Updated 3:30 p.m. WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - Former Westchester County Executive Andrew O'Rourke died Thursday night at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, according to a statement released by current County Executive Robert Astorino. O'Rourke was 79 and lived in Yorktown.
"Those who knew him will remember him for his extraordinary wit and charm as well as his compassion for all," said Astorino, who volunteered for O'Rourke's campaigns for county executive and New York governor.
"These are traits that served him well through his long career as a Yonkers councilman, a county legislator, county executive and then a judge. I offer my condolences to his family and friends and ask that we all keep Andy in our prayers."
O'Rourke was appointed county executive in 1983 and elected to full terms in 1985, 1989 and 1993. He is credited with transforming Croton Point Park from a dump to a recreational use. The fiscal conservative was noted for his efforts to reduce welfare rolls, keep taxes down and make tax revenues stable.
He pushed through multimillion-dollar projects to rebuild the Westchester County Center, renovate Westchester County Airport and expand the county jail.
"I found him to be a remarkably good county executive and very good for Westchester," said Milton Hoffman, a retired senior editor for The Journal News, who also remembered O'Rourke as a gifted writer and speaker. "So many things happened on his watch."
In 1997, then-Gov. George Pataki appointed him to the New York Court of Claims. In 2000, he was elected to a 14-year term on the New York Supreme Court. He retired in 2009.
O'Rourke ran for New York governor against Mario Cuomo in 1986. Cuomo refused to debate him, prompting O'Rourke to carry around a cardboard cut-out of the incumbent at his campaign appearances. Cuomo won the election.
All flags on county property will be flown at half-staff Friday in his memory.
O'Rourke was born in Plainfield, N.J., on Oct. 26, 1933, and grew up in the Hell's Kitchen area of Manhattan. He graduated from Fordham College in 1954, where he returned to get a law degree after serving in the U.S. Air Force. He was admitted to the bar in 1962 and earned his LLD from New York University in 1965.
Clark Funeral Home in Yorktown Heights is handling arrangements. A funeral Mass is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 9 at 10 a.m. at St. Patrick's Church in Yorktown.
Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner worked with O'Rourke when Feiner was on the county Board of Legislators. Although Feiner, a Democrat, said he and O'Rourke had their share of different political opinions, O'Rourke never made anything personal.
"He was somebody who was a hardworking, decent public servant," Feiner said. "He didn't let our differences get in the way of doing what he thought was right for the community."