A Candid Discussion With The Republican Candidate For Governor Of New York
Anyone who has read this space over the years knows about my friendship with gubernatorial candidate for New York, Rob Astorino. We were professional colleagues for 12 years and our families have been close for 25. I have written extensively here about his two successful runs for Westchester County Executive in 2009 and last year. I covered the accepting of his party’s nomination for the governorship this past spring and thought it fitting to donate two weeks of columns to our recent discussion of inside politics on the campaign trail.
OK, first thing I have to ask you, as a friend, how’s it going, how are you feeling, what’s this like? What’s your mood?
Going well, I mean, it’s a lot of travel. It’s a big state, 62 counties. There’s not always an easy way to get from here to there. So, we’re driving a lot. Sometimes when we’re lucky we have a couple of people with planes and they’ll take us around. It’s just a long campaign, but it’s going well. The seeds are growing quickly. We planted a lot of seeds in the summer and they are all starting to sprout now. This is where it has to happen, down the home stretch. The Rasmussen poll has it down to 49-33, but when you look into it, those that are certain to vote is 47-37. So this is when it’s really happening, people are paying attention.
What are the seeds that you planted in the summer?
Meeting with all these different citizen groups around the state; “Second Amendment rights” groups, anti-Common Core, going to African American and Hispanic neighborhoods, just being everywhere—talking to people and garnering support and grassroots. Now the effort’s to get it all put together so we lead into the final days and the polls on Election Day. It all comes down to that. Polls don’t matter at all. Every poll is just a quick snapshot of who they poll on a sample, the turn-out model. All of that varies tremendously.
Right, you have to convince people you have a shot. That’s what keeps people away from the voting booth; they see these polls and they say, “He has no chance. I’m not going to get up on a rainy day.”
I know, and it’s a little frustrating, because you talk about the vast majority of people, including all the press, which have no clue how to read a poll. We know, and we’ve known from day one that there are a lot of cracks in the armor and it’s all coming to a head now. In the primary, 40 percent voted against their city governor, which is unheard of. Cuomo’s opponent, Zephyr Teachout, won 31 counties. So it just shows that there is no big base support for Cuomo. He has problems on his Left, he has problems on his Right. He hasn’t fixed this state, which is where he is going to lose the middle. The turnout is going to be critical. A lighter turnout in New York City and a heavier turnout upstate and we’re going to be in a great position to win. That’s what we expect.
Your number-one issue is still the taxes and the highest taxed state and all that stuff. Do you find when you are out on the trail, that’s the thing that comes back to you or is it the Second Amendment thing (NY Safe Act) or Common Core?
Overall the taxes and the economy everywhere we go. Second Amendment issues are the biggest upstate. Common Core is a threat out here all over. For Long Island, it’s energy costs and taxes. So it’s all economics, there’s no question. This is coming down to the state of our state. They look at Cuomo, who has had four years, made a lot of promises, and didn’t come through. I mean, we’re no better than we were four years ago.
You’re from Westchester and you were able to win in a very blue area. Now you have to go upstate where the big Republican support frames you as more New York City, so is that the tougher sell or is it pushing down here and trying to get the independents to buy in?
The up-staters have a lot of suspicion about down-staters, because they feel like all their taxes get sucked down into New York City. I spent a lot of time upstate talking to people and getting them comfortable with who I am and realizing that I understand that the upstate economy is ranked worst in America and there is no reason for that. We can turn that around. It begins with upstate, because New York City, by and large, is doing fine and it will always, because it’s going to be the most resilient. It has the most resources. Upstate has resources and yet it continues to get pushed down because of the policies coming out of the state. They’re blessed upstate with natural gas and yet this governor refuses to allow natural gas drilling, like every other state is doing in America. It’s because he’s politically paralyzed. Yoko Ono says no, so he doesn’t and he’s telling everybody upstate you’re on your own. Meanwhile, unemployment is unacceptably high. There is a mass exodus out of the state. It doesn’t have to be that way. So I had said in the first 90 days we’re going to set up the rules and regulations to safeguard the public water and health and then move forward, which is what we should be doing.
You have mere weeks to go. What’s the plan now?
We are going to spend a lot of time on Long Island, in the Hudson Valley and important markets upstate. That’s really what it’s going to come down to. We need to get about 30 percent out of New York City. So we could lose New York City 70 to 30 and we hit our number. Last year there was a Liberal movement with De Blasio and it was only a 25 percent turnout in New York City. If that happens again that’s very beneficial to us. Joe Lhota, the mayoral candidate for the Republicans, got 25 percent of the vote last year, so we should be able to pick apart areas and get to 30.
Staten Island’s also worth work, we have to spend time there. Upstate, we have to win 57 percent of the vote or more and that’s very doable, and we have to win the suburbs, which is doable. We have to spend most of our time in those areas, but it’s achievable, it’s there. You have a very weak incumbent with this economy and a very unpopular president and that all comes into play. The national mood comes into play; political winds, which are with us this time, that’s all in the mix. Finally, it’s the intensity of the voter, which is also on our side this time. That means we have real good tail winds, the passion is on our side. People want to vote for a whole bunch of reasons. On their side, it’s not there. That’s a big intangible in this race.
Next Week Part II—Fighting negative ads, the battle to get debates, and life for the Astorino family on the road