The Rockland County League of Women Voters virtual candidate’s forum for the county executive race was held Tuesday evening. Two-term incumbent Republican Ed Day faced off with attorney and self-described progressive activist L’Tanya Watkins, the Democratic candidate.
Day and Watkins both framed the race as a referendum on the direction of the county. Day claims the county government has been moving in the right direction under his watch, while Watkins claims it’s time to change things up and for “marginalized groups” to be represented.
“I want to keep Rockland going in the same direction,” Day said during his closing statement. “We have transformed our economy, improved our budget situation and gained multiple bond rating increases.”
Watkins said she had no issue with Ed Day’s work, but she believed it’s time for a new vision. “I applaud Ed Day for all he has done. I want to lead the county forward and represent all of Rockland County,” she said, reminding voters that Ed Day once said he’d only serve two terms.
Watkins continued, “What can be done to improve the life of all of Rockland? We want Rockland to be a beautiful place in 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years. Rockland needs to move in a different direction and I am the person to do that.”
Several topics were brought up by questioners during the forum.
On the question of whether to create a public utility to take control of Rockland’s water supply, currently managed by the French company Suez, Watkins was all in. Day said it is an option that is being looked at, but was wary of the costs involved, which could run as high as $500 million.
Regarding changes in law enforcement, Day, a former high ranking officer in the NYPD, said, the governor’s panel implemented a program called “EO203” that will instate changes including body cameras for officers. He said, “We can always do everything better, but at the end of the day it’s a broad effort.”
Watkins said, “Communities that feel the police don’t treat them fairly want to work with the police to better understand [each other]. Police reform is needed, necessary and it has to take place now.”
On the topic of housing, Day said the county government works with HUD U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on housing projects for certain groups.
Watkins said Day wasn’t in touch with the reality of people living in Rockland. While offering no specific solution, she said, “People can’t afford to live here. How do we grow as a county if people can’t afford to live here? Why does my daughter live in Alabama?”
But Day felt the most confident in his record on the economy and managing the county budget, which does help with affordability. Day said there have been $8 billion in rateables brought in during his regime and he was proud that Rockland had one of the lowest unemployment percentages in the state.
He mentioned several times during the debate that the county was on the verge of bankruptcy when took power in RCT 10.28.2021 1-10 .pdf draft 2014 and now a $130 million budget deficit has turned into a $90 million surplus. “Experience and skills matter,” Day said.
On a number of questions, Watkins took a more aggressive tone than Day. Asked about what is being done to make Rockland a “green” county, Day pointed out that the county buses have been converted to hybrids, that smart planning has been implemented and the county ranked 23 out of 62 counties in environmental friendliness.
Watkins took issue with Rockland’s status. She said, “Green is the future and we need to be not number 23 but number 1.” She also said she wants the county to convert to all electric busses and that she would be more aggressive than Day in using the bully pulpit to convince towns and villages to do things like switch to LED lighting.
Watkins expressed concern about gerrymandering during Rockland County’s redistricting of county legislative boundaries and demanded open public meetings to discuss the process. Day encouraged Rocklanders to contact their legislators to express their thoughts.