I rise, with a heavy heart, to speak in support of this resolution mourning the death of the Honorable Reginald LaFayette. Reggie, or Mr. Chairman or Commissioner, as we called him, was a major player in the political and election life of our county and for those of us in elected office; he was a leader, a colleague and a fierce advocate for our party. First, as Chairman of the Westchester Democratic Committee for over 15 years, he led with principle, decorum, a profound faith in the institutions of our democracy, and a commitment to fairness and justice. From the time I first met him, more than twenty years ago, he was determined to ensure our elected leaders, and particularly our judges, more fairly represented the diversity of our beautiful county. He supported a wide group of diverse candidates with strong legal qualifications, commitment to our system of justice, and most importantly, the ability to empathize, relate to and respect the litigants who came before them, particularly in our local courts and Family Court. He was not deterred by those who resisted change in the makeup of the Judiciary, nor by the adage of “we always did it this way.” He was determined to make our elected leaders and our courts reflect a changing and diverse county, and he did that. He had a tough job, but he did it exceptionally well, satisfying ambitious political egos while keeping a steady hand focused on principle, ethical standards and fairness.
In addition, as we know, he was the Commissioner of the Westchester County Board of Elections during a time of major change in our election laws, as well as COVID-voting changes in voter rules. It was no secret he regarded many of these changes as challenges for the Board and its employees, but he made sure to make each of them work. As a result, voting turnout increased throughout Westchester in the past two years, with remarkably few glitches. I recall pushing him to establish greater staff assistance in Yonkers, Westchester’s largest city, for early voting. Reggie heard us, and worked with us, to address the challenge that so many voters wanted to participate in early voting in the highly charged elections of 2020. In addition, to his remarkable credit, Reggie was an excellent colleague and fair-minded partner with his Republican Co-Commissioner, and they had a relationship built on mutual trust and commitment to the fair execution of the process of voting. He knew that open communication between the Commissioners made the entire system better for all, voters, candidates and the public at large.
At the heart of Commissioner Lafayette was a profound belief that our democratic system could lead to more equal justice and opportunity for all, but if only we pushed it to do so. He knew from his own experience that it was imperative to have qualified people of color and women in positions of authority – not just for symbolic value, or personal success, not to discount those at all. But Reggie knew it was important for everyone in our community to actually view and experience diverse leadership in positions of power. Through his work, we began to achieve that as you have heard here today.
His life ended too soon, but his impact, in the world of those of us on the ground as well as those deeply influenced by him, will remain strong. To his son and daughter, friends and colleagues, our deepest condolences. May his memory be a blessing.