Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino was in Buffalo on Thursday, receiving the endorsement of Representative Chris Collins in his ambitious bid to unseat Governor Andrew Cuomo. Congressman Collins hosted Astorino at the downtown headquarters of ZeptoMetrix, a biotech firm that Collins founded. Former Mayoral candidate Sergio Rodriguez, County Legislators Ed Rath and Kevin Hardwick, and County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw also stood with Astorino.
The event projected something of a coalescing of the party around Astorino. Other Republicans were there briefly, and seemingly supportive of Astorino, but left before the press portion of the event. Perhaps more interesting than who was there: who was not? If you don’t follow the micro-politics and melodrama of the local Republican Party, let me catch you up.
Former gubernatorial contender Carl Paladino had threatened to run for Governor himself, on the Conservative Party line, but that challenge has seemed to have been thwarted once Astorino secured the endorsement of the Conservative Party’s chairman, Mike Long. Paladino was not at the event, and when asked if Mr. Astorino had met with Carl, he said he had not.
“Carl wants to win. So do I. We have a very similar message. We may have different styles of delivering it,” Astorino said to laughter.
The lack of some Republican notables was interesting. Kathy Weppner, who is running for Congress against Brian Higgins, was not in attendance. Kevin Stocker, who is running for State Senate against Mark Grsianti, was not in attendance. Both Weppner and Stocker are thought to be aligned with Paladino’s faction of the party.
While local Republican State Senators were not at the event, Astorino said he very strongly supports the tuition tax credit legislation that they’ve passed in the Senate, designed to expand access to private and parochial schools. Speaker Sheldon Silver has refused to bring the bill to the floor of the Assembly, despite the fact that there are enough votes in that body to pass it.
Astorino energetically fielded a broad range of questions from reporters, from turning around the economy to social issues – and he sounds like a New York Republican who intends to win.
When asked by the Buffalo News, “Would you do anything to change the State’s gay marriage law?”
The County Executive responded, “No, it is the law. It was done the right way: through the legislature.”
He thinks that Cuomo is trying to make abortion an issue in order to distract from the fact that over 400,000 people have left New York in the last 3 years, and that the Administration’s Start Up New York advertising is “smoke an mirrors” designed to distract voters from how bad the economy has been under Cuomo’s Administration.
Astorino engaged spiritedly with Buffalo area media, before touring the laboratory of ZeptoMetrix, located on Main Street in Allentown. The firm produces biological materials — including human diseases and viruses — for use in research and pharmaceutical testing, Collins explained. The firm even exports to research facilities in Singapore.
Former Mayoral candidate Sergio Rodriguez, who had boldly outreached to communities that have long been excluded from the electoral calculations of County, State, and National Republicans — spoke to the media about Astorino’s candidacy. In a deeply fractured party that is looking desperately to better brand its message and expand beyond its traditional constituencies, Astorino would be smart to campaign often with Rodriguez. Sergio is one of only a few politicians who can be identified citywide by his first name alone.
Astorino, who in Westchester County earned substantial support from the African American and Latino communities, in his remarks even joked about how often he campaigns in the Bronx. Sergio should consider walking the lower West Side with Astorino; Grant Street; Jefferson; Broadway Fillmore; introducing him to the people he met during his Mayoral campaign, door to door, small business to small business. The simplicity and sincerity of those tactics are precisely the tone that is required of a Republican seeking the governorship.
Though Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy did not attend the press portion of the event, he did meet with Astorino afterwards. Langworthy has been reluctant to support Astorino amid talk of a Donald Trump candidacy. Langworthy had even traveled to New York to discuss with Trump his prospective candidacy. Though he has said nothing official, it seems that Langwothy may be moving toward the Astorino-camp of the party. Trump had long said that he would only run if he were unchallenged in a primary. He has not indicated whether or not he continues to consider running.