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Astorino Town Hall Attracts Overflow Crowd For Lively Talk On Many Topics

Some of the hundreds of Westchester County residents who could not fit inside the White Plains City Council chambers where County Executive Rob Astorino held his second "Ask Astorino" town hall meeting on Monday night. It lasted two hours. Photo Credit: Contributed
An 'Ask Astorino' forum drew hundreds to Cortlandt in January to discuss the closure of Indian Point. Additional "town hall" meetings are planned Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who is seeking re-election to a third term. Photo Credit: Contributed
Concerned citizens held a variety of signs at Monday night's "Ask Astorino" Town Hall meeting in White Plains. Many were turned away due to space and security restrictions at City Hall. Photo Credit: Contributed

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- What was billed as an hour-long "Ask Astorino" Town Hall meeting Monday night turned into a two-hour display of public concern over immigration, climate change, hate crimes and deportation.

Based on the overflow attendance and unanswered questions, the public session could have lasted all night.

Hundreds of Westchester residents showed up to quiz County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican seeking re-election. Many expressed frustration they were not called upon or were turned away due to the limited confines of White Plains City Hall.

Some of the dialogue and unanswered questions as well as photos taken by protesters -- who held signs outside the City Council chamber and outdoors -- were posted by residents at #AskAstorino and #AstorinoTownHall on Twitter.

Astorino gave an overview of his annual budget designed to "provide tax relief, preserve essential services and promote economic development."  The county executive's second Town Hall forum of 2017 came the same day that separate bomb threats were reported at Jewish Community Centers in Scarsdale and Tarrytown, as reported here by Daily Voice.

Asked about the recent increase in hate crimes following Donald Trump's election as president, Astorino condemned anti-Semitism, including the two JCC bomb threats, saying: “I can’t control what stupid people do. ... This is Westchester. We don’t stand for it in any shape or form."

Astorino also was asked if he believed in global warming. He said he did.

He was then asked his opinion on President Trump having called climate change a hoax: “I can only deal with my world here,” Astorino said, while detailing county environmental programs such as increased recycling.

Outside the meeting chamber, demonstrators picketed with signs that read: “You Are An Immigrant," "I Want My Taxes To Support Human Dignity," "Impeach Trump," "Trumporino" and "Trumported," among others.

Astorino said he viewed the press as vital and does not consider news media in Westchester as his enemy.

Locally, Astorino defended vetoing county legislation that would have banned gun shows on county property, like one recently held at the County Center in White Plains. He said the gun show's attendees were unfairly stigmatized.

When someone asked about books on Nazis sold at last month's gun show, Astorino called it a First Amendment issue, adding that books such as Adolf Hitler's “Mein Kampf” are available at Westchester libraries.

In addition to this being the seventh straight year of no tax rate increases for county taxpayers, Astorino discussed initiatives including Playland, the Westchester County Airport and infrastructure investments to parks.

Though Astorino answered a host of questions, there were a number of people, especially among those in the overflow crowd on the first floor, that felt slighted. Aaron Steinberg, a member of Indivisible White Plains, was one of them.

"Although I was the first person to raise my hand in the meeting, I was not called upon," he said. "Among my many questions, the sign I held reading 'Will You Help ICE Raids?' went unanswered."

Svetlana Wasserman of Larchmont was another one who was disappointed, especially as she felt Astornio had packed the room he was speaking in with supporters who asked "low ball, easy" questions.

But what really upset her was when, at the beginning of the meeting, officials tried to take away her sign, which also highlighted immigration. Said the mom of two: "I have a right to express my opinion."

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