With the Democratic primary for State Senator in the 40th district coming up on Thursday, Sept. 13th, the Record-Review is profiling each of the two candidates. This week the focus is on Pete Harckham.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face incumbent Republican Terrance Murphy in the November general election.
Pete Harckham is currently a Lewisboro resident. He grew up in Rockland County, where he attended Clarkstown High School North. Later a student at Dickinson College, he graduated in 1982 with a Bachelor of Arts in English.
“My first job out of college was working for a law firm assisting in an anti-trust litigation between oil companies and the makers of off-shore oil rigs,” Mr. Harckham said. “From there I moved to the advertising business, working on Madison Avenue.”
Asked to name the most important job he had held, he pointed to his years serving as a Westchester County Legislator. Mr. Harckham represented the 2nd legislative district, which includes Bedford, Lewisboro, and Pound Ridge as well as Mount Kisco, North Salem and Somers, from 2008 to 2015. He was the majority leader for two terms, from 2010 to 2013. During his first year on the board, Andy Spano a Democrat, was county executive. Mr. Spano was defeated when he ran for re-election in 2009, and Republican Rob Astorino became county executive for the rest of Mr. Harckham’s time on the board.
“The board is small enough that you can accomplish things,” Mr. Harckham said, “but represents a large enough population – nearly one million people – that what you do is impactful.”
Among the accomplishments Mr. Harckham cited for his tenure on the board are both legislative achievements when Democrats controlled the board, and battles fought once Mr. Astorino entered office and, subsequently, Republicans gained control.
“We passed important legislation to expand the scope of the Human Rights Compassion to enforce the Federal Fair Housing law,’ he said, “and we created a program to help people stave off foreclosure and eviction during the height of the housing crisis.”
Mr. Harckham said he fought “unwise cuts to childcare subsidies” in order to empower lower income families to keep working and contributing to the economy in Westchester, and to keep them off expensive mandated services. On the environmental front, he said, “we passed key legislation to facilitate growth of the solar industry in Westchester, along with expanding plastics recycling from only 1-2, to 3-7.” In addition, he said, “I negotiated a multi-part septic management plan that saved watershed municipalities money while meeting rigorous phosphorous reduction mandates.”
An economic efficiency for which Mr. Harckham takes at least partial credit was helping to facilitate the merger of the Mount Kisco police with the county police. “That saved money by sharing services and personnel,” he said, “as well as providing better protection to the village.” He said he also worked with the County Office of Emergency Management, as well as local municipal OEMs during hurricanes Sandy and Irene and the Halloween Nor’easter. “And all of the while,” he added, “we battled budget challenges due to the recession; we had held the line on taxes and saved jobs in the process.”
Mr. Harckham explained what made him first decide to run for elective office. “I had been actively fighting for progressive Democratic values in what was then a largely Republican area of the Hudson Valley, since 2000,” he said. “I also became a board member of A-HOME, an organization that builds and manages affordable housing in northern Westchester. I saw how effective county government could be in facilitating the creation of housing and realized that as the regional government, county government was well suited to tackle a number of issues in northern Westchester.”
Mr. Harckham ran successfully for county legislator in 2007 and was re-elected in 2009. In 2010, Mr. Harckham ran for the New York State Assembly seat in the 89th district, which comprised most of his county legislative district as well as New Castle, North Castle, Harrison and sections of White Plains. The seat was vacated by Adam Bradley, who had become mayor of White Plains, and a special election was held in February. Mr. Harckham was defeated by Robert Castelli, a former Lewisboro councilman, but continued to serve in the county legislature. He was re-elected for a second time in 2011 and a third time in 2013.
In February of 2015, Mr. Harckham announced he would not seek re-election, saying, “I have loved this job like no other I’ve had but it is time to move in a new direction for my family and my career.”
In June of that year he left the legislature when he was named to a position in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration as assistant director of the office of Community Renewal. At the time he was quoted as saying, “I’m honored. It’s a wonderful opportunity to return to my roots in housing. It’s a new chapter in my public service and an exciting opportunity.”
Mr. Harckham maintained that his experience in elected office makes him well-qualified to become an effective state senator. “While it is great to call for sweeping legislative change, having the knowledge and experience to actually draft and pass legislation is something else. As someone who served as a legislator for four terms, I thoroughly understand the legislative process and have successfully built coalitions to pass numerous pieces of important legislation,” he stated.
Mr. Harckham also cited his three years serving in the governor’s administration. “In the Office of Community Renewal, my primary task was the allotment of $4.3 million in Community Development Block Grant funding,” he said. He also served as the liaison to the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council, worked for the Thruway Authority as the director of intergovernmental affairs of the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project, and served on the DOT task force developing the new bus system that will connect Rockland and Westchester Counties.
Mr. Harckham said that through his time serving in state government, he had learned how New York State works and how to get things done. “Ultimately, to be an effective legislator you have to care about serving people and understand that the majority of the job is serving your constituents and constituent municipalities,” he said.
Mr. Harckham said that Democrats “are focused on the mission of defeating Sen. Murphy and gaining a Democratic majority in the State Senate.” Their focus now is on a “process to determine who will be the right candidate to take on Murphy. To that end, experience and qualifications matter,” he said.
Asked to distinguish himself from his primary opponent, he said, “I am the only Democratic candidate who has run in and won elections. I turned a red seat blue and held it during the height of the Tea Party. I know how to message to independent voters and disaffected Republicans, both of whom are necessary to win this race.”
He continued, “I am also the only candidate who has been a legislator, balanced budgets, and forged coalitions of legislators on both sides of the aisle, along with community groups, to pass important legislation. My experience, both politically, administratively and legislatively, is a distinct advantage.”
This article appeared in the Record-Review in August, 2018.