Anyone who has met Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive who wants to be governor, has to have come away with a favorable impression. Like all successful politicians, he’s smart, focused and driven.
So why, then, is he undermining his nascent campaign with foolish criticisms of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s efforts to restart the Buffalo economy? He’s dead wrong on that issue, as anyone here could tell him, but maybe facts just get in the way when you’re running against a popular and well-funded incumbent. If Astorino is feeling he has zero chance of winning, anyway, maybe he has decided to throw everything within reach against the wall and see what sticks.
Several times now, Astorino has criticized Cuomo over the Buffalo Billion, a smart and focused effort to help restart the economy of the state’s second-largest city – a city whose chronic need for rescuing has been a long-term drag on state tax dollars. Whatever Astorino says – that the effort is not sustainable, it’s politically unreliable, it’s insulting, it’s whatever – the hard fact is that unlike any previous governor, Cuomo has made it a mission to help this city break out of a decades-long slump. What is more, the evidence suggests that it’s working.
Astorino will have none of it. The state could back out of the commitment, he says, and then what? Of course, until the money is spent there’s always at least a bit of uncertainty.
But given the depth of his opposition, it would seem that the state is most likely to back out if he becomes governor. What is more, it is always true that government can change its mind, just as a business can or a spouse can or a politician can. That means no one should ever try anything? What is he thinking?
In fact, Cuomo’s approach has already worked in Albany, under the influence of then-Gov. George E. Pataki and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. It has created a thriving high-tech industry in the Capital District.
That doesn’t automatically mean that a similar push will work in Buffalo, but there’s reason to believe it will, especially when you count the number of cranes now populating the Buffalo skyline. The successes so far include work on the Medical Campus, the clean energy and high-tech RiverBend manufacturing project and the 43North entrepreneurship program.
In the end, Astorino’s criticisms seem more calculated than real. He knows Western New York went big for Carl Paladino over Cuomo in 2010, and he knows many of the region’s conservative voters will vote for anyone but Cuomo because of his support of the SAFE Act.
Thus, the risk of losing Western New York votes is slim, but by pounding away at a non-issue, he may be able to goad resentment from other parts of the state that long for their own billion. It would be a cynically divisive strategy, certainly not a quality anyone wants to see in a governor whose job includes the already difficult task of uniting a large and wildly diverse state.
But that’s politics. Say what helps today and worry about the consequences tomorrow. Here’s a consequence that voters in other regions of the state might want to consider: If Astorino is so dismissive of the state’s focused and thus-far successful efforts to heal Buffalo’s damaged economy and spirit, what can they count on for a Governor Astorino to do for them?
The answer seems to be, not much.