Cuomo-Astorino rhetoric heats up

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New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, left, on New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, left, on Jan. 8, 2014 in Albany, and his Republican opponent Rob Astorino on March 7, 2014 in Albany. Photo Credit: AP / Mike Groll

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Spin Cycle

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ALBANY -- The campaign rhetoric of New York's governor's race is already starting to sound like a country song, full of swagger and accusations of lying and cheating.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's latest campaign ad accuses his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, of breaking a tax-cut promise and being untrustworthy. Astorino's campaign is dialing voters in robocalls that accuse Cuomo of cheating on his property taxes.

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And it's only June.

"The closest I remember being this kind of bare-knuckle slugfest was Schumer vs. D'Amato in '98," said political science professor Doug Muzzio of Baruch College. He referred to the Democratic upset of Charles Schumer over three-term Sen. Alfonse D'Amato in a race widely seen as setting a new low in nasty campaigns.

The nasty ads in the governor's race share one thing: Each shows as much creativity as veracity.

Cuomo's ad tries to hold Astorino to a pledge he made in 2005 to cut Westchester County property taxes by 20 percent if elected county executive. Astorino lost that race.

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Four years later, when Astorino ran again, he never made that pledge as the county's tax problem worsened, in part because of higher expenses passed down from Albany.

"He promised to cut property taxes 20 percent," states the ad by the state Democratic Committee run by Cuomo. "Then, he broke his word."

That prompted Astorino Tuesday in an Internet ad to respond that he kept his promises, "Can they trust you, Andrew Cuomo? Stop the nonsense TV ads, governor. Pay your property tax bill."

Astorino's telephone calls to 1 million households claim that Cuomo "just got caught cheating on his property taxes." Cuomo, however, doesn't pay property taxes. He said he shares in paying the tax bill with his girlfriend, TV food star Sandra Lee, on her $1.2 million Westchester County home, where they live.

Recently the local assessor increased the home's assessment after Lee had discussed in national interviews the renovations she made to the house.

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But tax assessments aren't retroactive and town officials said an increase in the taxable value of the property isn't an accusation that the property was undertaxed in past years. Neither Lee nor Cuomo have been charged with evading taxes.

"Astorino needs to raise money," said Lee Miringoff, political science professor and director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College. "His first goal is to get noticed. Cuomo's first goal is that if you notice Astorino, they want you to notice him on their terms."

Miringoff sees the early name-calling as part of a new normal. "Nasty and early has become the way in politics," he said. "It used to be, 'Wait until the voters pay attention.' Now you go out there early and you mark your space."

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