Some Westchester Legislators Question County Exec's Outside Earnings

Jul 14, 2014

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino
Credit Office of the Westchester County Executive

Two Democratic Westchester County legislators are calling for a public hearing on what they allege is the county executive’s neglect of responsibilities. The criticism follows a recent article on County Executive Rob Astorino’s outside earnings.

An article that appeared July 11 in The Daily News raised the eyebrows of at least two Democratic caucus members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators. The newspaper reported that Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who is running for New York governor, rakes in about $30,000 as a consultant to media conglomerate Townsquare Media. While there is nothing in the county charter that bans the county executive from having a second job, or outside income, Democratic Legislator Peter Harckham, of North Salem, alleges the side job takes Astorino away from his full-time county executive post.

“Clearly the story in The Daily News was certainly an eye-opener. The charter clearly calls for a full-time county executive,” says Harckham. “And it was stunning to be revealed that the county executive has a second job that pays him $30,000 a year. They raised a lot of good questions. How many hours a week does he work? When is he doing this work? Is he traveling for this work? And those questions need to be answered.”

Astorino campaign spokesman William O'Reilly says they already have been answered. In an e-mailed statement, O’Reilly says the consulting job has been on Astorino’s financial disclosure form and known about for three years. He says the county attorney approved the consulting gig. Peekskill Republican John Testa is minority leader of the Westchester County Board of Legislators.

“It was very well explained by the Astorino people about how minimal of a job it is and it’s done on off hours. It’s not a desk job somewhere else. It’s just a consulting from his expertise in the radio business,” says Testa. “It’s much ado about nothing as usual. I don’t think it’s going to matter at the end of the day. People already forgot about it.”

Harckham hasn’t.

“$30,000 a year is not an insignificant sum and would require certainly a hefty amount of work,” says Harckham. “So when is the work being done, where is the work being done, and to what extent is the work being done vis-à-vis the taxpayers who are paying his salary to the tune of $160,000 a year.”

Earlier this year, after Astorino launched his campaign against Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, Democratic caucus members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators introduced a resolution declaring the office of county executive vacant, saying Astorino was spending too much time on the campaign trail and not enough time managing the business of Westchester. Democratic County Legislator from Yonkers Ken Jenkins says that resolution has stood still.

“A couple of months ago when we called for a special election because, to declare the seat of the county executive vacant, that piece of legislation has not been acted has not been acted upon,” says Jenkins.

Astorino’s consulting job is tied to his once having had a career in the radio industry. He was station manager and program director of The Catholic Channel on Sirius-XM Satellite Radio. He also helped launch ESPN Radio in New York City.

Again, Legislator Harckham.

“It’s not like all is well in the kingdom,” Harckham says. “There are a lot of challenges that we face in Westchester that require the attention of a full-time county executive. And the charter calls for a full-time county executive.”

And here’s Legislator Testa.

“I think it’s just silly politics. Everybody’s, all the Democratic elected officials around seem to be trying to outdo each other to help Cuomo beat up on Astorino,” Testa says. “And he’s doing such a great job as county executive. And the proof has been in his work that has been done over the last 4 ½ years. So, it’s just politics at its worse.”

O’Reilly echoes Testa. O’Reilly adds that the Democratic legislators neglected to mention some other outside income that has made headlines. He refers to financial disclosure forms released earlier in July showing that Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver reported earning between $650,000 and $750,000 last year as of counsel at Manhattan law firm Weitz & Luxenberg. The New York State legislature is considered part-time. And Cuomo’s 2013 tax return shows he earned about $188,000 from a HarperCollins book deal.