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GOP Challenger To Cuomo Gains From Ethics Commission Controversy

GOP candidate for Governor holds up a bottle of bleach as part of his tour to clean up corruption.
GOP candidate for Governor holds up a bottle of bleach as part of his tour to clean up corruption.

The little known and underfunded Republican challenger for Governor in New York has been getting a boost from incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo’s troubles over alleged interference in an ethics panel. Rob Astorino has been doing his best to keep the controversy, first reported in an in depth story in the New York Times, alive.

Rob Astorino, the Westchester County Executive running for governor on the Republican line, seemed dead in the water just a little over a week ago. Despite a busy public schedule and frequent interviews in the media, Astorino had very little money for campaigning, just $2.4 million dollars to incumbent Governor Cuomo’s $35 million. And the GOP candidate was 37 points behind in the polls.

Now, with Governor Andrew Cuomo on the defensive over a scandal involving his ethics commission, Astorino says he’s seeing some gains in fundraising, and interest in his campaign.

“It’s been about five hundred thousand dollars in the last week and a half,” said Astorino, who says he’s received commitments from some Republican governors to campaign with him, though that list does not include New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  

“We’ve also got a lot of inquiries from people in New York City, and across the state, that want to help,” he said.

Experts say to become known among voters and paint a negative picture of your opponent, a major party candidate in New York needs a minimum of $10 million dollars.

Astorino has traveled the state holding news conferences, sent out frequent videos, and even mocked Governor Cuomo for remaining silent for five days after the Times story appeared. The newspaper says the governor’s staff interfered with subpoenas sent by the Moreland Act ethics Commission, when probes reached too close to Cuomo’s own donors.  The commission was disbanded by Cuomo shortly afterward, in exchange for an ethics law that critics called weak. US Attorney Preet Bharara is investigating.

Cuomo on Monday in Buffalo offered a lengthy defense of the commission, saying it was under appreciated and accomplished a lot. And he insisted that the commissioners were independent, citing a statement by Commission Co Chair and Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick said while he listened to Cuomo’s top aide Larry Schwartz’s “advice” about rescinding a subpoena, he later decided to send it anyway.   Cuomo chided the Times reporters for drawing what he said were the wrong conclusions.

“He rejected the request,” Cuomo said adamantly. “The rejection is ipso facto, a statement of independence because he said no. ”

“If you had watched the movie to the end, the name of the movie would have been Independence,” Cuomo continued. “You named it interference. Watch the movie to the end.”

Astorino, one day later, says the governor’s answers are still not enough.

“He’s hoping that the press and the public accept his definition of what interference is or isn’t ‘ipso facto’, the movie is over,” Astorino said. “But that’s his movie. Right now the new director is Preet Bharara.”

And Astorino says “there’s a sequel coming. We don’t know how it’s going to end.”

The GOP candidate caused some backlash for himself, with his own movie reference on Monday. Astorino compared Cuomo’s tactics to the Marlon Brando character in the film The Godfather, saying the commissioners were given an offer that they couldn’t refuse.

Statements were immediately released from Italian American Cuomo allies. Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle called the analogy “insulting and degrading”, and said that Astorino, as a fellow Italian American should be “ashamed” of himself.

Astorino brushed off the criticism.

“Give me a break,” he said.

But he concedes that perhaps the more apt analogy comes from the Wizard of Oz, where the curtain is pulled back on the operations of a powerful figure.

Cuomo is still considered to be the odds on favorite for re election in the November election, but his challenger continues to hope that the events of the last few days will be , in his words “a game changer”.