By DANIEL OFFNER
Republican County Executive Robert Astorino has engaged in unfair campaign practices, according to the findings of the non-partisan Westchester County Fair Campaign Practices Committee.
The committee, which has no punitive authority, found merit in all five of the complaints made by the Democratic challenger in the race for the county’s top elected office, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, in response to campaign advertisements about Bramson’s record on taxes.
“Mr. Bramson complained that in August 2013, Rob Astorino’s campaign for county executive began airing a television and a radio ad and sent out a mailer with false, misleading and out-of-context statements about Mayor Bramson’s record as a member of the New Rochelle City Council and as Mayor of New Rochelle,” the committee stated.
After the committee’s ruling, Barry Caro, a spokesman for the Bramson campaign, called for the Astorino campaign to pull the advertisements—dubbed “pants on fire”—off the air.
“Republican Rob Astorino just got caught with his pants on fire,” Caro said. “Lying once in a thirty-second advertisement is bad enough, but lying five times makes clear that this was a deliberate attempt to mislead voters about taxes.”
The committee found Astorino’s campaign advertisements were unfair for asserting Bramson gave himself a free car, healthcare for life and raised sales, sewer and library taxes while governing the City of New Rochelle.
Out of the five, two complaints were found to be unfair since the city policy providing the mayor health insurance benefits and a city vehicle were set prior to Bramson taking local office.
First elected to office in New Rochelle in 1996—two years before it would require employees to contribute 18 percent of their healthcare premium—Bramson is not required to contribute to his health insurance, but voluntarily contributes 18 percent according to New Rochelle communications manager Kathy Gilwit.
The committee, in its report, adds that during his eight-year tenure as mayor, Bramson has never taken any action to obtain a city vehicle, despite the city policy permitting the mayor have access to one.
As to the other three complaints, committee members found that the “pants on fire” advertisements—which claim Bramson raised New Rochelle’s sales, sewer and library taxes—were unfair since the city does not have the authority to raise sewer and library taxes, and since the sales tax rate is the same as when Bramson took office, except for a state-mandated increase.
Despite the committee’s decision and Caro’s response, the Astorino campaign said it does not plan to take the ad off the air.
“Westchester voters deserve to know that Mr. Bramson raised his part-time salary 40 percent—to $88,971—accepted healthcare for life as a part-time New Rochelle employee and raised property taxes 109 percent to pay for those perks,” said Jessica Proud, a spokesperson for Friends of County Executive Rob Astorino. “The library tax, sewer tax, and garbage fee also went up dramatically under his watch, but, evidently, he knows nothing about them. The TV ad is accurate and it will remain running. We welcome further discussion about Mr. Bramson’s record in office.”