“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 Astorino 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 unpredictable directions.“
—Rob Astorino in “The Land Of Scum,” Reality Check: 10/29/09
My dear friend Rob Astorino is running for governor of New York State.
It’s crazy. He isn’t just a passing professional acquaintance. I’m the godfather to his first-born son, Sean. And now, after four years and re-election as Westchester County Executive, he is set to truly become a national political figure.
Not sure how I feel about that.
I have known Rob Astorino since 1991. We were sports reporters in Westchester, New York, and thrown together to broadcast local high school sports, mainly men’s football and basketball. We became semi-famous for this. We traveled quite a bit, shared hotel rooms and chatted up all-things. We both hosted sports shows and found ourselves in the employ of snipers, who used our talents for meager pay in trade to get access to Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium, etc. Later we would host a pretty peppy sports-talk show on WFAS Radio out of White Plains, where we drove the NY sporting press insane with our flights of fancy in the press box and locker rooms.
These are stories for a book, not a 900-word screed.
Throughout this time, aside from the occasional remark, we did not discuss politics.
Good for him. He steered fairly clear of my acute cocktail of radicalism and spite.
One day, somewhere around 2006, maybe 2007, whilst producing ESPN’s Michael Kay radio show, as we lunched in midtown Manhattan, he confided in me his wishes to enter politics.
“You’re fucking kidding, I’m sure,” I said, chunks of masticated sandwich tumbling from my gaping maw.
“Nope,” he said, and proceeded to regale me with his wishes to “make a difference” and “protect my family,” the usual nonsense similar lunatics have blurted in a torrent of rationale. But instead of being queered by it, I was truly moved. I figure this poor bastard’s in for it, but for whatever reason, it all made sense. He appeared unerringly sincere. It was one of the few moments in my adult life where I was immediately convinced of someone’s sense of purpose. This happened all the time when I was a kid. Kids believe in stuff. Rob believed.
Despite serious trepidations, I did what I could to assist his campaign for Westchester County Executive, at one point there were serious talks about covering it for a book, but my schedule and his harried existence made it tough. I did manage to crank out a couple of scathing attacks on his opponent, Andrew Spano, a bent curmudgeon of a man, whose main contribution to that 2009 campaign was to spew the bile of the doomed. And, indeed, he was doomed, for on November 3, at 42 years old, Astorino was elected.
He served a controversial term taking on the usual union noise, straining to cut budgets and stemming the inevitable tide of rising taxes, all the while making his way within the environs of the schizophrenic Republican Party—its infiltrations, loons, machinations, ups-and-downs—running and winning another term this past November.
But now it’s the big time.
Back around Christmas, as he met with advisors and sent an exploratory crew that deals with the usual pabulum of putting together an endeavor of this size, we spoke at length about his chances, his mental capacity to handle what amounts to two campaigns in as many years (and the mental capacity of his poor family, all of whom wince and writhe, cheer and beam with every step)—one as a favored incumbent, and now once again as the underdog.
“I have this all figured,” he said, as confidently as that first fateful day over regurgitated sandwiches. “Get my head handed to me, and I finish my term as planned, then go back to the private sector, maybe get back into broadcasting, work within the party. I come close, give it a real fight, and maybe build myself as someone who can play on the bigger stage, then weigh my options, or, maybe, just maybe, I will be the next governor of New York.”
It was a big deal to be hearing this, in his kitchen, with our children running around, a few miles from where we broadcasted our first game together decades ago: Rob Astorino, my friend, running for governor of New York.
I have gotten to know many politicians and musicians, actors, and artists on the grand stage, but there is no one I have known for longer or have been closer to than Rob. And I know, and he knows, where he is headed, and the depths and heights he will travail on both sides of the political aisle. This is a place that I know all too well. Both aisles are rancid.
And so, I’m sure there will be a column or two in there along the way. But without apologizing, it will not be objective—as if anything in reporting or politics ever really is.
Hell, if nothing else, it would be advantageous to my outlaw existence—most of it taking place in NYC—to have a pardon in my back pocket.