Associated Press

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Andrew O'Rourke, who served as Westchester County executive from 1983 to 1997, has died. He was 79.

O'Rourke, a Republican, died Thursday night at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx after a long illness, according to the office of incumbent Robert Astorino. In 1986, while county executive, he ran unsuccessfully against Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo, the father of the current governor, Andrew Cuomo.

"Andy always put his deep intellect, self-deprecating humor and unwavering integrity toward serving the people of New York," the governor said in a statement, citing O'Rourke's ability "to gracefully disarm political opponents as well as ease the tension of a heated debate in the courtroom."

"Despite our political differences, my family and I have always considered Andy a close friend and colleague, and he will be dearly missed," Cuomo said.

Among his accomplishments as county executive, O'Rourke expanded the Westchester County Airport, the county jail and open space. He renovated the Westchester County Center and turned a former dump into Croton Point Park.

In the 1980s, he built transitional housing to address the county's homeless population and reliance on motels to house homeless families.

"The Westchester County Center would not be here today if he had not initiated and championed its complete rehabilitation," Astorino said. "The Westchester County Airport might still have a Quonset hut for a terminal if not for him. And our county's North and South County Trailways would probably not exist."

O'Rourke replaced Alfred Del Bellow, who resigned to become lieutenant governor. Andrew Spano, a Democrat, succeeded O'Rourke.

O'Rourke later served as state Supreme Court justice in Rockland and Putnam counties.

"Andy O'Rourke was a great judge, an outstanding county executive and most important, he possessed a warm, funny and generous spirit," former Gov. George Pataki said. "He brought excellence and integrity to all he did in public life and will be greatly missed."

O'Rourke began his political career as a member of the Yonkers City Council, serving from 1966 to 1973.