By PHIL NOBILE
After months of speculation and evasive half-answers when asked about the possibility, Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino formally announced his candidacy for New York State governor on March 5.
The announcement came in the form of a six-minute video released via Astorino’s campaign website. Included in the announcement were direct attacks on incumbent Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, touting of his own record with the county and assurance of an alternative option for state voters come Election Day in November.
“I’m announcing my candidacy today for governor of New York because I’m tired of listening to the fairytale that everything is just great, when it is just the opposite,” Astorino said.
Astorino, 46, who was re-elected to a second term as county executive in November 2013, began his video directly challenging Cuomo, citing New Yorkers leaving the state for better job prospects and cost of living elsewhere.
“Huntsville, Alabama is an unusual place to announce a candidacy for governor of New York. So is Florida, Texas, or even North Dakota…This is where New Yorkers are moving to escape the crazy cost of living and killer property taxes,” the county executive said. “Since Cuomo has been governor, more than 400,000 New Yorkers have thrown in the towel and left.”
Cuomo, 56, a former state attorney general, was elected to New York’s highest office in 2010.
Astorino challenged New York residents to consider a change in governors, referring to what he feels are high tax rates and an inhospitable business climate throughout the state.
“If New York is winning, re-elect Cuomo. But if New York is losing, and the evidence says it is, we need to make a change,” he said.
When asked for comment about the announcement, Peter Kauffmann, spokesman for the New York State Democratic Committee, said, “We look forward to an entertaining Republican primary process and are ready to run against whoever their nominee is in September.”
No further comment from Cuomo’s office was given as of press time.
Astorino, of Mount Pleasant, faces an uphill battle to the Nov. 4 Election Day. As of Nov. 1, 2013, registered Democrats in the state outnumber Republicans 5,826,311 to 2,795785–a more than 2-to-1 margin. And a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in February revealed a 2-to-1 lead for Cuomo over Astorino in a hypothetical matchup, based on 1,499 state voters polled.
It is these numbers, and a 63 percent job approval rating for Gov. Cuomo, that have Democrats sitting comfortably so far. According to Evan Stavisky, a Democratic strategist with the Manhattan-based consulting firm Parkside Group, Cuomo will assuredly be re-elected come November thanks to his current standing with state citizens.
“[Astorino is] going to be running against a popular incumbent who has demonstrated a progressive record and is widely supported in every corner of the state,” Stavisky said. “[Gov. Cuomo] has clearly demonstrated he has the ability to govern a once-considered ungovernable state.”
Stavisky describes Cuomo’s property tax enactments, gun reforms and fight for marriage equality as the key tipping points in his favor for voters. Describing it as a “recipe for re-election,” Stavisky expects the incumbent governor to tout his record to voters first-and-foremost and “simply tell his story.”
“People know about the governor’s record and support it,” Stavisky said. “At the same time, it’s very clear that Astorino is desperately out of touch with the large majority of New Yorkers. He is clearly wrong for New Yorkers.”
Republican strategist Tony Sayegh sees things differently. He described Astorino as the strongest candidate possible against Cuomo, citing the county executive’s ability to win re-election in a primarily Democratic county as proof he could win come November.
“Rob Astorino is Cuomo’s worst nightmare,” Sayegh, an analyst with Fox News and News 12, said. “He could take his record and model in Westchester and take it state-wide.”
Sayegh said Astorino’s key to success would be wading through the “political and pundit classes,” and taking his message directly to the people.
“He needs to focus on campaigning throughout the [municipalities] that are being crushed by excessive property tax thanks to state mandates, and upstate where they’re being crushed by the neglect from Albany,” he said. “For Astorino to take his message directly to these communities, I think Rob wins.”
Other names such as real estate mogul Donald Trump and Buffalo billionaire Carl Paladino, who was easily defeated by Cuomo in 2010, have been thrown around as rumored Republican possibilities if there were to be a primary later this year. Stavisky contends a primary would ultimately hurt Astorino. Sayegh said he was “not a fan” of a primary, and Cuomo, of Mount Kisco, would prefer to run against “bombastic billionaires” like Paladino and Trump.
“Cuomo dreads the thought of having to take on a legitimate opponent like Astorino that would be very hard for the governor to attack,” Sayegh said. “Paladino and Trump would be easier for the governor to harpoon and attack.”
Astorino will also have a tough time trying to contend with Cuomo’s campaign financing. As of mid-February, Astorino had a little more than $1 million in his campaign coffers, according to Bill O’Reilly, an Astorino spokesman. As of Jan. 15, Gov. Cuomo reported $33.3 million in financing. Updated figures will be released later this month.