Note: This article has been updated to correct an error.
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Incumbent Republican Rob Astorino and Democratic challenger Noam Bramson went head to head in the first debate of the race for Westchester county executive Wednesday evening.
Bramson continued to emphasize his stances on social services and cited alleged inaccuracies in Astorino's claims of tax increases during Bramson's tenure as New Rochelle mayor.
"If you're going to make a choice that impacts people in such direct, human terms, at least have the guts to take responsibility for those consequences and not try to hide behind statistics," Bramson said of Astorino's cuts on childcare programs, "You're trying to pretend you somehow improved childcare by reducing the funding for childcare."
Astorino focused on the necessity of learning from what he characterized as previous administrative mistakes and cited tax increases in Bramson's record as mayor of New Rochelle, claims Bramson countered were misleading.
"Let's think about the election four years ago," Astorino said. "The county was in a tail spin. The administration was spending like crazy, saying yes to everything. We had an $166 billion deficit and a housing settlement.
"We had to make hard choices - that's my job."
"We need to find a healthy balance. We do have a heart in this county, and we should keep that heart.
"If you give me another four years, I will continue to move down a path toward a healthy, balanced approach to Westchester government."
While some pointed attacks were made by both Astorino and Bramson, the two were cordial upon greeting one another, and joked occasionally at the outset of the first one-on-one exchange in a campaign that has had an aggressive tone.
The first debate was held by the Westchester Business Council at the Reckson Metro Auditorium in White Plains. The debate was moderated by Lee Miringoff of the Marist Institute of Public Opinion.
The candidates tackled questions about new job growth, taxes, Playland, affordable housing, mandate relief and what it means to be county executive.
According to the Marist Poll, 30 percent of adults in Westchester say taxes should be the top priority for the next county executive, while 21 percent say jobs; 19 percent education; 12 percent economic development; 7 percent housing; 5 percent poverty, crime and transportation; and less than 1 percent race relations.
The next debate is the Westchester County Association Debate on Wednesday, Oct. 16 at 5:30 p.m. in Rye Brook. RSVP is required.
It will be followed by the League of Women Voters debate on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at Pace University on Martine Avenue in White Plains, which is open to the public.
There will also be four forums including the two candidates.
Questions in the first debate were directed by panel members who represented different parts of the private sector. Audience questions were taken following the initial debate. The debate was not open to the public.