Rob Astorino Stays the Course
In his first interview since Gov. Cuomo announced his resignation, the Republican gubernatorial candidate says his campaign strategy remains unchanged by Cuomo's departure.
By Ryan J. Degan
The shockwaves from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation earlier this week are still rippling throughout the state, with the full ramifications of his departure not yet fully realized.
Stepping down in response to a report by the New York Attorney General that detailed sexual misconduct allegations committed against 11 women and a chorus of calls for his resignation, Cuomo’s departure opens up a potential vacuum for eager politicians seeking to snag the state’s top spot to fill.
Perhaps nowhere is the shakeup more problematic than in the New York Republican Party, where political challengers had hoped to take on a weakened and extremely unpopular opponent during the 2022 gubernatorial election.
“I truly wanted to finish what I started back in 2014. I’d be lying if I said otherwise, but I don’t control that,” said Rob Astorino, former Westchester County Executive, and current Republican gubernatorial hopeful. “I think the real indictment was going to be in next November by the voters, but either way I’m glad to see him exit stage left.”
A former political opponent who offered Cuomo the closest race of his career when they squared off in 2014, Astorino says he’s not ruling out the possibility of an upset in the heavily Democratic state.
In fact, he says Cuomo’s resignation doesn’t significantly change his campaign strategy; he’s campaigning less against one individual and more against the “Democratic political machine” in the “Albany Swamp.”
“I wasn’t just running against Andrew Cuomo. I truly was running against the system in Albany.” — Rob Astorino
“I wasn’t just running against Andrew Cuomo. I truly was running against the system in Albany, which is completely corrupt and broken down and needs to be fixed,” he said. “The whole system has to be fixed because just replacing four consecutive democratic governors might look different but still is going down the same path. It’s just continuing us on this road to ruin and I don’t see anything changing policy-wise, which got us into this mess in the first place and will continue to destroy this state and drive people and businesses out of it.”
A former two-term Westchester County Executive who currently works as a business and media consultant, in 2014 he ran as a candidate against Cuomo in his first bid for re-election. Offering a more competitive race than many outlets originally predicted, Cuomo still defeated Astorino by 14% and 500,000 votes -- although this was the closest margin of victory in Cuomo’s three gubernatorial contests.
Following the failed gubernatorial race, in 2017 he unsuccessfully ran for a third term as Westchester County Executive, being replaced by Democratic challenger and current county executive George Latimer. In 2020 he ran unsuccessfully for the New York State Senate before announcing his intent to make another run at the governor’s seat.
An early Cuomo critic, Astorino called for the governor’s resignation years before the sexual misconduct allegations were made public, saying that not only was the governor incompetent but corrupt to boot.
“I think Cuomo has been a disaster as governor. He has accelerated the decline of this state and the out-migration of a million New Yorkers because they couldn’t afford it here anymore or deal with the terrible government in New York [State] and New York City,” Astorino said.
While Astorino says he’s glad Cuomo is out of the picture, he criticized the governor’s lack of grace during his exit, saying “he on one hand apologized but on the other hand said he didn’t really do it and never took full accountability for what he did.”
“[Cuomo] blamed it on being Italian and affectionate which is ludicrous and again I’m just thinking it’s a compilation of not just the sexual harassment charges, but the negative order and the coverup with the nursing home scandal, the personal benefit that he gained from lying in the deal with the publishing company... and potentially using state employees to help him write the book which is against the law. You add all of those up and there was nowhere for him to go but to leave,” he added.
Cuomo is set to be replaced by his deputy, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat politician Astorino says offers no significant difference from her predecessor.
“Our relationship was always cordial, but it is [a] totally different philosophy and vision and she has been a part of that Democrat machine,” he said of Hochul. “I don’t think anything drastically changes and I think she is going to be pulled further to the left where her party is going and that doesn’t help anybody.”
While Astorino stresses that his condemnation of Cuomo is a result of corruption and incompetence in addition to his harassment of women, he still maintains a relationship with former President Donald Trump, who himself has been the target of dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and assault.
However, Astorino says the AG’s report is the main difference between the Trump and Cuomo allegations, saying that Cuomo was given due process and found to be in violation, while Republican officials are often not given this opportunity.
“I was saying since all this started that Gov. Cuomo deserves the presumption of innocence and due process, which was not afforded to others like Brett Kavanaugh in the past. We need to be consistent and we need to have a judicial system which is truly blind and equal for all. Changing the rules of the game because it benefits you is a dangerous thing,” Astorino said. “The AG’s report was obviously the final nail for Cuomo.
“The Trump years, unfortunately, brought out the worst in a lot of people because they were so passionate one way or another about Donald Trump,” Astorino continued. “But we have to hold our foundations, That’s why Leticia James saying that her campaign was about finding a crime on Donald Trump is so dangerous. For people who scream ‘Yeah, go get ‘em!’ if that were against you, how would it feel?”
Draining the “Albany Swamp”
Despite spending much of his campaign thus far attacking Cuomo directly, Astorino’s main campaign issues revolve around talking points that have become a cornerstone for many, perhaps most, Republicans running for office throughout the country.
“What I’m offering to voters is a balance, a break from one-party rule, common sense and business and executive governmental experience,” he said. “These career politicians care about one thing, career politicians.”
Placing his bet that the heavily Democratic New York electorate is sick of the state’s current direction, Astorino highlighted rising crime rates, inflation and a loss of personal freedoms as issues that the current Democratic government is incapable of tackling.
Astorino further stated that the consequences of those issues remaining unaddressed is a mass exodus of residents from New York due to declining quality of life and worsening affordability – issues that have only been exacerbated by an ineffective self-serving government.
Pinning his hopes on New York state’s suburban and rural residents -- Astorino won 46 of 62 counties in mostly rural and suburban areas in 2014 -- Astorino says that his campaign strategy is largely the same as it was in 2014, claiming that the issues he campaigned on then are still present today.
“I don’t forget where I’ve come from in Westchester and the Hudson Valley and how close to the hit we are with New York City, which is on its knees right now,” he said. “And it’s all self-inflicted, but it does no good to the suburbs or New York City if people are afraid to walk the streets or if criminals are being treated as victims and being let out of prison on a daily basis.”
No Mask Mandates
When asked about his planned response to the coronavirus pandemic, Astorino said that he encourages everyone who can to receive the vaccine, which he himself received, however, he is decisively against vaccine and masking mandates, particularly among students.
“It’s been proven that even the Delta variant might spread quickly, but it is no [more] deadly and children are far likelier to have anything severe happen to them,” he said. “As we look at the big picture, there is only a very small segment of the population that is unvaccinated and in a high-risk area. That would be those who are 65 and older.”
He is also against lockdowns, highlighting the damaging effects they have on local economies and a belief that they are ineffective in preventing a spread.
“Unfortunately, the political climate is so bad, that the data and the science is being manipulated in order to continuously move the goalposts on issues like a pandemic response. And that’s where the confusion comes in and people run to their political corners which is wrong,” he added.
While he may be focused on tearing down the democratic establishment or “Albany Swamp” as he calls it, Astorino is also squaring off against several candidates in his own party, including believed frontrunner U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, media personality Andrew Giuliani, podcaster Derrick Gibson and Lewis County Sheriff Mike Carpinelli.
What does he say separates him from his GOP counterparts? Executive leadership experience from outside the swamp and an ability to lead in a heavily Democratic area.
“[My policies] are not a projection like others, I have a roadmap of what I did. I worked in a bipartisan way because I had a Democratic county board (in Westchester County) and we were able to compromise and move the ball forward, but I also held firm in my principles,” Astorino said.
“We’re building an army of volunteers and donors around the state which was good in that I’ve had a residual benefit from running in 2014, we’re not starting from scratch and I know this state very well,” he added.
Ryan J. Degan is a freelance reporter living in Brooklyn. A passionate journalist originally from the California Bay Area, he enjoys writing about local politics, city planning, and social issues. He can most often be found running laps around Prospect Park or exploring the five boroughs in the search for the perfect slice of pizza.