Many political wags are dismissing the gubernatorial candidacy of Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who on March 5 announced his intention to win the Republican and conservative party nominations, and that’s a grave mistake.
Astorino has had a remarkable political career thus far, and has proven to be not only a fine campaigner, but a remarkably competent and principled government executive.
Back in 1991, he entered a race for the Mt. Pleasant Town Council that was considered hopeless, and beat an entrenched incumbent. He was reelected in 1995 and 1999 and in 2003 entered another tough race, this time winning a seat in the Westchester County Legislature.
Two years later, he took on two-term County Executive Andy Spano, arguing that Spano’s policies would drive Westchester government to the edge of the fiscal abyss. Astorino lost that one, but then his fiscal predictions came to pass, and he beat Democrat Spano in a 2009 rematch with 52.5 percent of the vote.
As county executive, unlike many other elected officials, Astorino was willing to govern. He made tough decisions, took on entrenched bureaucracies and unions and balanced county budgets without resorting to smoke and mirrors. He reduced taxes in 2011 and he kept them flat in 2012 and 2013, while preserving essential services.
Compare his record with his hapless Nassau County counterpart, Ed Mangano, who’s refused to govern, failed to balance budgets and, because of his fiscal incompetence, languished under the control of a state-appointed finance board for over three years.
As a result of Astorino’s successes, last November he was re-elected 56 percent to 44 percent in a county with a 2-to-1 registered Democratic edge. He proved that if one has the guts to govern, one can confound the naysayers and beat the permanent government crowd.
So Astorino should not be counted out this fall. He runs a tenacious campaign and can articulate and expose New York’s fiscal, economic and cultural woes. He will also unite and bring out in force upstate pro-fracking and pro-gun voters and frustrated suburbanites.
Despite all of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s rosy rhetoric, New York still has the highest combined taxes in the nation, the most debt as a percent of income and the worst state business tax climate in the country—and it’s the worst state on the U.S. Economic Freedom Index.
In addition, Cuomo broke his solemn pledge and raised state income taxes, and his 2013-14 budget was balanced with over $1 billion dollars in one-shot revenues, backdoor borrowing gimmicks and overly optimistic revenue estimates.
Cuomo’s vulnerability was revealed in a March 5 NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist College poll that indicated his job performance rating has dipped 10 percentage points since November. Now at 42 percent, Cuomo’s job approval is the lowest it’s been since he took office in January 2011.
What’s hurting Cuomo is the negative outlook New Yorkers have about the state economy. A year ago, 58 percent believed the state was in an economic recession; today that number stands at 65 percent. Also, only 45 percent believe Cuomo is having a positive impact on the Empire State.
These are not numbers an incumbent can boast about nine months before a gubernatorial election.
At the moment, Astorino is an underdog in the race against Cuomo. Nevertheless, his message that he’s “tired of listening to the fairytale that everything is just great when it’s just the opposite … tired of watching New York’s decline” may just strike a chord with millions of frustrated voters.
Expect Rob Astorino to give the governor a run for his money.
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of N.Y. and N.J., is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact." He also is a columnist for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. Read more reports from George J. Marlin — Click Here Now.
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