The 2014 race for governor is shaping up into the kind of contest that New Yorkers should relish. With last week’s expected announcement of Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s candidacy, voters have the prospect of choosing between two strong candidates for the state’s top office.
It wasn’t that way four years ago. Neither Carl Paladino nor the Republican he creamed in the primary election, Rick Lazio, had a prayer of winning what was then an open seat. In a left-leaning state, Democrat Andrew M. Cuomo was too strong and, what is more, he ran his campaign on a platform that appealed to many mainstream Republicans.
In truth, Astorino will face a difficult campaign against incumbent Cuomo, whose record is strong – but not unblemished – and who comes into his re-election year flush with cash. Still, Astorino is a legitimate candidate in a way his immediate predecessors weren’t: He leads what is probably the most complex county north of New York City, winning office – and succeeding in it – in a county where the taxpayer burden is astronomical and Democrats hold a two-to-one enrollment edge.
Lazio at least had experience in government, serving in Congress before losing the 2000 U.S. Senate race to Hillary Clinton. Paladino had only passion, energy and anger to fuel his candidacy, which burned out against the power and momentum of Cuomo’s campaign.
These observations are not an endorsement of either Astorino or Cuomo, both of whom offer qualities that millions of New Yorkers would value in a governor. We will make an endorsement closer to the election, but this is an observation that on paper, at least – not factoring in bank accounts or name recognition – November’s gubernatorial contest could be an especially strong one for New York’s voters.
There’s some distance between here and there, though, including a potential Republican primary pitting Astorino against celebrity developer/game show host Donald Trump. As a candidate, Trump would have some of the same weaknesses as Paladino, though with greater name recognition and financial resources.
Regardless of how this election plays out, Astorino will leave it as a better-known politician than he is now, either as governor or the county leader who took on a popular governor. Barring something unexpected, either outcome will serve him and his party well.
Western New Yorkers will have plenty to ask both candidates as this campaign year progresses – on taxes, the economy, gun control, abortion and, more parochially, plans for Buffalo and the rest of the region. It promises to be an interesting eight months.