As he peered out at a crowd of Republican backers and county chairs, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino took to the microphone and asked for a moment to “speak from the bottom of my heart.”
And so went Astorino’s speech Tuesday at the state Republican Party’s “Rising Stars” fundraiser, where the potential gubernatorial hopeful gave 10 minutes of candidate-like remarks to the crowd of GOP officials, lawmakers and donors gathered at Albany’s swanky Fort Orange Club.
The second-term county executive was referring to Cuomo’s Friday radio interview, in which the governor said “right to life, pro-assault weapon, anti-gay” conservatives have “no place in the state of New York” — a remark that has received continued criticism from the right ever since.
“While we’re still here, before we’re told to leave the state, let’s make the best of it,” Astorino said to laughs from the crowd.
Astorino, who has said he’s leaning toward a gubernatorial bid but hasn’t made it official, focused the bulk of his remarks on what he sees as Cuomo’s shortcomings and how the Republican Party can take statewide office.
Republicans haven’t held won a statewide office since then-Gov. George Pataki was elected to his third term in 2002.
“Our businesses, our municipalities — we all need help. And we can get the help with a change in leadership,” Astorino said. “That’s what I would do as governor. That’s what anyone would do as governor. We would take our foot off the accelerator that is crashing this state, take our foot off the throats of businesses that want to succeed and watch that state of ours soar. That’s what we can do.”
Cuomo wasn’t the only Democrat criticized by Astorino. While discussing Cuomo’s budget address — which included funding for a new hotline for sexual-harassment victims — Astorino said it was “especially hard to stomach a governor who talks about sexual harassment on a stage while standing 30 feet from Sheldon Silver.”
Silver, the Manhattan Democrat and longtime speaker of the Assembly, apologized last year for not immediately referring harassment complaints against former Assemblyman Vito Lopez to the chamber’s ethics committee. Since then, an Assembly attorney was forced to retire after it was revealed he didn’t investigate complaints against Democrat Assemblyman Micah Kellner, and Buffalo-area Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak resigned earlier this month after seven former employees accused him of harassment.
“Let’s make that perfectly clear — Sheldon Silver remains speaker today because of Andrew Cuomo,” Astorino said. “Cuomo owns Shelly Silver, Shelly Silver owns Andrew Cuomo. They’re a perfect team together and the system will not change, it cannot change, because Cuomo and Sheldon Silver are Albany. They’ve been here for way too long.”
Cuomo has repeatedly declined to enter into the Assembly’s politics, saying it’s up to the members of the chamber to pick a leader. His budget proposal included $200,000 to create a hotline at the Joint Commission on Public Ethics for victims to report sexual harassment by a state official or employee.
“What makes it worse is there have been complaints that people didn’t know where to go and didn’t know how to make their voice heard, and there have been complaints that people have felt that not only were they being victimized, but there was no recourse,” Cuomo said. “That has to stop. It has to stop once and for all.”