When gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino amplified a top aide’s criticism of the Republican-led Senate while visiting suburban Buffalo on Wednesday, conservative Carl P. Paladino proclaimed a “watershed moment” for the state’s GOP.
But Astorino appeared to change his tune Thursday, telling Time Warner Cable that Senate GOP Leader Dean G. Skelos, of Rockville Centre, was “a good man” and that the Senate “has done a very good job” as a counterbalance to Democrats in Albany. That prompted Paladino to change his tune, too. The 2010 GOP nominee for governor backed off Thursday on the praise he heaped on Astorino’s Wednesday comments, calling the Westchester County executive’s observations “so sad.”
It all signaled a return to Paladino’s less-than-enthusiastic support for Astorino, who never embraced the Buffalo developer’s pointed criticism of Skelos and Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb, of Canandaigua, as “RINOs,” or Republicans in name only.
“I just think it’s a tremendous lost opportunity to illustrate to upstate voters – especially gun owners – that the person who gave us SAFE Act I and who will probably give us SAFE Act II – namely Dean Skelos – was denounced by the Republican-Conservative candidate for governor,” Paladino said. “In my belief, it would have rallied upstate voters to go to the polls.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t keep fighting. It’s just a sad day.”
One of the early flash points of the 2014 contest for governor ignited a few days ago when William F.B. O’Reilly, Astorino’s top media consultant, referred to Skelos as the “prison punk” of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The implication was that Skelos had cooperated with the Democratic governor in many areas.
O’Reilly told Talk-1300 Radio in Albany on Thursday that he regretted using the phrase in a tweet, but defended the “sentiment” behind it. He also dialed up the criticism in a subsequent column for Newsday.
When asked about his aide’s comments during a stop in Lancaster on Wednesday, Astorino said he disapproved of the “prison punk” reference but implicitly endorsed the barbs O’Reilly aimed at Skelos and the leadership in Albany.
“Inside the granite walls of the Capitol, sometimes they forget we have people who are struggling all over,” he said then. “I don’t agree with the analogy, but most New Yorkers feel our state is going in the wrong direction.” He also referred to a cake that Albany leaders cut to mark the end of the legislative session by saying, “Nobody in Albany should be celebrating.”
All of this prompted a torrent of praise from Paladino on Wednesday, who had failed to embrace the Astorino candidacy until only last month at the Republican State Convention.
“I think this is the beginning of the cleansing of the Republican Party,” Paladino said then. “(Astorino) could not do anything better in getting his name out there in the state taking on these entrenched Albany parasites. I fully support him.”
Paladino had favored Manhattan billionaire Donald J. Trump for governor earlier this year, expressing fears that Astorino couldn’t compete with Cuomo. He even lent his support to a Thursday fundraiser sponsored by a Buffalo contractors group, which was canceled due to what sources called a poor response.
“Rob Astorino is playing Carl Paladino for a fool,” said Peter E. Kauffmann, spokesman for the state Democratic Committee. “In Buffalo, he uses him to raise money, but then goes on Albany radio and praises the same Albany ‘parasites’ he blasted the day before. If Astorino is willing to play Paladino, it’s a given that he won’t think twice about lying to voters.”