebuilding of the Tappan Zee Bridge, but said the state needs to do more to replace other crumbling roads and bridges.
“I’m willing to say we need to borrow today to invest in New York for the future of our children,” said Cohen. When Scott asked him if the state can afford to borrow in this difficult economic time, Cohen responded, “Can we afford to let our roads continue to crumble? … I don’t believe we can. I believe we need to have a good infrastructure to attract businesses.”
Latimer jibed Cohen, saying he is out of touch with the current political efforts to replace infrastructure and create jobs, referencing Cuomo’s “New York Works” program. “What happens is, if you don’t know the things that are happening, you think they need to be created,” said Latimer. “We need to stand behind those programs and reinforce them.”