Without much fanfare, the race for Westchester County executive got a bit more crowded last week -- and you can be sure it's going to become far more of a circus now that a candidate who describes himself as a real conservative has entered this three-ring race.
Kurt Colucci, a little known tea partyer from New Rochelle, challenged incumbent Rob Astorino's conservative credentials when he announced his candidacy last Friday, saying the first-term executive is a sheep dressed in wolf's clothing whose only true aim is perpetuating his political career.
"He lied to the taxpayers of Westchester County," Colucci claimed. "He said he was going to help stop the tax madness."
Aside from the fiery rhetoric, the announcement was low-key; Colucci, a project manager at a local engineering company who penned the book "A Taxslaves Manifesto," had no entourage of advisers as he spouted off about liberty, freedom, independence and oppressive governments. He accused Astorino of failing to seriously go after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo or state lawmakers -- "bullies" he called them -- on all those expenses they impose on the county.
Whether you like Astorino or his approach, these aren't criticisms that can be fairly pinned on him. In fact, Democrats argue he's cut too much.
Colucci offered few specifics on how he would actually change the tax dynamic, other than saying he'd work with people -- leaving those of us there for the announcement wondering if there was more to this power play.
He did promise his platform would "captivate and electrify" taxpayers. We can only hope that it won't be as vague or as confusing as his announcement.
Colucci is pursuing the Conservative Party endorsement, but it's more plausible he'll nab the Independence line. Astorino's nemesis, Giulio Cavallo, heads that party, and Cavallo has been ticked at the county executive for not doling out patronage jobs to his people. So Colucci just might get the indy nod.
And that's what makes his run an actual threat to Astorino. For any Republican -- even one as popular as Astorino -- the smaller party lines are important, since there are twice as many Democrats as Republicans in Westchester. The smaller lines deliver votes.
Even though Colucci isn't well-known, Astorino is taking the challenge seriously: That's why his camp came out so strongly against Colucci's father, who had obnoxious posts about Cuomo -- Photoshopped to show him dressed in Nazi garb -- on his Facebook page.
"I'll be ready for whoever" runs, Astorino said to me Wednesday. "Anyone is free to run."
Westchester voters have seen circuslike elections before. The 2009 battle pitted County Executive Andy Spano against Astorino and David Spano, Andy's own son.
David Spano, Colucci and Sam Zherka, the controversial strip club owner and publisher of the Guardian newspaper, were all part of the local tea party movement then. They appeared at rallies together and blasted the incumbent to smithereens. Colucci held fundraisers for Astorino back then. Andy Spano's team dubbed it all a "Zherkus."
A few political insiders believe Zherka is up to his old divisive antics again. But Zherka rejects the assertion. He told me in a phone interview that he didn't put Colucci up for the run and won't be financing it. But he did say, "I like the guy. I think he's an excellent guy."
There's an eerie sense of deja vu to all this. At least this go-round, we can be sure that Astorino's own kids won't be gunning for the job, too.
Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board.