Strategists: Cuomo's 'Race Card' Play With Sharpton Will Backfire

Image: Strategists: Cuomo's 'Race Card' Play With Sharpton Will Backfire New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino

Monday, 05 May 2014 10:52 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo is playing a "race card" with the Rev. Al Sharpton in an attack against his Republican challenger that will likely backfire, GOP strategists in New York are saying.

Last week, Democrat Cuomo joined Sharpton in accusations that Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino supports racial discrimination by not enforcing a zoning law agreement in his county that encourages the building of affordable housing for its lower income residents, the New York Post reports.

The accusations were made in Democratic television ads and party statements and focus on claims by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which Cuomo once headed.

"For Cuomo to play the Sharpton race card this early makes him look weak and scared and I think it backfires on him," a GOP strategist told The Post. "To try to turn defending local zoning in Westchester into a racial issue is an attack on all of suburban New York, including on Long Island, where HUD is trying to do the same thing, and that's a winning issue for Rob in November."

Astorino took 25 percent of the black vote last fall while running for re-election, the unnamed strategist said, and "there are plenty of blacks and Hispanics who, with whites, don't want Cuomo's old agency telling them what the zoning laws should be."

The settlement, reached in 2009, requires Westchester County to spend $51 million to build 750 units of fair and affordable housing in 31 of its mostly white communities over the next seven years, reports CBS New York.

Federal authorities are threatening, for a second time, to withhold additional millions in grant money for allegedly not complying with the settlement, putting the county in danger of losing $5 million in addition to $7.2 million that has already been withheld.

Astorino told the CBS affiliate in April that his county is in full compliance with the agreement, but opposes the federal demands to lift "exclusionary zoning."

"We will not be held hostage by the federal government by making demands that are not in the settlement, and try to force us to do away with local zoning so federal bureaucrats can dictate housing in Westchester," Astorino said.

But Sharpton told the CBS affiliate that he will have groups follow Astorino's campaign for governor and to "accompany him all over the state, with little 'Astoroids' all over the state, to remind him that his commitment to live up to what the agreement is."

Cuomo's advertising attack, coming six months before the election, is being seen as either concern about a turnout problem among black voters, who traditionally would vote Democrat, or as an attempt to paint Astorino as an extreme conservative.

A black political activist told the Post that Cuomo's ads were done to help Cuomo make amends after his attacks on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is popular in the black community, over plans to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund universal prekindergarten classes.

But Cuomo, who lives in Westchester County himself, has not taken a public position in the HUD allegations, which also came out during Astorino's re-election bid.

"Our position is that discrimination is illegal, and people should follow the law," said Cuomo.

But Astorino slammed back, "If Mr. Cuomo actually believes he lives in a discriminatory community, why hasn't he said anything or moved in the past five years?"

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