Republican strategists are crowing that Gov. Cuomo made a major political blunder last week when, joining with the Rev. Al Sharpton, he attacked GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino for allegedly supporting racial discrimination in Westchester County.
The explosive charge, in Democratic TV ads and party statements, focuses on claims by HUD, the federal housing agency Cuomo once headed, that County Executive Astorino isn’t abiding by a 5-year-old agreement requiring Westchester towns — including the one in which Cuomo lives — to change their zoning laws to encourage the building of “affordable housing’’ for lower-income residents.
“For Cuomo to play the Sharpton race card this early makes him look weak and scared and I think it backfires on him,’’ a prominent GOP strategist told The Post.
“To try to turn defending local zoning in Westchester into a racial issue is an attack on all of suburban New York, including on Long Island, where HUD is trying to do the same thing, and that’s a winning issue for Rob in November.”
The strategist said Astorino won 25 percent or more of the normally heavily Democratic black vote in his re-election campaign last fall, adding, “There are plenty of blacks and Hispanics who, with whites, don’t want Cuomo’s old agency telling them what the zoning laws should be.”
Cuomo’s attack on Astorino surprised Democrats and Republicans because of its timing — a distant six months before the election. While insiders saw it as the start of a drumbeat to portray Astorino as the type of “extreme conservative” Cuomo has claimed has “no place in New York,” others said the message was specifically focused on worries over a turnout problem among black voters.
“This helps Cuomo make amends for what many blacks saw as his attacks on [Mayor] de Blasio, who is very popular with black voters,” a black political activist said. “During the whole fight over higher taxes on the wealthy to fund universal pre-K, Cuomo was seen as bullying de Blasio, and that hurt him with black voters. They believe this gets blacks back on his side.”
Cuomo, the former state attorney general who lives in tony New Castle, has never taken a public position on HUD’s allegations against Westchester, which was a central issue in Astorino’s re-election campaign last fall.
Asked for comment over two days on where he stands on HUD’s allegations, the governor, through a spokesman, would say only, “Our position is that discrimination is illegal and people should follow the law.”
Told of the comment, Astorino, who is battling HUD in the courts, responded, “If Mr. Cuomo actually believes he lives in a discriminatory community, why hasn’t he said anything or moved in the past five years?”