They say that when one door closes, another opens.
It’s an old adage, but one that Mike Kaplowitz is relying on as he contemplates his next move in life.
The 59-year-old Somers dad of two has been on the Westchester County Board of Legislators for 22 years, a longevity record beaten by only one other person to date.
(The late Andrew Albanese’s run lasted 28 years.)
The Democrat’s district covers portions of New Castle, Somers and Yorktown.
He announced Tuesday, Jan. 15, that he would not seek re-election this fall.
“Obviously I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a real gift,” said the two-term former board chairman.
Top on the list of things he will miss are his “wonderful” constituents and colleagues from both sides of the aisle.
“You know, there’s a natural cycle for things. I feel it’s time for me to step away and someone else to step up.
“The question I ask myself is: Did I make the county a little better? I think the answer is ‘yes,’ but time—and citizens—will be the judge of that.”
Kaplowitz hopes to continue in public service, just not as an elected official.
Among the exciting possibilities are working with nonprofits or other public service entities, Kaplowitz said.
“I’m still relatively young, so I’m looking for new challenges at this point,” added the lawyer and financial planner.
WORDS OF PRAISE
Somers Supervisor Rick Morrissey said Kaplowitz has been “a true advocate for Somers on the County Legislature” and someone who “represents everything that’s right about local government.”
“Throughout my career, he has been a great resource, colleague, and friend. I will greatly miss serving with him,” Morrissey said.
Adding to the accolades was Christine Robbins, Somers Democratic Town Committee chair.
“We all owe Michael a debt of gratitude for his exceptional service to our community,” Robbins said. “To the people of Westchester, he’s been an outstanding legislator.”
Kaplowitz was able to “reach across the aisle” and work with others no matter what their party affiliation.
“His style of leadership wasn’t partisan,” Robbins continued. “He knew they had to work together and had a really good working relationship with everyone”—even on contentious issues.
“He took some flak for that, but he knew it was the right thing to do. That’s why he was able to get so much accomplished” especially during his two terms as chairman, Robbins said.
Somers Republican Town Committee chair T.J. McCormack said Kaplowitz would be “sorely missed.”
“His pragmatic, thoughtful approach to lawmaking is antithetical to the angry Indivisibles currently dictating policy to George Latimer and the Board of Legislators,” McCormack said. “Mike helped Rob Astorino keep taxes flat and grow the economy, resulting in 44,000 new private sector jobs.”
Describing Kaplowitz as “one of a kind,” Robbins said voters appreciated his accessibility and penchant for personal involvement in the communities he served.
Yorktown Supervisor Ilan Gilbert said he was saddened by the news, but understood Kaplowitz’s decision to move on.
Kaplowitz has been a “tremendous, tremendous asset” to the towns he has represented over the past two plus decades, Gilbert said.
Gilbert said he and Kaplowitz were friends and he wanted to extend his, and the town’s, thanks for Kaplowitz’s many years of service.
“Everyone admires and respects him and when you walk away from 22 years of political service, it’s rare that you’ll find that,” Robbins said.
Elliot Krowe, co-chair of the Yorktown Democratic Committee, called Kaplowitz’s impending departure from the county position “a big loss for Yorktown.”
Kaplowitz has been “an excellent representative” and “a good friend,” said Krowe citing the legislator’s help on agricultural preservation projects such as Hilltop Hanover Farm.
The county purchased the 187-acre former dairy operation in 2003. It is now used to promote environmental stewardship and sustainability programs.
Kaplowitz, a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative, served as board vice chair and headed numerous committees, including budget and appropriations.
His list of accomplishments, to date, ranges from key roles in the establishment of a human rights commission and the passage of laws on safe gun storage and smoke-free workplaces to fair and affordable housing measures and the co-creation of the county’s Legacy Program, which provided a $7 million ballpark—and a skate park—in Yorktown.
Kaplowitz, a baseball fan, hopes to complete his tour of Big League stadiums around the country. So far he’s hit 28 with two more to go. He and his wife, Jayne, also hope to continue their world travels.
But the two things he’s most proud of—and which are relevant in light of the current state of affairs in Washington—are helping to reduce political gridlock and the shepherding of the county’s Office of Energy and Sustainability (OES).
“When branches of government are at war with each other, nobody wins, everyone loses,” Kaplowitz said.
As chairman, he set up the county board’s first “power-sharing arrangement” in which there was a Republican co-chair. And he made sure every legislator “had skin in the game” by having leadership roles or chairing a committee.
“It was an experiment, but it worked,” Kaplowitz said.
The OES took nearly a decade to get off the ground due to, Kaplowitz claimed, lack of interest on the part of previous county executives. Now that
George Latimer is in, the county has appointed a full-time staffer.
By leading the way on energy efficiency, the county can pass along the savings to taxpayers, he said.
Kaplowitz’s eventual departure means there will be a contest to represent District 4, which has seen little hubbub in recent elections.
Why announce his intentions not to run again so far in advance?
Kaplowitz said Friday that sitting on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk is a bill that would move state and local primaries, now held in September, up to
June, apparently to match them up on the political calendar with primaries for federal offices.
If Cuomo signs it, local political committees and individual hopefuls will have to begin circulating designating and nominating petitions next month.
No one on the local level, or at the County Board of Elections, was certain of the exact start date, through Feb. 26 is tentatively listed. Also unknown Friday was the filing deadline and the date of the primary itself.
Everyone seems to be in somewhat of a tizzy over the potentially shortened political calendar.
“I wish we had known this six months ago,” Krowe said of the change.
Robbins said she and the Democratic Town Committee chairs from Yorktown and News Castle have started interviewing some candidates.
“We have a month to find candidates and get the position ready,” Robbins said. “The good news is we get to keep Michael so he’ll still be involved in Somers.”