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What if he wins? Latimer talks Gaza war, taxes, SCOTUS in lohud interview. What he said

WEST HARRISON ‒ George Latimer would be 71 if and when he goes to Congress, and he has no illusions about serving long enough to climb the ranks and accrue power over time in the usual way.

But he thinks he could hit the ground running. He already knows a half-dozen House members, having worked with them as Westchester County executive or before then as a state senator and assemblyman. And he promises a problem-solving approach based more on relationships than seniority, cultivating ties on both sides of the aisle for specific goals.

Latimer, who’s challenging Rep. Jamaal Bowman in a Democratic primary on June 25, laid out his vision for the job in a sit-down interview last week with reporters and editors from The Journal News/lohud. He has held public offices for 35 years — he’s been Westchester’s top official since 2018 — and is making a late-career bid for one elected role he has yet to hold: congressman.

“I’m not running for Congress to be a spokesperson for a demographic, or the spokesperson for a set of ideals,” he said, drawing an implied contrast to his opponent. “I’m not joining a small group of people that have an ideological tilt. I want to go to Washington now, for whatever period of time it is, because you need more rational people in Washington in the House — and the [Senate] as well — who will go down there and try and work within a system as it exists.”

Latimer spoke for about 50 minutes, fielding questions about some chief points of friction in his heated race against the two-term incumbent, and giving his views on raising taxes, expanding the Supreme Court, border security and other issues. Here are some key points he made.

“To help the poorest of people, you need money from the federal government,” he said. “And that requires dealing directly with those discretionary funds that are available through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.”

Latimer also mentioned local transportation needs and job growth as two main interests if elected. But he said his focus as a new House member would largely depend on feedback he gathers from local officials throughout the 16th District, which consists of the southern half of Westchester and part of the north Bronx. Their priorities would be his, he said.

Raising taxes on high earners? No thanks

Latimer was asked about reversing or shrinking the tax cuts for top income brackets and businesses that Republicans enacted over Democratic opposition in 2017. Congress must revisit the tax code next year when parts of the 2017 law expire, and Biden has proposed hiking taxes again on businesses and the wealthy.

Latimer shied away from that position. He said he wants to end the law’s $10,000 limit on state and local tax deductions but would look for ways other than tax increases to offset it.

“I am not signing on to raising taxes,” he said. “I am signing on to restoring a tax deduction that was taken away. There are revenue streams that the federal government has that do not directly relate to raising income taxes. Let’s look at all of those revenue streams.”

Officials from both parties in high-tax states like New York have railed against the SALT deduction cap since it was imposed to help pay for the tax cuts. Latimer said eliminating it would be a priority for him, arguing it has hurt working- and middle-class homeowners as much as high earners in the 16th District.

“If we have to do it in pieces because the price tag is too big in one year to swallow, then we do it in pieces and we move that way,” he said.

Expand Supreme Court? Depends on who’s picking justices

Latimer tapped the brakes on the push by some Democrats to expand the Supreme Court to balance its 6-3 conservative majority. One bill introduced last year in the wake of the court’s overturning national abortion rights would add four justices to the current nine. Bowman is one of 63 House co-sponsors.

Latimer said his stance depends on who wins this year’s presidential race and which party controls the Senate, the body that confirms court appointments. If Donald Trump wins and Republicans take the Senate majority from Democrats, then expanding the court simply means more conservative judges, he pointed out.

“Before we make a structural change, let’s see where we are and go forward,” he said.

No less a Democrat for GOP donor support

Bowman and his allies have gone after Latimer for the direct and indirect support he has gotten from Republican donors, either as contributions to his campaign or funding for pro-Israel groups that have bought anti-Bowman and pro-Latimer ads.

They’ve made that support a central critique, casting the challenger as beholden to GOP extremists whose views are antithetical to Democrats’.

House feats:What’s his record? Bowman touts aid for neglected areas in tough primary race with Latimer

Latimer swung back in the interview, saying campaign donations have never caused him to change his positions during his long public career. And he said any crossover support he has gotten from Republicans mainly stems from their belief that Bowman has been “anti-Israel in his behavior,” not from any other partisan motive.

Their views on abortion and climate change, for example, have no bearing on his own, Latimer said.

“No Democrat should question my willingness to stand by the Democratic principles that I’ve already stood behind,” he said. “And again, it’s not as if I’ve been in office for two years and you don’t know if I’ll flip. I’ve been around a long time, and you have a long body of work to look at.”

Congressional race is not “a referendum on Israel and Gaza”

Latimer rejected the idea that his differences with Bowman on Israel and the Gaza war fueled his run and formed the central issue in the primary. Jewish constituents were just one of three or four different groups that urged him to enter the race because they were unhappy with Bowman’s performance, he said.

“This is about much more than just a referendum on Israel and Gaza,” Latimer said.

He defended Israel’s drive to rout Hamas after its deadly terrorist attack on Oct. 7, which he compared to American wars against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda after 9/11. And when asked about future U.S.-Israel relations, he argued that rank-and-file Congress members should hesitate to take public stances on White House foreign policy decisions.

“We should work inside the government to try influence presidential policy,” he said. “We’re not privy to all the different nuances of what’s happening in the negotiating table. And we would do well to show to the world a singular face of American foreign policy, rather than have everybody commenting.”