Rob Astorino came to Buffalo on Wednesday to tell every Republican he could about his November re-election to a second term as Westchester County executive.
Not just any victory, he will tell you, but a clear and convincing victory. He touted winning 61 percent of the Hispanic vote and 25 percent of the African-American vote, and emphatically points out it all took place in a county where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.
He says he can translate that success into a statewide GOP candidacy against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo next year, even in overwhelmingly Democratic New York State. And he sounds very much like the man who wants to do it.
“I’ve come here to meet with party people, potential donors and business owners,” he said Wednesday, “and to tell them why Gov. Cuomo needs to be replaced.”
Indeed, during an interview with The Buffalo News in Erie County Republican Headquarters, Astorino laid out the basics of a Republican campaign against Cuomo that seems to lack only a formal declaration. He said he will challenge Cuomo’s economic development plan that features the governor’s choices of firms receiving state incentives rather than fostering a favorable business climate for all.
“It’s hard for him to make the case that we’re making progress when we’re still 50th in the U.S. in business climate,” he said.
Astorino, 46, made his first post-election foray to upstate Wednesday to attend the Erie County Republican Committee’s holiday party in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo. Though Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy sponsors the event every year to raise money and gather the party faithful, this year he was showcasing Astorino to top party people and rank-and-file alike. As a result, the visit is being viewed as a significant development in Astorino’s efforts, which are growing in public stature on an almost daily basis.
But as Langworthy squired him through hordes of officials, donors and other chairmen from around Western New York, even Astorino acknowledged his most important meeting in Buffalo may very well be with the 2010 Republican candidate for governor, Carl P. Paladino.
The Buffalo real estate developer has yet to hint at any interest in Astorino’s candidacy, even complaining that he “hangs out with RINOs (Republicans In Name Only).” And Paladino continues to threaten another run – this time on the Conservative line – if the GOP nominates a Cuomo opponent with little money or name recognition and who does not represent true “conservative” values.
Astorino was slated to meet with Paladino late Wednesday and expressed no fears earlier in the day about its outcome. He said he will point out that he is pro-life, opposes Cuomo’s strict new gun-control law, has lowered taxes in Westchester County and can prove acceptable to the Conservative Party – all very much in sync with Paladino. “Carl and I agree on almost everything,” he said. “Our styles are different, but our views are the same.”
But no Republican has won statewide office without Conservative support since 1974, a fact that has not escaped Astorino as Paladino eyes the line. “If we talk in the same voice and are on the same team, we can win this race,” Astorino said. “It’s very important for Carl Paladino and the Republicans and Conservatives to unify.”
”As Carl gets to know who I am and what I’ve done in Westchester – a 2-to-1 Democratic county – he’ll see I absolutely govern as a conservative,” he added.
Though he has made no commitments, Langworthy appears to be an early fan – even with Paladino lurking.
“I think this guy is the real deal and can get the job done,” he said of Astorino. “And I think he can beat Andrew Cuomo.”
A former radio executive who hosted a Catholic satellite program, Astorino also was executive producer of a show hosted by New York Yankee announcer Michael Kay and another show on the MSG Network. He says he brings to his effort a mixture of private and public experience as well as media savvy.
Astorino ticked off a list of gripes against the current administration that sounded much like Paladino’s platform of 2010 – upstate population exodus, high unemployment, high taxes and an unfriendly business climate. He says he will highlight his Westchester experience.
“We are one of four counties in the state that has a smaller budget than four years ago,” he said. “That’s significant. And it didn’t happen with smoke and mirrors and the same old gimmicks.”
He also said Cuomo has veered down a leftward path that makes him more vulnerable in 2014 than in the first two years of a middle-of-the-road term marked by cooperation with legislative Republicans. But he said the governor’s style has changed with his advocacy of gun control and expanded abortion rights.
Astorino said he has ideas how to revive Western New York’s lagging economy but is not ready to discuss them in detail.