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Pro-Cuomo ad criticized for photoshopping opponent's son out of picture

Gino Geruntino
Rob Astorino (second from left) greets supporters while in Oswego earlier this week.

This election season seems to feature more than the usual amount of negative ads, with television spots painting opponents in a dark light. But an ad that criticized a candidate’s choice of football team may have backfired when controversy arose over a picture that was altered to cut out his son.

Viewers of the most recent Buffalo Bills game saw an ad, sponsored by Erie County Democrats, that criticized Republican candidate Rob Astorino for being a Miami Dolphins fan.

“We’ll all be rooting for our Buffalo Bills, well, everyone that is, except Rob Astorino,” a narrator says sarcastically.

The spot features a photo of Astorino at Dolphins Stadium. In it, Astorino appears to be standing alone in the stadium, but the GOP candidate says the original photo featured him and his then six-year-old son, Sean. His son was apparently photoshopped out of the picture.

“It’s pretty low,” Astorino said.

Astorino’s campaign, which is severely underfunded compared to the millions of dollars available to the incumbent governor, responded in a video that has been making its way through social media. It features Sean Astorino, now 11, and he takes Cuomo to task for the ad.

“It was one of my favorite pictures ever with my dad. It wasn’t very nice of you that you cut me out of it,” Sean Astorino says, looking straight into the camera. “Do you really like chopping up Astorino family photos? We wouldn’t do that to you.”

While it may be unusual to run ads criticizing a candidate’s choice of sports team, it’s becoming more common for candidates to feature their children in ads. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, in last year’s mayoral race, placed his teenage son, Dante, in television ads that proved more popular than commercials featuring the actual candidate.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not directly address the photoshopping of Astorino’s son when asked by reporters in two separate appearances in Syracuse and New Paltz. But Cuomo did say he believes that the Erie County Democrats felt that legally they could not use a picture of a child without the parent’s permission.  

“By law they had to do that,” Cuomo said.

And he tried to distance himself from the ad.

“My campaign is not going to be about any of this silliness,” Cuomo said.

Both candidates have been relying heavily on negative ads to paint their opponent in an unfavorable light. Astorino, in his spot, says Cuomo failed to adequately create jobs or cut taxes, and links the governor to a federal investigation of an ethics panel that Cuomo created.

But the GOP challenger says the attack ads against him go too far when they accuse Astorino of racketeering, conspiracy and fraud. The Republican candidate is using another tactic to fight back, this time humor, in an ad titled “Unicorn Killer."

“Cuomo locked Santa in a chimney,” a narrator warns, as a child is heard screaming.

“He’s the worst man the world!” shouts a small girl.

The ad says two can play the game of making up charges against an opponent.

The Astorino campaign says in addition to social media they will be airing the ad on TV stations.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.