Fordham Law is Saddened by Death of Alumnus Andrew P. O'Rourke '62January 07, 2013
The Fordham Law community mourns the passing of Hon. Andrew P. O'Rourke '62, former judge of the New York Court of Claims and former justice of the New York State Supreme Court.
From 1983–1985, Justice O'Rourke was County Executive of Westchester. In 1986, he ran for Governor of New York against incumbent Mario Cuomo. After serving concurrently on both the Court of Claims and Supreme Court, Justice O'Rourke was on the bench of the Putnam County Supreme Court.
The New York Times ran the following obituary:
Andrew P. O’Rourke, a pragmatic Republican who was chief executive of Westchester County for 14 years and his party’s long-shot nominee in 1986 to challenge the re-election bid of New York’s popular incumbent governor, Mario M. Cuomo, died on Thursday night in the Bronx. He was 79.
His death, at Calvary Hospital, resulted from complications of lung cancer, a friend, William O’Shaughnessey, said. Mr. O’Rourke had also been treated for Parkinson’s disease. He lived in Yorktown, N.Y.
Ruddy-faced and silver-haired, Mr. O’Rourke brought a witty, bantering manner to his performance in government as well as to the campaign trail when he agreed to take on the all-but-hopeless task of unseating Governor Cuomo. He laughed off its seeming futility, saying, “They told Goliath: ‘Don’t worry. It’s only a kid out there.’ ”
When Mr. Cuomo refused to debate him, Mr. O’Rourke brought along a cardboard cutout of the governor to his campaign appearances and debated the effigy. When the cutout failed to draw Mr. Cuomo out, Mr. O’Rourke confronted him on a radio call-in show in Albany. Mr. O’Rourke was the first caller, and a five-minute exchange followed in which he rebuked Mr. Cuomo as arrogant.
The candidates eventually did debate once. Mr. Cuomo won close to two-thirds of the vote on Election Day.
Mr. O’Rourke had the second-longest tenure of any Westchester county executive. (Edwin G. Michaelian had the longest, from 1958 to 1973.) While in office, from 1983 to 1997, he built a new county jail, a recycling plant and a new airport terminal, reopened Rye Playland as a county amusement park, required that welfare recipients go to work to earn their benefits, and presided over the building of permanent shelters for the homeless.
He was able to boast that he had preserved Westchester’s AAA bond rating — for a time the only such rating in the state — and for many years kept taxes stable, though his critics said he depended on budgetary tricks.
Groomed in the ward politics of Yonkers, he seemed to have a blind spot for the finer points of government ethics. In 1993, responding to revelations in Westchester newspapers, he acknowledged that he had sought a job for his son-in-law and an admission interview for his daughter at a medical college under contract with the county. He recommended his live-in companion at the time — Flora Lowe, whom he married — for a job with the county medical insurer, and he looked the other way when his daughter was hired by the county’s malpractice law firm.
“These are, as far as I’m concerned, the everyday things and courtesies that are done in life,” he said at an emotional news conference.
A grand jury and a district attorney’s investigation ultimately cleared him of any conflicts of interest, and he won re-election in 1993. In 1997, he announced that he would not seek another term.
Andrew Patrick O’Rourke was born in Plainfield, N.J., on Oct. 26, 1933, the youngest of five children. His father, a doctor, died of tuberculosis when Mr. O’Rourke was not yet 2, and eight years later, his mother went blind. The family had to subsist on welfare, a point that Mr. O’Rourke often mentioned in defending the county’s welfare program, even as he required recipients to work for their benefits.
“I knew it from the inside out, and it’s a terrible place to be,” he said. But he added that too many children in families on welfare assume that “money came in a mailbox,” that “there was no connection to work.”
After the family moved to the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in Manhattan, in the West 40s, Mr. O’Rourke delivered fish and worked as an usher in the Paramount Theater on Times Square. For a time, he was a child actor, appearing briefly on Broadway and regularly as a guest on a coast-to-coast radio children’s quiz show.
Mr. O’Rourke graduated from Fordham University, trained as an Air Force bombardier and navigator, received a law degree from Fordham and went into private law practice in Yonkers. Entering Yonkers politics, he served on the City Council and the county’s Board of Legislators. When Alfred B. DelBello, the Democratic county executive, was elected lieutenant governor in 1982, the Legislature selected Mr. O’Rourke to fill the rest of Mr. DelBello’s term.
Supporters regarded him as innovative in letting private companies assume historically public functions. He turned the feeding of county prisoners over to private companies, for example, and enrolled Medicaid recipients in managed care.
Mr. O’Rourke was also bedeviled by scandals. In one, he awarded contracts for the county hospital and airport parking garages to the husband of the county’s district attorney, Jeanine F. Pirro, a Republican, though his conduct was never found to be illegal.
Mr. O’Rourke also pursued a side vocation writing adventure fiction, including the novels “The Red Banner Mutiny,” based on a 1975 insurrection aboard a Soviet destroyer, and “Hawkwood,” about a soldier of fortune.
He wound down his career as the senior State Supreme Court justice for Putnam County.
Mr. O’Rourke’s marriage to the former Alice T. McKenna, who died in 2011, ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Ms. Lowe; three children from his first marriage, Alice, Aileen and Andrew Jr.; and six grandchildren.
His friend Mr. O’Shaughnessey said that former Governor Cuomo phoned Mr. O’Rourke at the hospital about 10 days ago and that the two had a pleasant 20-minute conversation.
Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.