By PHIL NOBILE
While the current county executive prepares for a likely run for New York governor within the coming year, some Democrats have already begun playing partisan politics, sparking initial criticisms of the executive’s focus, and whether or not Westchester is on the forefront of his agenda.
Although County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, has yet to make any official announcement regarding a gubernatorial, a recent report from the Westchester County Democratic Committee highlights a travel schedule packed with GOP fundraisers and meetings with Albany Republicans that have county Democrats beginning concentrated criticism.
“He needs to be focused and sitting down and working with the issues in the county,” county Legislator Ken Jenkins, a Yonkers Democrat, said. “It’s not about him running for any type of office, but being focused on the topics you were elected to do.”
According to the report, Astorino left the county six out of 30 business days over the past month to attend fundraising and Republican-related events. These out-of-town meetings include GOP fundraisers in Albany and Syracuse, a New York state Conservative Party conference in the Albany region, one of the monthly Conservative Party meetings in Manhattan, as well as past and future Republican-related events in Tarrytown and Poughkeepsie.
It’s the 20 percent of time spent at these state-wide meetings that has Democrats worried about where the county executive’s focus may be.
“It’s time we remind Rob Astorino of his responsibility to the people who elected him in the first place,” County Legislator Peter Harckham, a Bedford Democrat, said. “Instead of taking care of business here in the county, he has been traveling to fundraisers and meeting with political groups around the state and country while Westchester taxpayers are left with the bill.”
Despite no official announcement from Astorino or his campaign team, the days spent with state Republicans aren’t the only not-so-subtle hints of higher office.
On Feb. 13, Astorino launched a new website—robastorino.com—with contribution options and a plethora of pictures, video and media relating to the county executive’s Westchester efforts. The website’s bottom banner reads “Paid for by Astorino for Governor.”
Astorino was recently re-elected to his county post after a November 2013 victory over Democratic New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson where he captured 55 percent of the vote, which is notable in a county in which registered Democrats outnumber Republican voters by roughly 130,000.
Bill O’Reilly, Astorino’s campaign spokesman, said a campaign committee was formed at the beginning of February for the purposes of raising money for an exploratory committee for a governor bid. According to O’Reilly, a final decision on whether or not Astorino will run will come at the end of February or beginning of March.
In response to Democratic criticism, O’Reilly said that, not only would Astorino running for governor not affect his Westchester work, but it would be an ideal outcome for the county and its residents.
“The best possible scenario for Westchester taxpayers would be County Executive Astorino running for governor while continuing his reform work in the county,” O’Reilly said. “The key drivers of runaway taxes and a stagnant state economy are in Albany, and the county executive is pounding away at them every day. In short, a vacuum is sucking money out of Westchester; its school districts and municipalities, and its plug is in Albany. That plug needs to be pulled, and Andrew Cuomo isn’t pulling it.”
O’Reilly further described the attacks from Westchester Democrats as “totally political.”
“I didn’t hear them criticize Andrew Cuomo went he traveled to Los Angeles or Washington for fundraisers,” the spokesperson said.
Not all local residents share the same opinion, however.
Paul Reisner, a 16-year Rye resident said he was hoping the county executive would run for governor, and that it wouldn’t affect his county work much.
“It probably will distract him to an extent,” Resiner said. “But it won’t take away from his Westchester mission overall.”
One Harrison resident for more than 30 years thought Astorino shouldn’t run for governor, but because he’s “done well” for Westchester.
“I’d rather keep him right where he is, and he should wait until the next term to run [for governor],” Mark DeFonce said. “I would hate to see a new county executive have to come in.”
Astorino has an uphill battle for the governor seat as New York registered Democrats outnumber Republican voters by a more than 2-to-1 margin, 5,826,311 to 2,795,785. Also, Gov. Cuomo, a Democrat, reported $33.3 million in financing as of Jan. 15, while Astorino utilized $7 million of raised funds for his 2013 county executive election campaign.