McKinstry: Astorino readying for Democratic challenger -- whoever it may be
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino kept up appearances in recent months, pulling in a sizable $626,754 for his re-election bid -- one that is more than a year away.
Donors dropped $1,000, $5,000 and as much as $15,000 at a spring fundraiser, bringing the Republican's political piggy bank to $1.36 million, according to his latest filings with the state Board of Elections.
Incumbency sure has its privileges. But that's nothing new.
Much like members of Congress, who seemingly treat fundraising like a full-time job, Astorino has been aggressive in raising dough.
He has to be. Whoever gets the nod from Democrats, the race will be competitive, since they have a nearly 2-to-1 registration advantage among the county's 541,000 voters.
Voters who are also vital will be the nonaffiliated ones, which at 134,000 are only a few thousand behind registered Republicans. So expect these dollars to be directed at so-called independents.
Judging from Astorino's hard-fought contract negotiations with the county's unions -- including a very vocal one with its largest, the Civil Service Employee Association, over health care, wages and benefits -- he won't be cashing any of their sizable checks, or benefiting from their political clout or get-out-the-vote mechanisms.
Astorino, who routed incumbent Democrat Andy Spano by something like 16 percentage points in 2009, will run on his tax and spending record. That's a clear advantage since he has cut spending and actually lowered taxes by 2.2 percent (with the help and sign-off of the Board of Legislators) in a county that has the highest property taxes in the country.
But taxes are still high, mostly because schools make up roughly 65 percent of the tab, and voters often don't distinguish between county, town and school taxes. They just know the bill is high. Many people aren't even sure what county government does.
Other issues will be social services, parks, transportation and infrastructure. After cutting subsidies for child care and eliminating a bus route, the county executive may take a hit on some of these, but it's anybody's guess how big that could be.
It's also unclear who among Democrats might challenge the state GOP's rising star. A look at the campaign filings provides a bit of insight, but many political watchers agree that serious candidates won't make their intentions known until after the November elections.
"I don't see anybody as being the leader," Reginald LaFayette, chairman of the Westchester County Democratic Committee, said of names often mentioned in a potential run. (He wouldn't name any of them, either).
Here's a list of possibilities:
-- Assemb. Amy Paulin: The Democrat from Scarsdale leads her contemporaries in fundraising with $495,998. She's popular and seasoned. If she lost, she could return to the Assembly. But she may not be as interested in an executive role.
-- Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins: The Yonkers Democrat has been viewed by some as the front-runner and his much publicized feuds with Astorino are common. They've even made their way into the courts. His campaign committee, Jenkins for Westchester, has raised $33,175 in recent months, bringing his total to $67,775. He'd need more cash for a countywide run. While a popular fixture in Yonkers and his district, he'll need to expand his reach to other parts of the county.
-- County Clerk Tim Idoni: Another Democrat from one of the county's larger cities, New Rochelle, the clerk has solid executive experience, as a village manager and mayor. He's raised $74,323, but that would only be enough for his clerk race. To challenge Astorino, he'd have to give up the clerk job and a county executive run is no slam dunk.
Other names mentioned are former Assemb. Richard Brodsky of Greenburgh, who is a popular fiscal watchdog these days, and New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson. But neither has raised any money, according to recent filings. Put these guys in the wait-and-see column.
"They're all good candidates. They're all experienced candidates," LaFayette said. "They're all used to campaigning. They've all been elected before."
Dems will have to get out their base because the Republicans certainly will. And they'll use every penny they've raised to do that.
Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board.