Not one hour ago I received a link to a story in the Journal News that turned my stomach, something that rarely happens to cynical old hacks who’ve not only seen but done it all twice. It seems that during the previous day’s debate between candidates for the county’s executive position at Pace University, the incumbent, 72-year-old Democrat Andrew Spano saw fit to frame his Republican opponent, 42-year-old Robert Astorino’s economic policies as racist. Spano, after a dozen years in office, the duration of which Westchester’s tax bracket has elevated to that of A-Rod, the Clintons or the guy who owns Madison Square Garden is finally being challenged and has gone the predictable ugly route.
Spano’s been around the block more than once and let’s face it maybe one time too many. He knows what he said and how it would be extrapolated; Astorino’s policies—“a cover for racism”—make the candidate a racist. This appears to be the new political “buzz” word, as was “commie” in the ‘50s and “subversive” in the ‘60s and “undesirable” in the ‘70s and, whenever the urge strikes, throw Nazi in there for good measure.
Sure its politics as usual, covered here with a sense of spiteful apathy and smarmy humor weekly. In fact, it’s completely understandable and sadly probable from our perspective; who doesn’t choose panic and mudslinging over an exchange of ideas? It is nothing else if not entertaining, which goes a long way when you sit where I do. Problem is this time the target of this gutless attack is someone I know well and sincerely respect.
I can tell you firsthand from a long-standing personal and working history with the candidate that neither Rob Astorino nor his proposed fiscal polices are racist. In fact, knowing Rob as I do, stooping to this ham-fisted attempt at demonizing speaks more of his opponent’s spectacular lack of honor, not to mention his lazily conceived and doom-addled strategy.
While being a professional colleague of mine for nearly 20 years, during which he has displayed nothing but an enviable commitment to ethics in all forms, Rob has managed to succeed at the impossible; competing in two vocations replete with soulless bottom-feeding degenerates; journalism and politics, while maintaining an unwavering comportment that is impervious to corruption. Despite this reporter’s repulsive dereliction of scruples and frightening lack of integrity, he has called me friend; as I, him. And as I gracelessly careen towards the half century mark, it is not a term I dare use loosely. Robert is indeed a friend; a true bedrock warrior in the infinite roll call we all must cherish when the karma winds shift in weirdly unpredictably directions.
This is why for years now I have been reticent to use this hoarsely sacred weekly voice to champion his political causes, which has currently taken him through his second campaign for County Executive of Westchester, NY.
It’s Rob’s dream to make a difference. I know, because he has told me so, against all the bitter advice I have given him beneath the pall of such nonsense as “making a difference” or “changing the game for my kids,” and all the other piddling garbage most politicians regurgitate to justify some ego binge in which we’re supposed to comply.
He does not run for accolade or some opaque definition of love and acceptance. He’s nailed that in several solid gigs in radio and television, and built it at home with his wife and three children. Neither does he run merely to win and then turn into a tired political lifer mannequin like his opponent. He runs for the sheer youthful passion of proving that democracy must begin and end with the will of the people, that to deny your neighbors a choice against the status quo is the ultimate act of unpatriotic cowardice. He runs because every once in a long while someone needs to prove the entire system is not a bust.
Yet, with all of that before me; kinship, professional respect and a story worth telling, I still felt in light of the subjective no-brakes miasma that normally fills this column that it was somehow inappropriate to comment. But when hit with this bullshit, which tops all the other bullshit hurled at Rob for trying to oust a man whose sense of decency has even managed to make me, a mean-spirited, black-hearted iniquity machine, nauseous, I could be silent no longer.
So in the interest of complete disclosure, I admit to my support in all facets of the Astorino campaign, his generosity in offering me full access for a book I’d planned to write a few times but was curtailed by one assignment after the other, and finally, despite an unabashed commitment to an existence of derelict paganism, standing as godfather for his first born.
Thus, I will guiltlessly forge ahead.
I do not know Andrew Spano from the proverbial wall’s hole, but I can clearly deduct from his actions in this campaign and the consecutively botched years at a job he is patently incapable of performing that he is a barely functioning fear-mongering dunderhead who has outlived any possible usefulness to the body politic but refuses to give up the ghost for either some bizarre state of euphoric inertia or sheer madness.
Whether you’re Republican, Democrat, liberal or conservative, any race, creed or color, there is something passé about Spano’s tired shtick in which in many ways a young idealist like Astorino, whatever you think of his policies, should always replace. This is what I believe fueled this country in 2008—more than race or ideology. Eventually it’s just time for a new generation, a fresh voice to offer an alternative idea without the clatter which drowns it out, from town hall goofiness to debate wrangling.
Lord knows I’m not saying Spano has no right to spout fallacies or get rough and loose with the truth, even in light of his disastrous HUD deal that will likely bankrupt what is already the second highest taxed county in America. On the contrary, that kind of thing allows us contact with the core of a person’s balance, both intellectually and morally. It certainly puts a face to cheap politics. It is sad and it is decrepit and it should be sent packing.
Who knows what the voters will believe or carry with them into the privacy of the polling booth? Not sure who wins these battles of finger-wagging childishness after all. Not the people, I know that much. All I can offer without hesitation or regret is that after watching a tape of the entire debate, Andrew Spano, hardly a novice in this political landscape, was waxed verily by my friend, and when push came to shove grasped desperately at demeaning his opponent and then blatantly lied about Rob Astorino’s agenda and heart, and when given the opportunity, refused to retract it. Therefore his credibility on everything else he stands for is in question.
This makes Rob Astorino the better man.
Let’s hope the better man wins.
James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus, and Midnight For Cinderella. His work is archived on jamescampion.com.