Westchester County is far from the streets of Birmingham and the lunch counters of Greensboro, but the super-affluent suburban swath just north of New York City may be the premier civil rights battleground of 2011. Westchester is defying a landmark federal court order to desegregate housing in its whitest and wealthiest towns, prompting civil rights activists to return to court. The federal government has allowed wealthy municipalities to keep the poor and black out for decades, and municipal leaders nationwide are watching closely to see if the Obama administration forces the county to comply.
Tony Westchester locales like Scarsdale and Bedford have long been bastions of limousine liberalism, home to Ralph Lauren, Glenn Close, Martha Stewart, Bill and Hillary Clinton, George Soros, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and many others. Super-rich “entrepreneurs” like Donald Trump live here too, and it’s a haven for Wall Street bankers — from Jay Gould in the late 19th century to hedge fund pioneer Michael Steinhardt today.
Meanwhile, working-class black and Latino residents remain overwhelmingly concentrated in a handful of municipalities, most of which hug the Bronx border.
This is the case even though Westchester’s leaders signed a landmark consent decree in 2009, settling a lawsuit that accused the county of lying to the federal government about fair housing in its applications for federal funds.
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