Q&A With Westchester’s First African-American Deputy County Executive

Armed with a quarter-century of experience in local politics, Ken Jenkins says he’s ready for what comes next.

Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins takes his seat at the county exec’s table on the heels of vast experience in local politics. In addition to having served as the president of the Yonkers chapter of the NAACP and the chairman of the Yonkers Democratic Committee, Jenkins went on to become the chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators. We sat down with Jenkins as he prepares to wrap his first year as deputy county executive.
As part of the county executive’s office, do you have specific areas of purview?I usually focus more on the money side of things, whether that’s the acquisition side or the review of county contracts. I often partner with [director of operations] Joan McDonald, with whom I’ve been working on the Liberty Lines Transit contract and the brand-new CSEA [Civil Service Employees Association] contract.
An exciting thing that’s going on right now in your office is the Minority and Women-owned Business Task Force. How did this come about? One of the things I presented during the Democratic primary campaign last year was a 12-point program for MWBE participation for the county, and that was part of the reason County Executive Latimer appointed me chair of the MWBE task force…. So we’re setting up standards to do that, and to make sure that small businesses, which are already overburdened, can participate in the process. We have a minority-woman-in-business component that is part of county law, but most people don’t know that…. We’re going through our own database and identifying gaps between how aspiring business owners self-identify and the types of businesses we need in the county, and we will recruit to fill those gaps. We’re also working with the Business Council of Westchester and the Westchester County Association. Even some of the colleges are getting involved, too.
Where will your focuses be? Basically, three different areas: accountability in recording and the administration of the [MWBE] opportunities; matching opportunities and affirming an outreach mechanism to get folks involved; and finally, some goals that we have set for the achievement of the first two.
There has been a lot of controversy around the Westchester County Airport situation, with business groups recently forming a coalition to build support for private operation. What’s the administration’s stance? We have no official stance as yet, pro or con. We are of course sensitive to the operational aspects, like air quality, water quality, noise levels, and capital investment, yet we also appreciate the significance a facility like this can have in the community. But there is also the governance issue: Who is going to run the airport? That one is easy: The administration will not allow the governance issue to be used as a pawn in the budget negotiations. We’re not committed to the governance issue either way, but we are resolute that we will not use this as a piggy bank to fill gaps as far as the 2019 operating budget is concerned.
Do you have a resolution timetable for this issue? Not at this time, no.
What are most proud of or excited about as you close out your first year?Getting through the contract for the CSEA. I am extremely proud of that. For the future, it’s going through the budget process, which says what our priorities are, whether that’s MWBE, or affordable housing, or shared services. That, to me, is exciting.

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