ALBANY – A controversial mailing by the state’s teachers union using an image of a battered woman in a campaign to defeat Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti was criticized as “disgusting” Tuesday evening by Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The mailing by the New York State United Teachers, which the union used to target at least two other Senate Republican candidates in the Hudson Valley, has been sharply criticized as over-the-top by Democrats and Republicans.
Cuomo, who has not offered an endorsement in the Grisanti contest, lashed out at NYSUT in an interview with The Buffalo News.
“I think that mailer is outrageous. I’ve seen a lot of cheap campaign stunts but this is one of the more disgusting ones I’ve ever seen. Not only is it unfair to Grisanti and deceptive about Grisanti, but it also exploits the women’s equality movement,’’ Cuomo said.
Grisanti is running on the Independence Party line after losing the Republican Senate primary to lawyer Kevin Stocker. Lawyer Marc Panepinto, who has been endorsed by NYSUT, is running on the Democratic line. NYSUT has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to defeat Grisanti both in the primary and general election as part of a bid to help Democrats take control of the Senate.
Unlike other local and statewide Democrats, Cuomo has not endorsed Panepinto, in part, because Grisanti provided one of only four Republican votes for his effort to legalize gay marriage rights in New York.
Cuomo has had a running battle with NYSUT, which has opposed him on a number of policy fronts.
But Cuomo said he is speaking out about the NYSUT mailing in the Grisanti campaign because it goes too far. “They’re distorting the women’s equality movement for their own political purposes and I believe they’re actually hurting women’s equality,’’ Cuomo said of NYSUT.
The mailing, sent last week to the homes of voters in the district that includes parts of Buffalo and suburbs to the north and south of the city, shows a woman with a black eye and bruised face and the words on the front: “Mark Grisanti won’t protect her from her abuser.’’
The back of the mailing, with another photo of the woman, says that Grisanti has blocked Cuomo’s effort to get approved his Women’s Equality Act, a 10-point package that includes pay equity provisions and stronger protections for victims of domestic abuse.
But, as Cuomo went out of his way to point out, Grisanti has supported nine of the 10 points, but only opposes the 10th point: Cuomo’s measure to expand abortion protections in the state. Senate Republicans said they would work out a deal with Cuomo to pass nine of the 10 points, but would not put the abortion measure to a vote. Cuomo, and his allies in the Legislature, wanted all 10 points or nothing during this past legislative session.
Asked about an endorsement in the Senate 60th, Cuomo said he had not made up his mind. “No, because on the other hand you have Panepinto who is against the SAFE Act,’’ Cuomo said.
Panepinto, who has criticized the NYSUT domestic abuse mailing, has raised concerns about some provisions of the SAFE Act that was proposed by Cuomo.
A NYSUT spokesman did not immediately respond Tuesday evening, but last week the union stood by the mailing, saying it was good if it got people’s attention about the need for expanded domestic violence protections for women.
Cuomo joined in an effort against NYSUT that was first launched by Democratic Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who tweeted about it after he found the campaign literature in his mail.
“Grisanti is against number 10,’’ Cuomo said of the abortion measure. “And I disagree with Mark on number 10, but that doesn’t mean he is anti-victims of domestic violence. It’s just deceptive to him personally but it’s also exploitative and disruptive to the women’s equality movement which we’ve been doing all across the state … This is politicizing it, confusing it and distorting it,’’ he said of the NYSUT ad.
Grisanti on Monday called on NYSUT to apologize, saying he has heard from women, including teachers, who expressed “their horror” at the mailer and concern about the union.
NYSUT officials did not specifically respond to Cuomo and his criticism. Union spokesman Carl Korn said that while the mailing may be disturbing to some, “What’s even more disturbing is the senator’s poor record on women’s issues.’’ He said Grisanti would rather talk about a mailer than explain why he does not support the full, 10-point Women’s Equality Act and that the failure by Grisanti and the Senate Republicans to embrace the full package of bills means that new protections for domestic violence victims “went by the wayside.”