Thursday, September 11, 2014

Interview with New York GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Rob Astorino

My interview with Rob Astorino, the GOP candidate for governor of New York, appears in The Lincoln Eagle, which resumed publication this month.

Lincoln Eagle Exclusive: An Interview with Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Rob Astorino

By Mitchell Langbert, Ph.D.

Mr. Robert Astorino’s choice of running mate, Chemung County Sheriff Christopher Moss, reveals much.  Sheriff Moss is president of the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, and he is a vocal critic of the SAFE Act. He will be the first African American statewide GOP candidate.   

In his ethics platform Mr. Astorino advocates limiting terms for statewide offices to two, limiting the length of the legislative session, and ending the naming of extravagant, taxpayer-funded buildings after current officials.  Most of all, he aims to put an end to the erupting scandal related to the Moreland Act commission that now engulfs the Cuomo administration.

Governor Cuomo had set up the Moreland Act commission to investigate corruption in Albany.  The New York Times has reported that Governor Cuomo’s chief and closest aide, Lawrence S. Schwartz, interfered with the commission when it began to uncover ethics issues that directly involved Mr. Cuomo himself.  Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara has since taken control of the investigation’s records. 

I interviewed Mr. Astorino by telephone on August 11.  He was born in Mount Pleasant, New York in 1967.  He was a television broadcaster on MSG and cofounder of 1050 AM ESPN radio.  He also was a radio host for Sirius XM Satellite Radio’s Catholic Channel.  Since 2009 he has been Westchester County executive.  He continues to live in Mt. Pleasant with his wife and three children.

The Lincoln Eagle:  How bad is Cuomo’s corruption problem? 

Astorino:  It’s just the beginning.  This is the start of Cuomogate. As more people are questioned, it will unfold. People are tired of the corruption in Albany. There’s a reason why New York has the highest taxes and the worst business climate.  The corruption has to come to an end.

TLE:  A video on your campaign’s website,, says that Andrew Cuomo diverted money meant for Hurricane Sandy’s victims to self-promoting commercials. How did he do that?       
Astorino:  Governor Cuomo is spending $200 million on his Start-Up New York ads, which are airing around the country.  Under the plan, state-privileged companies can locate on college campuses and get tax exemptions.  The state has been advertising the plan in places with economies that are healthier than New York’s, like North Dakota and Texas.   

No one is going to move a business from Texas to New York, with its bad business climate. Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo has failed to pay designated money to Sandy relief victims.   

 TLE: That’s similar in spirit to his announcement of tax-rebate checks to be mailed to voters just weeks prior to the election.  Instead of gimmicks, what are three substantive steps required to make New York State economically competitive in the long term?

Astorino:  We’ve got the highest taxes, the worst business climate, and the most onerous regulation in America. To jumpstart the economy, we need to approve natural gas exploration in upstate communities that want it. Natural gas production would create billions in revenue. We need to stop treating business as the enemy.  We need to bring taxes down in a real way and to stop nickel-and-diming businesses through fees. Most people are just scraping to get by, and many people are working two and three jobs because the business climate here is poor. More than 400,000 people have left the state during the Cuomo administration. 

TLE:  What else would you do to stop the hemorrhaging of population from the state?
Astorino:   Besides getting environmental, health, and energy groups together to take advantage of fracking in a clean way, what I will bring to the governor’s office is real-world experience. My wife and I have increasing difficulty affording the costs necessary to raise our three kids because of the economic climate. 

As county executive I reduced Westchester’s budget from $1.8 billion to $1.7 billion, and I have cut the county’s taxes by 2%.  We’ve made it easier to do business in Westchester.  

TLE: According to the Public Policy Institute of New York, New York’s per capita state and local spending on welfare is highest in the nation.  What policies, if any, would you revise? 
Astorino:  To reform welfare, we need to reform expenses and eligibility. We need to study why we are out of whack.  Why does Florida have half New York’s expense? Using a point-by-point comparison with other states, we can bring our program into line.  As well, workfare can be strengthened. 

TLE: City Journal’s Steve Malanga has spoken of a new new left unionism whereby unions like the SEIU function as lobbies to expand public sector employment.  How would you handle public sector collective bargaining?

Astorino:  We have reduced Westchester’s government workforce by 14%, and I would do the same at the state level.  At the same time, we have to look at balance. It’s preferable to avoid layoffs, but you can’t escalate salaries and benefits either.  You need to look at a third avenue: Reforming pensions, salaries, and work rules.  Raising taxes is not acceptable.  Instead, adoption of defined contribution pension plans in place of costly defined benefit plans, making sure that workplaces are efficiently designed, and making sure that pay is in line with market rates are ways to contain costs.
You need to reduce spending before you reduce taxes.  You can’t have a fake tax cut or a fake rebate check, and then increase expenses. We have a budget that’s twice the size of Florida’s, but we have the same population. We’re coming out with a detailed state tax plan in September, and it will be specific.

TLE: New York has the most costly Medicaid system in the continental U.S., spending more than $8,500 per beneficiary. How would you reform Medicare?

Astorino:  We spend over $55 billion on Medicaid, more than Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania combined. The system is broken. We’ve got to reform it. If waste and fraud continue to be built into it, it will gobble up everything else. In Westchester we’re spending close to 50% of every county tax dollar on Medicaid. In other counties the cost is almost 100%.  We need to analyze New York’s Medicaid plan with respect to eligibility and benefits.     
TLE: Is the SAFE Act Constitutional, and can it be repealed?

Astorino:  It must be repealed. Sheriff Moss is my running mate. He’s the president of the New York State Sheriff’s Association.  The SAFE Act created a new class of criminals who just the day before were law abiding. The way to deal with mental illness is to give professionals the tools they need to deal with it. The way to help troubled young people is through counseling.  It is important to protect state and private buildings, including schools, from intruders.  It is wrong to violate the Second Amendment. 
TLE:  What is your opinion of the common core standards-based system adopted by about 40 states, including New York? 

Astorino:  We are creating the Stop Common Core Party ballot line.   We’ve gotten the largest number of signatures ever collected for a third-party line.  

Common Core takes away authority and decision making from the local level--from parents, teachers, and the community.  It transfers authority to an untested bureaucracy.  I would go back to the lost English Language Arts (ELA) standards that former regent Saul Cohen and Walter Sullivan had spearheaded.  Unlike Common Core, the ELA standards would have given flexibility to the teacher and focused on literature.     They were looking at deemphasizing formal tests, putting decision making back into local school boards, and raising standards.  

In contrast, Common Core has been a disaster. My children are going to school, and I’ve been involved directly. Educators, teachers, and parents agree that the standards are poor.  Indiana, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina are already getting out of it. So should New York. 

TLE: Thank you very much, Mr.Astorino. Your message is long overdue. I wish you luck.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Rob Astorino's Education Plan Gets A+

I have taught in New York State colleges for 23 years, with 16 at the City University of New York's Brooklyn College.  From the beginning of my academic career, I have noticed a gap in writing skill among all but the most elite college students.  The problem is acute at Brooklyn, and eight months ago I described my frustrated efforts at improving things in a Pope Foundation on Higher Education Commentary.  Besides lacking writing skill, many of my students lack arithmetic-and-reading skills.  Since Brooklyn's students score  around the median for college students and are probably in the top 25% of New York's public school  grads --Brooklyn accepts 31% of applicants--the problem is pandemic.

My students also often lack interpersonal skills and have little understanding about the basics of American culture and the American workplace.  The situation is unhealthy. Significant resources are being expended on education without results--or rather, the results are that the students spend long years in college and end up working in jobs that were once occupied by high school dropouts.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino has just released his education platform.  It is strong, and it addresses my concerns.  It is visionary, but it is not a radical plan, nor can it be if Mr. Astorino is to be elected. Rather, Mr. Astorino addresses nuts-and-bolts issues.  Paramount among these is his call to repeal the Common Core, the program that Governor Andrew Cuomo rammed through the legislature without much debate.   Sacrificing New York students' needs for grant dollars, Governor Cuomo pushed for Common Core in response to pressure from the Obama administration and Bill Gates.

As Mr. Astorino points out, the Common Core suffers from the liabilities that the Democrats attributed to President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.  For much of President Bush's tenure, the Democrats criticized the "teaching to the test" that his No Child Left Behind Act required.  President Obama's and Governor Cuomo's Common Core intensifies teaching to the test.

In an interview I did with education professor Michael Apple of the University of Wisconsin, Professor Apple said that the Common Core is likely to squeeze out the basic skills training that inner city students most need because it fixes a recipe to which teachers must adhere.  As a result, weak students who lack basic skills, inner city students, will suffer because teachers won't be able to focus on areas of special weakness.  In-depth grammatical instruction will continue to be overlooked as  it has been for a century.  Students who have learned English on the street will not  have remedies.

In addition, the Common Core is an assault on the Constitution because it is a federally initiated education plan that used public money to motivate or coerce states into compliance.  About four-fifths of the states have adopted it, even though there is no evidence that it works.  Education should not be subjected to federal control.  Centralization radically increases the threat of the use of the education system for totalitarian propaganda.  Mr. Astorino notes that, besides constituting an abuse of federalism,  the common core lowers standards.

Mr. Astorino also advocates taking politics out of education and increasing parental choice. These are good ideas.  In light of Albany's corruption problems, which have worsened under Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mr. Astorino advocates making membership in the Board of Regents elective, removing power from the speaker of the assembly,  and making the commissioner of education subject to the Board of Regents' approval.

Some of the shorter-term issues that Mr. Astorino addresses include increasing the extent of vocational education in the high schools and making foreign language instruction part of elementary school education.  He also advocates increasing coordination among the four-year colleges, the community colleges and the high schools.   That and introducing increased job counseling will help inner city students, who lack parental guidance.

Mr. Astorino would also establish a system whereby parents can be given school choice in the face of school failure.  He advocates introducing financial-literacy and life-skills training into the education system.  Mr. Astorino would increase the attention paid to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.  The Chamber of Commerce has long pointed out that STEM education will lead to the most successful careers and the most productive economy.

Mr. Astorino's plan reflects greater sense and concern for preparing students than any I have seen.  I have for years tried to introduce skills training into the business program in which I work--without success. Many students enter the workforce without any idea as to how the economic system works, how to succeed in the job market, how to function in the workplace, or how to communicate. 

Mr. Astorino is an educational visionary who is offering New York a set of short-term and long-term solutions that will change students' lives for the better.  This is in stark contrast to the Cuomo administration, which has put the Common Core grant money before the students' needs.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The New York Times's Refusal to Back Andrew Cuomo

The New York Times has endorsed neither Andrew Cuomo nor Zephyr Teachout in the Democratic primary.  The Times criticizes Cuomo's failure to clean up Albany's corruption, and they acknowledge that his opponent, Zephyr Teachout, has the knowledge and will to do so.  However, they claim that Teachout lacks the necessary breadth of knowledge to be governor.  This claim seems irrational.   Four years ago, the Times believed that Mr. Cuomo had such breadth, and eight years ago it believed that Mr. Spitzer had such breadth. The only explanation for such repeatedly flawed judgments is that the Times is embedded in the corruption that it claims to criticize.

The son of Governor Mario Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo had worked as a prosecutor, specialized in homeless issues, then worked as chief of HUD. He then became a prosecutor again before running for governor.  In other words, his breadth was limited to criminal law, homeless issues, and housing.  As housing commissioner he was a failure,  and the subprime crisis of 2008 is attributable to inept polices that he recommended in the early 1990s.  There was little breadth to Mr. Cuomo's resume in 2010.

In contrast, Zephyr Teachout was a law clerk for a federal appeals court judge. She then became a law professor. She has founded an organization aimed at fighting big banks. She has been involved with founding another organization aimed at increasing transparency in the federal government.

Cuomo's breadth included homelessness, housing, and criminal law.  Teachout's breadth includes law, teaching, banking reform, and broad reform of government. Her background seems as broad as Cuomo's was, so the Times's reasoning is inaccurate.

The Times has favored two seriously flawed gubernatorial candidates in a row: the mentally unstable Eliot Spitzer and the corrupt Andrew Cuomo. Both were New York insiders born on third base; both were unqualified, by moral defect, to hold high office; and both received the Times's support despite evidence of moral failure having been readily available.

Now that a talented outsider, whose views coincide with the Times's, makes herself available, the Times can't bring itself to support her. The Times is committed not to the public good but to the perpetuation of an elite.  Its silly advocacy of trivial taxes on the rich cloaks a broad advocacy of massive subsidy to the rich through low-interest-rate policies and regulation that protects the largest businesses. Its instinctive resistance to supporting an outsider evidences its commitment to elitism in the name of Progressivism.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rob Astorino's Cease and Desist Letter

The New York Post reports that Rob Astorino is sending Andrew Cuomo a cease and desist letter concerning defamatory TV ads that Cuomo is running.  Cuomo has obtained a $35 million campaign coffer from contributions from billionaire developers in New York City.  It's funny that Democrats claim that Republicans are the party of the rich when Cuomo's campaign is being funded by the wealthiest people in America. 

Cuomo came to office claiming to clean up Albany, and he appointed a commission under the Moreland Act, which allows the governor to appoint commissions to investigate wrongdoing in state government. In this case the commission's members were sworn in by the attorney general, so the commission may have had a dual nature. When the commission uncovered Cuomo's using the same ad-buying firm as the legislators under investigation, Cuomo and the legislature killed the commission.  New York has a cesspool government, and Cuomo has floated to the top. 

Now, Cuomo runs defamatory ads about GOP candidate Rob Astorino. When he was HUD chief, Cuomo established a policy that banks must make subprime loans.  That policy opened the door to the economic collapse of 2008.  His disregard for ethics and lack of common sense are doing to New York’s democracy what Cuomo did to the American economy in 2008.