Many New York residents have seen a slew of ads on the airwaves this week attacking Democratic candidate George Latimer, who is running in a close race for Westchester County Executive.
The ads, like so many manipulative, negative attack ads before them, distort both Latimer’s record and exploit a nothing-burger of a story about taxes on a property inherited by his wife.
But aside from the nasty untruths of the ad, Westchester residents should be very concerned about the money that made those ads possible — and about the outside forces now working overtime to tip the race in Republican incumbent Rob Astorino’s favor.
A story in Politico reported that Donald Trump mega-donor Robert Mercer has set up a PAC and invested millions of dollars into what was otherwise an important but ultra-local race.
Mercer’s newly flush PAC is behind the negative attack ads now flooding the airwaves. But what makes this fact concerning is that Mercer has been a primary financial backer of both Trump and Steve Bannon, and is pouring millions of dollars backing super extreme, ultra-right wing candidates across the country.
Mercer is the major backer of a primary challenge against Jeff Flake in the Arizona Senate race. That outside money and Mercer/ Bannon’s influence led to Flake’s extraordinary announcement on the Senate floor rebuking President Trump and announcing he would not seek reelection.
So why Westchester? What does someone like Steve Bannon or Rob Mercer have to gain there? It’s likely that they see Astorino as the best hope of a future Republican governor of New York. But whatever their rationale, Mercer and Astorino have just massively raised the stakes and made the race an urgent referendum on the Trump agenda.
Dark money like that now coming into Westchester is everything wrong with American politics. Its origins are murky, the mission suspect and tactics out-of-bounds.
It’s a story of outsized influence by a few wealthy donors that has become all too common in American politics.
Astorino has tried for years to paint himself as a kind of 21st-century Rockefeller Republican, and as a result many fiscally conservative country Democrats have voted for Astorino. They wrongly believed that he was socially liberal and fiscally conservative.
The Trump/Bannon linked money backing him, however, tells an entirely different story.
Most Westchester residents, who overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton in the presidential election and have elected Democrats to the House and Senate for decades, would be horrified to discover that the likes of Bannon and Mercer are now trying to pull the strings on our county election.
All politics used to be local but not anymore. The outside money now flooding the race is a threat to Westchester values and to American democracy itself.
Every voter in Westchester and every concerned Democrat in the state should pay close attention to this race. If Astorino wins, it will further embolden Bannon and Mercer to flood other local races around the country with outside cash and outside influence, skewing our democracy away from local representation and towards a decidedly undemocratic system.
Neither Trump, nor Bannon, nor Robert Mercer have the interests of Westchester at heart. Here’s hoping the voters do.
Lauren Leader-Chivee is an activist and author of “Crossing the Thinnest Line” and a resident of Harrison, N.Y.
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