Outreach To Hispanics A Priority

County Executive addresses fiscal responsibility, growth and contributions of Hispanics within the community.

Editor’s note: this the first in a series on Hispanics in Westchester County, N.Y. 

Having a major in communications and a minor in Spanish from Fordham University has served Rob Astorino well during his first term as Westchester County executive. He regularly uses skills learned in both majors to reach out to residents of New York’s fourth most diverse county.

Of Westchester County’s 1 million residents, 22 percent are Hispanics. “It’s important that where necessary I can speak Spanish, which helps break down barriers and allows me to communicate with this important segment of the population,” Astorino explains.

This idea was put to the test last fall during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. He made it a point to not only do live press conferences in English but also to give out important information in Spanish.

Following the county executive’s lead, the administration also works to reach all of the county’s residents. The Economic Development and Social Services teams are visible in the communities, answering questions and reinforcing the concept of the administration’s open-door policy.

Astorino outreach to Hispanics at festival

As another means of outreach to Hispanics, Astorino spearheaded an effort to have the county’s website translated into Spanish. Astorino’s annual State of the County address is also available in Spanish. “We don’t want language to impede anyone’s progress. We want residents to understand what assistance is available, what opportunities are available and we don’t want language to be a barrier. With our significant and growing population of Hispanics, we want to help serve that need,” he says.

Striking a Balance

Leading by example is something the 46-year-old discovered early on in his political career. When he was first elected to public office at the age of 21, Astorino learned an important lesson that has stuck with him throughout his political career—he has a voice. “I represented people in the community and I had to take my job very seriously, which I did. My opinion mattered,” he explains.

During his first year serving on the Mount Pleasant Board of Education, he believed the school district’s proposed budget was too high. He took a stand that led to a compromise and a budget more favorable to taxpayers. “I could have gone along with the crowd and not said anything. I felt very strongly that we had to make some adjustments. You can’t always run with the crowd,” says Astorino. “Sometimes you have to lead, and I learned that from a young age.”

Fast forward a few years and Astorino serves as the official head of the county’s government. While not every decision or position is popular with everyone, Astorino looks at the big picture, attempting to find the balance between what different groups want versus what the county can afford.