Mar 12th - 11:55 am
Republican Rich Funke on Wednesday formally entered the race for state Senate against Democratic incumbent Sen. Ted O’Brien.
Funke, a former television reporter, released a YouTube video giving an outline of his biography.
The race could potentially be a tight one, given Funke’s name recognition in the Rochester-area Senate district.
Funke in a Facebook post said that as a reporter he had been “on the sidelines” but was prepared to “strap on my helmet and get in the huddle.”
A day before the announcement, O’Brien on Tuesday announced he was opposed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to allow prison inmates free access to higher education classes.
“In my first term in office, I’ve delivered tax relief to middle-class families and small businesses, secured investments to create jobs in our community, and fought to clean up Albany and give New Yorkers the government they deserve,” O’Brien said in a statement on Wednesday. “I’m proud of my record and am confident that the hardworking men and women of Monroe and Ontario Counties will re-elect me this fall.”
O’Brien in 2012 defeated Republican Assemblyman Sean Hanna in the general election to replace retired GOP Sen. Jim Alesi.
It looks like Hanna might be gearing up for a second attempt at the seat, which would mean a GOP primary is in the offing. He recently loaned his campaign committee $200,000 – a move widely seen as a sign he’s likely to run again this fall.
Democrats had long eyed the Alesi seat, but were unable to unseat the incumbent senator, despite a Democratic enrollment edge in his district. Alesi retired in 2012 rather than run for re-election after supporting the same-sex marriage legalization law. He also received considerable blowback in his district after taking steps to sue a couple on whose property he trespassed, falling and badly breaking his leg in the process. Alesi pulled the suit, but the damage to his reputation and popularity had already been done.
UPDATE: Carrie Andrews, minority leader of the Monroe County Legislature (where O’Brien once served) issued the following statement:
“Richard Funke is the handpicked candidate of New York’s right-wing establishment and would be another vote in the Senate against the Women’s Equality Act and protecting a woman’s right to choose. If women are to be treated as truly equal citizens under New York law, we must stand against those like Richard Funke who would enable the extremist, anti-woman policies of the Conservative Party and its allies in the Senate.”
Mar 11th - 11:01 am
Rob Astorino will hold one of his first major fundraisers as a Republican gubernatorial candidate on March 26, according to an invitation.
Tickets to the event, to be held at the Westchester Marriott, run as high as $5,000.
The invitation was emailed out to supporters by Astorino’s campaign manager, Michael Lawler, the former executive director of the state GOP.
“Rob is running for Governor because we live in the highest taxed, most regulated, and least business friendly state in the Country,” Lawler wrote in the email. “As a result, over the past three years we have lost over 400,000 of our fellow New Yorkers to other states. We need a leader who will help create good paying jobs, and foster growth and opportunity for ALL New Yorkers. Rob IS that leader.”
The invite comes the same day as The Wall Street Journal reports that Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo will hold a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser for Republican donors to support his re-election campaign.
Cuomo last reported $33 million in the bank for his re-election campaign.
Astorino’s county executive account, which has lower donor contribution limits, had $1 million.
Mar 10th - 2:32 pm
Getting around to this one a bit late:
Over the weekend, the group led by Westchester County Democrats serving as a rapid response unit knocked Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino for his claim he cut property taxes lower than any other county in the state.
As Bill Carey of Time Warner Cable News in Syracuse noted, that isn’t exactly the case:
“In fact, while Astorino did reduce the tax levy in Westchester by $12 million, Onondaga County cut its tax levy by more than $38 million. So did he make this claim is in error?
Astorino, in Syracuse on Friday, said, “We’re going in the right direction. That’s the point.”
The Astorino Truth Squad — a group led by local Democrats from Astorino’s neck of woods — criticized him for the claim.
“It didn’t take long for Rob Astorino to get caught doing upstate what he has been doing in Westchester for years: shamelessly misleading voters with falsehoods. If Rob Astorino is willing to put out misleading information about his record on day 1 of his campaign, what else can we expect him to mislead New Yorkers about moving forward?” said Catherine Borgia, Westchester County Legislator. “Those of us in Westchester knew what Rob would do from past experience. That’s why we formed the Truth Squad.”
The “truth squad” is one of several groups acting as a surrogate for Gov. Andrew Cuomo in knocking Astorino’s candidacy, which he formally declared last week in an online video.
Mar 7th - 6:43 pm
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino favors a “conversation” about a strict medical marijuana program, but opposes broader legalization.
“I am very honestly sympathetic to people who are in chronic people, people whose life is ending,” he said. “There are a lot of stories of personally that I know of people who would benefit from medical marijuana.”
But Astorino knocked Cuomo’s proposal to allow a limited version of medical marijuana through an existing law and administered by the state Department of Health. Cuomo plans to issue an executive order on the program.
“I mean, taking medical marijuana off the street and giving it to patients is not my idea of a health initiative,” Astorino said.
Astorino added he’s opposed to broader legalization like in Colorado.
“What I do not want is dispensaries all over the state in which people can walk in and get a nickel bag,” he said.
Asked if he had ever smoked marijuana before, Astorino said, “Yes — a long time ago.”
He said he smoked “a couple of joints” in college.
“That’s that last time,” he said.
Mar 7th - 6:27 pm
Rob Astorino has the support of many establishment Republicans in New York, but whether he can get the backing of Republicans in the state Legislature is a larger question.
“The political season is starting soon and I feel very strongly that the Republicans will coalesce when the time comes,” Astorino said in Albany on Friday. “They’re still working on a budget by the way.”
Astorino was concluding a mutlti-city tour of upstate New York that was part of a two-day kick-off tour of his gubernatorial campaign.
Reporters packed into the cramped press conference room in the Legislative Office Building to see Astorino, who stood alongside his wife Sheila, for the news conference.
Astorino began the trip in the Bronx, and then went to Buffalo on Thursday where he stumped with Rep. Chris Collins.
Still, some Senate Republicans haven’t ruled out endorsing Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, including Sen. Andrew Lanza of Staten Island.
The GOP conference and Cuomo have worked well together.
The governor has never endorsed a full takeover of the Senate by his own party.
Republicans, meanwhile, have paved the way for key Cuomo victories like same-sex marriage and gun control. Nevertheless, Senate Finance Chairman John DeFrancisco is supporting Astorino, saying it’s possible to separate the government work from politics.
“Mr. Astorino has proven he can win in a Democrat — in a heavily Democrat area two to one,” DeFrancisco said.
At the same time, a Republicans on the other end of the spectrum like Carl Paladino, the party’s 2010 nominee for governor, hasn’t ruled out running on an independent line for governor.
“Carl Paladino doesn’t want Andrew Cuomo to have a second term,” he said. “I’ll just leave it at that. So Carl Paladino is not going to do anything to hurt the Republican and Conservative ticket.”
Astorino said he has traded voice mail messages with Paladino and plans to talk to him soon.
Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long “personally” endorsed Astorino, but he does expect local county chairs in the influential third party to support his candidate as well.
Astorino flatly said he does not expect a primary, nor does he believe businessman Donald Trump will run for governor. Cuomo earlier in the week teasingly noted when asked about Astorino that there could be a primary, citing the 2010 contest that resulted in Paladino’s nomination.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to tie Astorino’s socially conservative views on abortion, gay rights and gun control to the Senate GOP.
“For the Republicans I would say the important question is do they agree? Do they agree with their candidate? Do they agree with Rob Astorino that they want to roll back all the important protections we’ve enacted in New York,” Sen. Mike Gianaris told reporters this week.
Mar 7th - 6:15 pm
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said he would support term limiting state lawmakers and the governor in order to clean up the Albany “cesspool” of the state Capitol.
The Republican gubernatorial candidate told reporters in Albany on Friday would he work to pass a term limit law similar to one approved in Westchester.
His term limit law in the county limits his job to three, four-year terms.
Astorino says his state-level term limit law would be more aggressive and target longtime Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has been in charge of the chamber since 1995.
“I would look at maybe even less — two terms for governor and 12 years or less for a legislator,” he said. “There has to be turnover in this building. When Shelly Silver is there for 21 years or anyone is there for that long, corruption seeps in pretty quickly.”
Astorino knocked the speaker for approving taxpayer funded settlement money to sexual harassment victims of now ex-Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
“It’s the culture that the speaker of the Assembly believes he can cover up sex crimes and spend taxpayer dollars,” he said.
Seeking an outsider label, Astorino knocked Cuomo for “growing up here” in Albany (not technically true, considering Cuomo never lived in the executive mansion when his father was governor and served briefly as an advisor earning $1 a year).
“He is Albany,” Astorino said of the governor.
But Astorino zeroed in on the spate of sexual harassment scandals that have hit the Legislature and resulted also in the resignation of Democratic Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak.
“We have two daughters, I would never let them work in this building under the atmosphere now,” Astorino said.
Cuomo, of course, ran on an ethics platform in 2010.
He formally announced his candidacy, in person, on the steps of the Tweed Courthouse in New York City.
And as governor he’s been pushing for more aggressive ethics enforcement.
Cuomo pushed for and won an ethics reform law in 2011 that included the creation of a new lobbying regulator as well as forcing lawmakers to disclose more information on their outside income.
The $142 billion budget proposal from Cuomo includes a package of ethics reform measures such as tighter bribery laws as well as publicly financed campaigns.
Mar 7th - 2:46 pm
Gov. Andrew Cuomo jumped on a “town-hall” style conference call last night with residents of Rockland and Westchester counties to push his plan that would “freeze” local property taxes over two years, providing local governments cap their levies and share services.
The call on Thursday evening comes after Cuomo held a similar call with Long Island residents, according to Newsday.
Cuomo, who noted Westchester County has the highest property taxes in the nation, took several question from suburban property taxpayers.
Similar calls are planned for upstate counties in the coming weeks.
A person familiar with the town-hall calls said the Westchester-Rockland town hall had been planned in advance of Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s announcement on Wednesday that he was running for governor.
Residents were alerted to the town hall event through a robocall paid for by Cuomo’s re-election campaign. Those who received the call were told to expect a second phone call Thursday evening with the governor patched in.
The calls dovetail with a trio of issue ads also being paid for by Cuomo 2014 that include his effort to put the tax freeze plan in place.
Opponents of the property tax plan have stepped up in recent weeks to push back against the proposal as an undue burden on local governments and renew calls for reducing state mandates.
Cuomo, in turn, has suggested the local officials don’t want to take the necessary steps to reduce their budgets.
With Astorino in the race, suburban voters will be courted heavily by both sides in the coming gubernatorial campaign. The suburban counties have proved to be crucial swing regions for statewide candidates.
Mar 7th - 2:30 pm
Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco gave an enthusiastic defense on Friday of Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s chances of winning in November against Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and insisted the GOP candidate could run a competitive race.
Of course, that any Republican endorsing a GOP candidate for governor isn’t always news, but there are real questions about whether some Senate Republican conference members will strongly support Astorino, given their good working relationship with Cuomo.
Staten Island Republican Sen. Andrew Lanza has not ruled out a cross-party endorsement of Cuomo.
And the governor has reportedly told GOP officials and business leaders that he wouldn’t want the Republican conference to be collateral damage should Astorino be the nominee for governor and he unleashes a barrage of negative attacks aimed at his social conservative stance.
(Cuomo and his office has dismissed this as “political gossip).
Nevertheless, DeFrancisco, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said it’s possible to both agree and disagree with the Democratic governor.
At a campaign event in Syracuse on Friday, he GOP lawmaker cited the gun control law known as the SAFE Act as well as the tax-free incentive program START UP NY as two examples of Cuomo-backed measures he’s voted against.
“The fact that I agree and disagree on some issues, that’s part of governing,” he said.
Astorino, he added, is a serious candidate.
“It’s not a joke. He’s proven — Mr. Astorino has proven he can win in a heavily Democrat area 2-to-1,” he said. “He’s a serious, thoughtful candidate. All I ask for is listen to his issues, listen to his points of view. Don’t say he can’t be competitive because we got a governor who with a lot of money. Listen to what he says and make your choice. I think you figured out who my choice is. After governing is over, campaigning begins.”
For political observers, there are varying schools of thought as to whether the Senate Republicans need a strong top of the ticket in November in order to keep their hold on power in the chamber, which they currently share with the five-member Independent Democratic Conference.
Some argue Republicans down the ballot need a candidate who can provide an at least respectable showing in order to do well.
Others note that Senate Republicans have traditionally run separately from the top of the ticket, anyway and the success in the races rise and fall on their own.
The endorsement from DeFrancisco comes though after Sen. Mike Gianaris, the leader of the Democrats’ fundraising arm in the Senate, tied the GOP conference to Astorino’s stances on social issues, which include opposition to abortion, gun control and same-sex marriage.
Mar 7th - 12:02 pm
When he last reported his campaign finances, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino had just over $1 million in the bank.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, has literally 33 times that amount of money in his own campaign coffers, plus a three-year head start in fundraising.
But Astorino insisted during an interview on Capital Tonight that he’ll be competitive, even if he doesn’t raise as much as Cuomo.
“Andrew Cuomo has enough,” Astorino said. He’s got all he needs to run his race. We’re not there yet, but we will be and I’m confident.”
Astorino spent most of the beginning of the year traveling the state — and making a few out-of-state trips as well — to attend receptions and fundraisers. That exploratory tour led him to believe that raising the money was possible.
He declined, however, to give a specific dollar amount when asked.
“We’ll raise enough money to get our message out to all New Yorkers,” he said. “I know in my head how much is enough and I think we’re going to get there.”
It’s also possible that Astorino will benefit from the increasingly common independent expenditure groups, though he would likely need to show that he’s competitive against Cuomo in order for that money to flow in.
For now, Astorino has been benefiting from so-called “earned” media — interviews and the announcement tour, along with the video he released this week posted on his website.
“We’re not going to need $30 million to run this race,” Astorino told me in the interview. “We’re going to run a very smart race, we’re going to get our message out to people.”
Mar 6th - 3:33 pm
Democrats in Westchester County wasted very little time this morning knocking GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino for remarks he made about illegal immigrants driving up the cost of services.
Astorino, in a 2009 appearance on News 12 in Westchester, suggested undocumented immigrants and “people who are moving in from the Bronx” are driving up the cost of county services.
The video was distributed by the “Astorino Truth Squad” — a group of Westchester Democrats who have been serving as a rapid response team of sorts opposing the county executive’s run for governor.
Astorino held his first in a series of announcement tour stops in the Bronx before heading to Buffalo.
For now, the Democrats on the local level are working as surrogates as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has stayed largely above the politically fray at least publicly.
Cuomo earlier teased Republicans for a potential primary, suggesting Astorino may not even be the eventual candidate.
Updated: IDC Sen. Jeff Klein in a statement piled on the video as well. Klein represents parts of Westchester and the Bronx.
“It’s unfortunate that Mr. Astorino has chosen to vilify the hard-working residents of the Bronx and speak of them as something less than their neighbors in Westchester. As someone who represents both constituencies I have found that the best path to progress is by celebrating diversity, not insulting one another or pitting New Yorkers against one other. New York City is the economic capital of the world because of the enormous contributions of immigrants and it’s outrageous that Rob Astorino does not seem to understand that it is the contributions of many that build a city, not drain it.”
Update X2: Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is also chiming in.
“Before Rob Astorino came to the Bronx to launch a political campaign, he should have had the decency to apologize for having called our residents illegals who ‘can’t necessarily keep a house.’ Such words are divisive, bordering on outright racism. Despite what Mr. Astorino may think, the people of the Bronx are smart enough to tell when a politician is insulting them behind their back. If Mr. Astorino has any sincere desire to represent all New Yorkers as he claimed today, he should drop the act and apologize,” he said.
A transcript of the interview is below. More >