To paraphrase Sam Cooke, Americans don’t know much about government.
According to a 2018 Johns Hopkins University survey, one-third of 1,500 adults couldn’t name their governors, and 80% were clueless when asked who represented them in their state capitals.
Such metrics of ignorance suggest that similar, if not worse, results would be found on the local level, as well. For instance, how many Westchester citizens actually know that George Latimer is the county executive, let alone what a county executive even does? It is a conundrum Latimer has evidently tried to remedy through a marketing strategy of appearing to be everywhere at once while chronicling each and every event, no matter how trivial, with an unprecedented barrage of press advisories, stem-winding public pronouncements, “My Westchester” newsletters, meet-and-greets, Facebook posts, and videos — lots of videos.
Suffice to say if a poll showed that Latimer was virtually unknown to most citizens, it would not be for a lack of effort. What if that were the case? Is there a way to cleanse the body politic of its ignorance?
Latimer may have inadvertently answered that question himself.
In one of his many self-assessment videos, he said he didn’t have “macro accomplishments” in mind when he took office, adding that he didn’t “see a Mount Rushmore waiting for a county executive.”
Wait — he’s onto something! A Mount Rushmore dedicated to Westchester’s great maximum leaders… literally, an in-your-face solution!
Including Latimer, there have been nine CEs since 1939, when changes to the county charter created the office. All white guys, I hasten to add, and most of them solid Republican because, well, up until recent times, that was more or less the profile of the typical Westchester leader. Surely, we can extract four “greats” from the list of nine and chisel their jowly visages into our own version of Mount Rushmore.
Here are my “core four” picks for enshrinement:
William F. Bleakley (1939-1941) As the first CE, he practically invented the job. He was an attorney, judge, and party boss. Bleakley was also a gubernatorial candidate who faced New Deal Democrat Herbert Lehman in the 1936 election. Losing by 258,000 votes, Bleakley congratulated Lehman for waging a “clean fight and a good one.” A weekly newspaper hailed Bleakley as Westchester’s “Great Rehabilitator” for his role in saving the county from financial collapse during the Depression. No wonder that a 1969 New York Times obituary hailed him as “one of the canniest and most powerful” politicians in the state.
Edward G. Michaelian (1958-1973) That the Westchester County Office Building in White Plains was named for him pretty much sums up Michaelian’s status as the gold standard of CEs. William O’Shaughnessy, of WVOX radio fame, called him “Mr. Westchester,” adding, “It was Michaelian’s probity, genius, and sophistication that caused all those corporate headquarters to be along the Interstate 287 corridor.”
Alfred B. DelBello (1974-1982) The first Democrat to be elected CE, DelBello was a bold innovator who rolled the dice and didn’t always win. When others grandstanded about the performance record of Con Edison, DelBello actually took the giant monopoly on — and he almost succeeded. A takeover referendum failed, but 46% of the voters were on DelBello’s side. Only a massive publicity campaign saved the day for Con Ed.
Andrew O’Rourke (1983-1997) O’Rourke had a sterling record when it came to helping the poor and homeless. Under his stewardship, the county airport was expanded and modernized, and the aging Westchester County Center underwent a massive renovation. Like Bleakley, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor.
So those are my picks. To those who are rabid fans of Herbert C. Gerlach (1941-1954) or any of the others in the B-squad, I say “no offense” and trust that none is taken.
The next order of business is finding a location for Westchester’s Rushmore. Here are a few ideas: Mount Bailey in North Salem (985 ft), Anthony’s Nose, overlooking the Bear Mountain Bridge (900 ft), and for those who despise county government, the aptly named Turkey Mountain in Yorktown Heights (835 ft). Personally, I prefer blasting away cross river at the Palisades. What a view!
Of course, there’s one hitch: We’d have to declare war on New Jersey.
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 at firstname.lastname@example.org