Know Astorino’s Team: Phil Oliva

Do you know about Rob Astorino’s team?  In addition to his work as President of Gipper CommunicationsPhil Oliva is Chief of Staff for Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.  An Astorino Watch reader watched Oliva speak in this presentation  and offered us their thoughts.  Read on to get a glimpse of the kind of team member Rob Astorino prizes. 

I watched Phil Oliva wax on foreign affairs on a YouTube video filmed just before Christmas. What caught my eye and ear was his “expert” view of the Refugee Resettlement Program and the fate of 80 Syrians headed our way here in Westchester.

Nobly, he doesn’t want to turn them around (legally he can’t) but he wants everyone to know that the U.S. should withdraw from the Program.

One of the morals of this experience is this: a local politician should not show his ignorance publicly.

One got the impression Mr. Oliva was winging it, and, ordinarily you can discount a triviality here or there but he made a vague reference to building safe zones in Syria (which he says he thought of first, but surprise, President-elect Trump announced a week later) as the better solution. He goes on to state—incorrectly—that Trump intended to build those zones.


Mr. Oliva’s offhand remark that Syrian refugees “could never be properly vetted” has little basis in truth. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) accounts for 15 million asylum seekers. The process includes in-depth interviews, reference checks, biological screenings, and iris scans. From there a small percentage are referred to overseas resettlement. From that pool, the criteria of vulnerability are applied (victims of torture, sexual violence, political persecution, medically needy, families with multiple children with a female head of household).

Still, there is no certainty of re-settlement in the U.S.

But these misunderstandings of the refugee crisis can be understood. After all, a national conversation about our security and how it relates to our country’s well-known outreach for “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free” is important.

But back to Phil Oliva. This man is little more than a hack when he avoids elevating the discourse and pops in this crowd pleaser: “I’m a Christian and I know we should show compassion but what about our veterans? There was this guy on Long Island who was refused service at a VA Center and went out and shot himself in the parking lot.”

All this sad anecdote does is titillate a “let’s take care of our own” gut feeling but obfuscates the refugee challenge…one has nothing to do with the other.

My worry after watching Mr. Oliva was, “How did this man of so little breadth and understanding appear among County Executive Rob Astorino’s advisors?”

His, might be bad advice, maybe even stupid by some lights, but more worrisome when isolated and translated into policy it’s insidious.


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