Andrew Spano: a tale of devotion and success.
The County Executive is the elected official that leads a county. His position is comparable in his duties to a mayor for a city or a governor for a state. In Westchester, the County Executive is Mr. Andrew Spano, a bright, personable Italian American who has brought ever more stability to this eminent New York State county. It is with great honor, then, that L’IDEA publishes this interview with the County Executive of Westchester.
L’IDEA: Today you are the highest government representative in the USA of Apulian origin. From which town(s) were your parents from? How does it feel to be in the same category as NYC mayor Fiorello LaGuardia?
Andrew Spano: My family is from Grummo Appula, in Apulia. It feels great to be considered in the same light as Mayor LaGuardia. He was a great mayor, was known as a man who cared deeply about New York City and its people, and was a great role model for Italian Americans. I am honored by the comparison.
L’IDEA: Could you give us a brief account of your political life? What prompted you to get into politics?
Andrew Spano: I was called to public service by my strong desire to help people. I firmly believe in the philosophy that government is there to help the people. Following 25 years in education as a teacher, counselor, and administrator, I decided to devote myself to that principle. I was elected as Westchester County Clerk in 1981, and served in that post through 1994. My time as County Clerk was marked by my modernization of the operations, and a national reputation for use of technology to re-energize government. After leaving the County Clerk’s office, I started my own company in the field of electronic commerce. I was elected County Executive in November 1997. I have recently begun the third year of my administration; an administration that is equally committed to my goal of serving all of the people of Westchester County.
L’IDEA: Do you feel that having an Italian last name had any influence on your political growth? Was it an impediment or an advantage?
Andrew Spano: Italian-Americans are the largest ethnic population in Westchester County. Although many are registered in the opposite political party, they were a big influence in all of my elections. I am conscious of the faith that they have put in me and I am always aware that I represent all residents of Westchester County, as well as the Italian-American community.
L’IDEA: The Italian community in Westchester is large and well positioned. Do you believe that this community had a big influence on the successful development of this county?
Andrew Spano: Yes. As a student of history I know of the many contributions that Italian-Americans have made to Westchester County. Many of them came to Westchester County as laborers to build large public works projects, such as dams and reservoirs, or to work building the many large estates that dot the County. They and their children stayed here in Westchester, and have contributed to the diverse culture of the County as artisans, professionals, musicians, entertainers, professional athletes, civic leaders, union officials, and elected officials.
L’IDEA: Westchester is one of the richest counties in USA, but there still is quite a few pockets of poverty and very little housing available. What is being done about these two problems?
Andrew Spano: My administration has already taken several steps to address these issues. One such program — Westchester Scholars — is designed to provide talented, low income and working poor children with an equal opportunity to succeed through computer and Internet technology, and education. The County also is actively pursuing the planning and construction of affordable housing units. This is a difficult problem for our children, our senior citizens on fixed incomes, and for families struggling for a better standard of living. Since taking office, more than 700 housing units have been completed, are under construction, or in the approval process. It is an initiative I will continue to pursue with a creative mind.
L’IDEA: Is there any major countywide project in the near future?
Andrew Spano: Yes, there are many. Among them is the $140 million rehabilitation of the Westchester County Courthouse in White Plains, the largest public works project ever undertaken in Westchester.
Another project that you will soon be hearing a lot about is Westchester Telecom. It is a high-speed, wide-band technology network that will link all levels of government, business, and technology together on a single, information system. My administration also has committed $25 million over five years to acquire open space and parkland throughout Westchester County. Of particular importance are parcels in our more urban areas, primarily in the southern portion of the County. I have recently appointed a policy council to coordinate the delivery of health and social services to children. The panel will coordinate public and private resources to better serve our children and their families.
L’IDEA: I thank you very much, Mr. Spano, for your availability and the thoroughness of the answers. I am certain that our readers will appreciate reading this interview and will ever more proud, thanks to your conspicuous achievements, to be Italian American.