George Latimer’s early going as Westchester County executive could be boiled down to a single image: the familiar thumbs-up icon of Facebook.
To say Latimer has embraced social media is an under-statement. He is immersed in it. A day hardly passes that he doesn’t post some sort of musing or insight on Facebook, often in the early morning hours, when only insomniacs are paying attention.
Latimer never seems to sleep, and he is never without thoughts to share with the populace. This may show dedication and a seriousness of purpose, but seen through the looking glass of Facebook, it also reveals a need for constant affirmation.
Millions of people are hooked on Facebook — and I’ll admit I’m one of them. So, what drives this Facebook obsession?
Generally, the habit is based on an unquenchable thirst for validation through the accrual of likes and positive replies, the more the better. It is an addiction reinforced by “friends” in an echo chamber.
Think of Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman, who believed the key to success was not to be merely liked but well liked.
Skilled retail politicians like Latimer might be especially attracted to Facebook’s intoxicating magic because it provides an unfiltered form of communication with voters in real time. Facebook serves as a cyber-handshake, which enhances Latimer’s image as the affable everyman.
Adam Bradley, who served with Latimer in the state assembly, told me admiringly that Latimer was the first county executive to “show up to absolutely everything.” He never forgets a name, “which allows him to often personalize his meetings.”
The flip side is that Latimer appears to be caught in a continuous loop of campaigning despite the fact he won’t have to run again until 2021. What’s more, he can’t seem to get over his rage from the 2017 election — even though he won handily against the Republican incumbent Rob Astorino. The scorched-earth nastiness of that campaign still gnaws at him, and his feelings are often randomly expressed on Facebook. In one instance, he posted the song “Tubthumping,” with the comment: “In every campaign when I was mercilessly attacked, I played this song. I get knocked down… but I get up again.”
Latimer has never lost an election in a heavily Democratic county. Yet he invariably casts himself as a defiant underdog, forced into grim battle with his lying critics. Cheering him on are hordes of adoring, thumbs-up fans who flock to his personal Facebook page, which includes a profile picture of a gigantic blue wave — a metaphor for progressive domination.
A small but vocal minority of anti-Latimer trolls, lurkers, and possibly a bot or two, undoubtedly see that blue-wave photo as an irresistible provocation. They really know how to get under Latimer’s skin, too. But instead of simply ignoring the insults like most seasoned politicians, he gets back in their Facebook faces. When asked by The Journal News about this tit-for-tat tendency, he said civil dialogue is fine but comments that he deems inaccurate or objectionable in tone will be replied to in kind.
Latimer has said more than once that he doesn’t want to appear to be a weakling, evidently rejecting the idea that rising above it all might actually show strength.
Weak or strong, it could be argued that Latimer’s fixation with Facebook critics betrays insecurity. Or, it could be said that he’s on the side of righteousness.
In any case, it underscores a wider societal mania for online pissing matches among neighbors. It presents another argument for unplugging from Facebook or at least limiting it to pet videos and restaurant entrées.
A few months ago, Latimer devoted an entire post to his rationale for “jousting with people who say snotty things” about him. The post inspired 270 likes and a flood of tortuous replies and sub-replies, most of them supportive. A few naysayers were eviscerated.
One comment stood out. It came from Jimmy Fink, the great radio disc jockey of 107.1 The Peak. The thread, Fink said, only proved that political posts on Facebook further no one’s agenda, “including the county executive.”
Conjuring Trump, he said, “These rants are not that different from governance by Tweet. The tit-for-tat seems to be a huge waste of time and energy.”
Thumbs-up to that.
The opinions and beliefs expressed by Phil Reisman are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Westchester Magazine’s editors and publishers. Tell us what you think: email email@example.com