Gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino's campaign rounds this week wouldn't have been complete without stopping by the Olympic Village.
Astorino, the Westchester County executive, arrived in Lake Placid around 3 p.m. Tuesday and took tours of the Olympic Training Center and Herb Brooks Arena, home of the "Miracle on Ice."
Standing inside the rink may have been a symbolic moment for the 46-year-old candidate, whom polls show to be an underdog like the hockey team that defied the odds to beat the Soviets and win the gold medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics here. Underpinning his trip was the importance of victory upstate, if he ever expects to defeat incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino speaks to Enterprise staff at the newspaper’s Saranac Lake office Tuesday.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)
Gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino looks out at the speedskating oval from the Lake Placid Olympic Center Tuesday.
(Enterprise photo — Matthew Turner)
Gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino visits the Lake Placid Olympic Center Tuesday.
(Enterprise photo — Matthew Turner)
"People think it's New York City that determines this race," Astorino later told the Enterprise in an editorial board interview. "It's not."
Astorino said he believes upstate will play a big role in the outcome of his campaign for governor.
Jared Steenberge, the operations manager at the Olympic Training Center, walked Astorino and his campaign crew around, showing off the bobsled push track, cafeteria and weight room.
"I bet they didn't have what I had for lunch - fettuccine alfredo," Astorino joked while watching athletes including Saranac Lake luger Chris Mazdzer train in the gym.
In 2009, Astorino defeated heavily favored Democrat Andrew Spano to win the job of former Westchester executive, despite the county having a much larger Democratic voter base. Astorino hopes to recreate that upset on Nov. 4 against Cuomo.
"My message then was pretty simple: We have to stop this tax madness," Astorino said. "Like now, the political climate was right, the winds were blowing with Republicans at the time, and people were ready for some change."
Astorino believes the state's unfunded mandates, Medicaid and pensions being the biggest, are the main drivers that are hurting local government.
"Eighty-five cents of every dollar we take in goes back to Albany," he said. "It's the state refusing to get a hold of the spending and these programs. Until that happens, nothing is going to happen."
Astorino said Medicaid entitlements - and therefore spending - are higher in New York than in other states. Savings could be found there, he said. What he sees happening instead is local service cuts.
"For Andrew Cuomo to go around and blame local volunteer fire departments and local school districts for what really has been a state-induced problem is ridiculous," he said.
Cuomo recently decided to stop the so-called Moreland commission, which he set up to investigate and prosecute corruption of public officials. He said his intention had been to pressure lawmakers to pass reform laws. Now that they've approved tougher bribery penalties and an internal task force, the Moreland commission is folding.
"I think it's the perfect symbol of how Andrew Cuomo operates," Astorino said. "He did something for political reasons. He admitted he did it to basically hold the Legislature hostage."
Astorino said he is interested to see if Cuomo's staff interfered with the commission, which is now being picked up by Preet Bharara the U.S. Attorney for southern New York.
Astorino said the system we have now is not perfect, but he is no fan of public financing of elections.
"I do not like public financing, first of all," Astorino said. "We are already so deep in debt in this state and have the highest taxes in the country."
He also said public financing requires an added bureaucracy, involving government in democracy. He said he agreed with the U.S. Supreme Court's McCutcheon v. FEC decision that struck down overall campaign donation limits. He favors immediate disclosure of campaign donations but isn't so sure about caps.
One thing Astorino can agree with the governor on is promoting tourism.
"I think we should always be highlighting our hot spots and great spots," he said. "It's the right thing to do."
The governor recently held a one-day event called the Adirondack Winter Challenge, meant to promote tourism in the Adirondacks. Astorino said promoting tourism this way is the right thing to do, adding he does a promotion of Westchester County called "Meet Me in Westchester."
Taking on Cuomo
Astorino dismissed Cuomo's proud talk of again passing the state budget on time, after many prior years of it being late.
"Congratulations, you're supposed to do that," Astorino said.
Astorino also said the governor's tax-free business program, Start Up NY, is bad for business because it's picking "winners and losers.
"This Start Up NY is such a political gimmick; it's so typical," Astorino said. "Spending tens of millions of dollars, of our tax dollars, to promote himself is really what it is."
Astorino was critical of the governor's reticence to start natural gas exploration and hydraulic fracturing in the state.
"If set up properly, it can be a huge economic boom in this state," Astorino said.
Astorino said there is a misconception created by environmentalists that people will just come in and "rape the land and leave.
"That's not gonna happen," he said. "That's why we have DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation)."
Back on the road
Leaving the Enterprise office in Saranac Lake, Astorino was off to the next campaign stop at a brewery in Glens Falls. Before leaving, he said he plans to come back soon to campaign here in the summer and get in some vacation time with his family.