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Astorino the underdog in the governor's race

Ellen Abbott
WRVO file photo

Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, faces a steep challenge. He’s 30 points behind the well-known incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the polls, and has only a fraction of Cuomo’s record $33 million campaign war chest.  

Astorino is a Republican in a state where Democrats now dominate and independents, not registered in either major party, are gaining ground. But the 47-year-old married father of three says he’s used to being a long shot.

Astorino has twice been elected to his current post, in a predominately Democratic county, knocking out a well-known Democratic opponent.

People say ‘why would you run, you can’t win,’” Astorino said. “I ran because the issues were right, the timing was right, and I felt very, very strongly about changing the direction of Westchester. And we won.”  

He says he wants to translate those views to the entire state, which he says is stagnating economically, partly because of what he says are sky-high taxes. He says living in New York can be financially punishing.

“I’ve likened it to a prison sentence,” said Astorino, who  said many people say they plan to move out of state in the near future as soon as they retire or the children leave the house.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” he said.

Astorino is the former program director for The Catholic Channel on satellite radio, a co-founder of ESPN radio and has been a TV and radio host. Astorino has used those skills to make up for his lack of money to advertise on television, by releasing a number of high-quality web videos that focus on issues, and attack Cuomo and his policies.

He released a video calling for the governor’s health commissioner to resign, coincidentally one day before Dr. Nirav Shah actually did leave, for unrelated reasons. In another, he urged Cuomo to continue investigations of the legislature after the governor ended a commission probing alleged wrongdoing.   

“Appoint that special prosecutor,” Astorino urged in the video.

Astorino has also staked out a conservative position on social issues. He’s against the Reproductive Health Act, backed by Democrats in the state legislature and Cuomo, which would codify into New York State law the abortion rights provisions in the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.   

But Astorino says he would not actively seek to outlaw abortion in the state. He spoke at the annual gathering of evangelical Christians in Albany a couple of months ago. He called New York the “abortion capital of America” for its 40 percent pregnancy termination rate in some locations.

“I get it, abortion has been legal in New York State for 44 years, Roe v. Wade for 41 years,” Astorino told the crowd. “But whatever happened to safe and rare?”  

He also addressed a second amendment rights rally  protesting New York’s gun control laws, which were championed by Cuomo last year. Astorino wants to repeal the gun laws. But he seemed to lose that crowd somewhat when he talked of the need to better address mental health issues to prevent mass shootings.

While Astorino has tried to take on his opponent numerous times, Cuomo has so far publicly ignored the GOP candidate.  The governor was asked about a lengthy critique Astorino gave on the state budget plan.

“Yeah, that’s nice,” Cuomo answered.

Cuomo does like to point out in speeches, without naming names, that Westchester has some of the steepest taxes in the nation.

“Westchester County -- the highest property taxes in the United State of America. Period.,” Cuomo said in a recent talk.

Political conventions can help underfunded candidates get some free media attention. But the Republican's news on the first day of their convention in Westchester Tuesday will be likely be overshadowed. President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit the Tappan Zee Bridge, which crosses the Hudson at Tarrytown. Obama chose the site to highlight the federal government and Cuomo’s efforts to rebuild the bridge and improve infrastructure.