Astorino Says Gop Conservatives Will Unite

01.27.14 | Bob Price

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said Monday he’s confident the Republican and Conservative parties will agree on a candidate to run for governor this year, even as former candidate Carl Paladino threatens a run of his own.

Astorino was in suburban Albany to speak at the Conservative Party’s annual political conference, where he criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s economic record while touting his recent re-election in heavily Democratic Westchester County. The Republican has been publicly weighing a challenge to Cuomo.

His speech came a day after the small-but-influential party heard from Paladino, a Buffalo businessman who has repeatedly pledged to seek the Conservative line if Astorino doesn’t call for the ouster of current Republican leaders.

“There’s going to be at some point a unified ticket,” Astorino said. “There needs to be a unified ticket. This is not to go through the motions. This is to win a race and change the state around.”

Astorino has traveled the state since winning re-election in November, courting support from donors and party leaders as he decides his future. He has support from New York Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox, who donated $27,600 to Astorino’s campaign account in December.

But Paladino, who won the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2010 before losing handily to Cuomo, could play the role of spoiler. A run on the Conservative line would siphon off votes from the Republican candidate, lessening their chances against Cuomo, the popular Democrat.

No Republican has won statewide office without the Conservative Party’s support since 1974.

Paladino has said he would support the Republican candidate only if the candidate calls for the ouster of the two Republican leaders in the state Legislature: Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, Ontario County.

“I’ve asked Rob Astorino and I’ve asked Ed Cox to denounce the RINOs in the New York state Legislature and to come out and denounce the complicity,” Paladino said Friday on WNBF-AM, referring to an acronym for “Republicans in name only.” “They refuse to do it, because they want to get along and go along.”

The Westchester executive has resisted Paladino’s calls to oppose Skelos and Kolb, instead saying the Republicans’ focus should be on Cuomo.

Astorino said he and Paladino have a strong relationship and agree on many issues. The pair had dinner at the Conservative conference on Sunday and shared laughs, Astorino said. Paladino has touted the potential candidacy of celebrity billionaire Donald Trump, though Trump has said he will only run if Republicans unify around him.

Michael Long, the chairman of the Conservative Party, said he believes his party will ultimately unite behind a single candidate. Both Astorino and Paladino are registered Republicans.

Long said he spoke to Trump on Monday, and the developer reiterated his claim that he would only run if Astorino does not.

“My hope is as we flesh this whole thing out that we come up with a united front,” Long said. “That would be the best for all worlds. But no one has announced yet, and we don’t know who’s going to get in the race.”

Astorino has been delivering what sounds like a stump speech to potential supporters, knocking Cuomo for the state of the economy and ethical lapses in the Legislature while touting his own success in Westchester.

He’s also repeatedly criticized Cuomo for the state’s review of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which has been on hold in New York since 2008 as the state assesses the shale-gas extraction technique. Astorino said it “took less time for Tolstoy to write ‘War and Peace’” than it has for the Department of Health to report its fracking findings.

“New York has what it needs to grow again, to reassert itself – everything but the right leadership,” Astorino said. “Things can turn around. We can get back into the winning column, and I know that because we did it in Westchester.”

Later, Astorino told the crowd of about 50 that he’s proof that “a conservative Republican governing as a conservative Republican can still win in New York state.”

Rodney Capel, the executive director of the state Democratic Committee, criticized Astorino’s record.

"The truth is Westchester County has been losing under Rob Astorino because for the last four years the county has been the highest-taxed county in the nation and its bond rating has been downgraded,” Capel said in a statement.