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Cuomo, Astorino have rare encounter at business conference

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during the Business Council of New York State's annual meeting Friday.

The Republican candidate for governor temporarily upstaged incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo, when Rob Astorino appeared unexpectedly at the Business Council of New York State's annual meeting and attempted to talk to the governor.

Astorino addressed the Business Council Thursday night, in a speech scheduled months ago. Cuomo did not commit to speak to the group at its annual meeting on Lake George until the conference had already started, and Cuomo chose a Friday morning time slot.  

Astorino decided to return to the conference, arriving just before Cuomo’s speech. He was asked by reporters whether his opponent’s appearance had drawn him back.  

“He’s coming here this morning? Oh,” Astorino joked. “Well, if he’s here I’ll say hi to him.”

The Republican then stationed himself by the door to the conference room, hoping to shake hands. Cuomo arrived shortly before his 10 a.m. time slot, but delayed his speech by several minutes as the crowd waited to see whether the two candidates would actually meet.

Cuomo entered, strode over and briefly shook Astorino’s hand, then quickly took the podium. It was a rare face-to-face appearance in a campaign where debates have yet to be scheduled.

Cuomo, in his speech, took a shot at the Republican candidate and Westchester County Executive while Astorino stood watching from the sidelines. Cuomo normally mentions in his stump speech that Westchester County has high taxes. This time he dwelled on that topic a little longer.

“Westchester County. Highest property taxes in the state. Even worse, highest property taxes in the United States of America,” Cuomo told the audience. “Can you believe it?”

Astorino remained stoic, but left before Cuomo concluded.

Afterward, Cuomo was asked what he thought about his opponent crashing his speech.

“I hope he enjoyed it,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo told business leaders the state’s economy is getting better and he recounted his efforts to curb taxes and create jobs, and start a tax-free program for new businesses.

“Overall, the state economy is night and day from where we started,” Cuomo said.

In his speech, Astorino painted the opposite picture, saying the state remains dead last in the nation in many key economic statistics. He says he spoke the truth.

“And everyone needs to face up to it who has their head in the sand,” Astorino said. “This state is doing bad.”

The business leaders seemed more responsive to Cuomo’s message than Astorino’s. While the incumbent governor was applauded several times during his speech, Astorino’s remarks were met mainly with silence.

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.