The Life of Westchester’s Rob Astorino
On the road (in an election year) with the County Executive
(page 8 of 8)
Dinner at the Thornwood Coach Diner goes about as one might expect dinner with three children under 10 to go. Sean, who is wearing his lacrosse uniform, orders the sweet potato waffles, and Kiley follows suit. Sheila decides on the matzo ball soup. Rob (back in his casual uniform of polo, khakis, and boat shoes) orders a bacon cheeseburger. He is wearing his Dad hat now, but, in public, he’s always got to be on. Upon entering the diner, he had made a point of speaking to the kitchen workers in Spanish. At the table, he greets other diners as they come in. Ashlin spills her water, and it’s time to go to the game. Rob brings up the rear, shaking hands on the way out.
Westlake High School sits up on a hill. It’s windier and overcast up here; a day that began in early spring is ending in late winter. The sun is a bright disc behind hazy clouds. Astorino went to high school here, so he knows the place. We arrive a bit late, and the coach calls out to him, “I can’t get mad at you, can I?”
While Sean plays, Astorino stands on the sidelines, talking to the other dads. He is not just another Dad, but everyone tries to pretend otherwise. Sheila wrangles the girls. Then Rob takes them away, running down the hill with them, playing tag.
Sheila explains that they met in 1999. She was waiting tables at Pete’s Saloon & Restaurant in Elmsford, while studying for a degree in speech therapy. Rob, who was deputy supervisor of the Mount Pleasant Town Board at the time, liked to eat dinner there before hosting his weekly radio show on WFAS. They married in Ireland in 2001.
Sheila says Rob tried to prepare her for life as a politician’s wife.
“He told me, ‘This is my path in life.’ I said, I support you, whatever you want to do.” She doesn’t watch the news: “I just don’t want to hear anything negative. He’ll tell me when he gets home what’s going on.”
And there’s plenty going on. As a small-government conservative in a liberal-leaning county, Astorino’s relationship with the Democratic-dominated Board of Legislators is contentious at best; they spar endlessly over taxes, jobs, budget cuts, Rye Playland. His David-and-Goliath standoff with the federal government over the affordable housing settlement has actually won him fans that admire his refusal to back down, and he’s being talked about for statewide office, perhaps senator or governor.
On this Sunday in April, a judge is threatening to slap him with contempt charges and a fine if he doesn’t re-introduce legislation that forbids Westchester landlords from discriminating against potential tenants based on sources of income such as Section 8 vouchers. When he told Sheila about the judge’s contempt threat, she tremulously asked him if he was going to jail. (The matter has since been resolved.)
Sheila says that as long as she’s known him, her husband has stuck with his principles, whatever the cost. “He hasn’t changed at all. Hands on the Bible, he’s the same. His morals, his ethics: that’s who he is.”
The lacrosse game is a success. Sean scores a breakaway goal that has his parents cheering and fist-pumping. These moments are precious, and the C.E. knows it. “You don’t get the time back,” he says. He leans in, to share some advice former County Executive Andrew O’Rourke, his late mentor and friend, gave him years ago.
“He said to me, ‘Don’t make the mistake a lot of people in politics make. Don’t bring your troubles home. The day has to end. Go home to your family and enjoy your kids, because tomorrow you’ll start all over again.’”
Dana White logged hundreds of miles researching and writing Westchester Magazine’s Best Places to Live feature in the April 2013 issue.