‘I have work to do’: George Latimer on representing the Bronx

Westchester County Executive George Latimer celebrated his NY-16 primary victory over Rep. Jamaal Bowman in White Plains on June 25, 2024.
Photo Emily Swanson

George Latimer, the Westchester County Executive who will likely become the next representative for the 16th Congressional District, realizes he has an optics problem when it comes to the Bronx constituents. And in terms of name recognition, “I have work to do,” he said.

But Latimer told the Bronx Times that although he is a 70-year-old white man in a suit, many Bronxites and working-class people throughout the district can relate to his family story. 

Latimer said he grew up on the south side of Mount Vernon in a poor and racially diverse area, literally across the street from the Bronx neighborhood of Wakefield. His mother worked in a factory and his father was a maintenance worker. 

“That is a classic story” that many people across the district can still relate to, Latimer said. “I look like I’m the walking establishment, but I’m a blue collar kid from a poor portion of this district.”

‘Every zip code’

The 16th Congressional District includes the north Bronx neighborhoods of Wakefield and Edenwald, and spans the Westchester County suburbs of Rye, White Plains, New Rochelle and others. But the Bronx slice of the district is dwarfed compared to its suburban counterpart.

The Westchester County side has 218,996 active voters registered as Democrats — compared to 27,853 in the Bronx side, according to 2023 state Board of Elections data. That means Bronxites make up only about 13% of Democratic voters in the district Latimer would represent if elected. 

The Bronx Times spoke to Latimer on June 27, fresh off his victory over two-term incumbent Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a Black progressive and former Bronx school administrator who, despite the loss, received more than five times as many votes as Latimer from the Bronx portion of the district.​​ While city and state election results are still unofficial, data from Westchester County shows that Bowman pulled in just 36% in that part of the district.

Latimer — who has not lost an election in almost 30 years — acknowledged that he is much more well known in Westchester County than in the Bronx at this point. Bronxites “don’t know my story,” he said.

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But in his June 25 victory speech, Latimer committed to “consider[ing] the needs of everybody in this district, every zip code.” 

He insisted he is not a stranger to the Bronx. He graduated from Fordham University and said his first girlfriend was from the borough, so he spent a lot of time in the Bronx in his youth. And with the hotly-contested and most expensive-ever primary race behind him, Latimer said he will lean heavily on existing and new relationships with Bronx officials. 

He said he just spoke with Borough President Vanessa Gibson and is meeting soon with Sen. Jamaal Bailey, Council Member Kevin C. Riley and longtime Assembly Member Michael Benedetto, who won his own primary race against Democratic Socialist party-backed Jonathan Soto. 

“There are things that will connect me to people” in the Bronx, Latimer said. He specifically pointed to Benedetto — who has served in the Assembly since 2004 — as another 70-plus white elected official who is “well-thought of” among diverse constituents. 

Latimer said on the campaign trail he heard a lot of “everyday people’s concerns” — even when they were not federal issues — to get a feel for what constituents think is top of mind. And rather than imposing his vision at this early stage, he’s in listening mode with his Bronx counterparts: “What are the existing initiatives going on, and what can I do to be helpful?” 

‘I’ve lived that life’ 

New Yorkers’ top concerns seem to be similar no matter where he goes in the district, Latimer said. Affordable housing is a major issue, and he could have a say in the federal government’s Section 8 subsidy program — which has a major impact on New Yorkers’ living options, he said. 

Latimer also said he strongly supports the proposed Metro-North expansion for new train stations in Co-Op City, Parkchester/Van Nest, Hunts Point and Morris Park, along with rezoning changes to support retail and housing development near the stations. Latimer also cited environmental conservation as a top concern. 

But Latimer cautioned that there is no way to know the political climate he will step into following November’s General Election. Whether he will be a majority or minority party member of Congress and who is elected president will play a major role in the policies he will take up.

And although he was billed as a moderate Democrat, Latimer said many of his policies have actually been on the progressive side, which he believes will appeal to Bronxites. He said he has worked on improving maternal health care, switching to electric buses, expanding abortion access and encouraging women in entrepreneurship, among other issues. 

Members of the far-left House group known as “The Squad” — which includes the now-ousted Bowman, as well as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who easily won her District 14 primary race — are not the only progressives around, Latimer said. 

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“When you label things, you cluster things in a bucket. Not everything belongs in the bucket,” he said. 

And for those like him who don’t fit the liberal stereotype, there is a “disconnect between the optic and the actual reality of it.”

He said that many Bronxites seem to have the same aspirations his family did: To work hard, move up in society and ensure a good future for the next generation. Latimer pointed to his endorsements from unions representing electricians, carpenters, firefighters and more as proof that he is there for working class people. 

“I’ve lived that life,” he said — and policy decisions “come out of my life experience, whether I look like it or I don’t,” he said.

Latimer said that although he may get some strange looks in the Bronx, he will be fully ready to represent the borough by the time he assumes office in January 2025. He said he plans to have a Bronx office and remain present in the community to “deliver on substantive issues.”

“You can’t ignore any part of this district,” Latimer said.

Reach Emily Swanson at eswanson@schnepsmedia.com or (646) 717-0015. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes