The silliest episode of this silly season kicked off last week when supporters of Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo aired a Buffalo-area television ad that poked Republican challenger Rob Astorino for being a lifelong fan of the Miami Dolphins.
For context: New purchasers of the Buffalo Bills had just given the region the welcome news that they'll keep the team in western New York. Sunday was their home opener against the Dolphins, a longtime rival. The state invested $130 million in a new stadium with a 7-year lease.
"Astorino is a Miami Dolphins fan," the commercial's narrator says while an image of Astorino in Dolphins shirt appears. "Governor Cuomo stood with us . . . This November, when Rob Astorino comes asking for your vote, let's remember who was on our team."
Now the Astorino camp seeks to turn the gridiron goading back on Cuomo -- and portray a caricature of the governor as a kind of Darth Vader donning a Bills helmet.
The challenger first said in a statement Monday: "Governor Andrew Cuomo, who refused to shake hands with his Democratic opponent, Professor Zephyr Teachout, at a parade earlier this month, has crossed the decency line again."
Astorino added that the ad-makers erased his son Sean, then 7, from what had been a father-and-son photo on a "special and cherished" family occasion at Sun Life Stadium in Miami. Then Tuesday -- barely a year after another candidate's teenage son, Dante de Blasio, drew fame for a pro-Dad ad he'd cut -- the Astorino campaign put the telegenic Sean, now 11, on video.
"Dear Governor Cuomo," Sean begins on camera. He calls the altered photo "one of my favorite pictures of me with my dad. It wasn't very nice of you that you cut me out of it. Do you really like chopping up Astorino family photos? We wouldn't do that to you . . . And oh, while I've got you, stop telling lies about my dad on TV."
Of course, you can just imagine the criticism if the Cuomo camp used the photo with the boy still in it. Also, the governor's side noted that using a minor in an ad would have required written parental permission. Then again, nobody forced the campaign to use the photo at all.
Long ago, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani criticized Senate rival Hillary Rodham Clinton for donning a Yankees cap. The knock ultimately meant nothing. Mayor Bill de Blasio managed to get elected last year after admitting he likes the Boston Red Sox.
Cuomo said Tuesday in a news conference, "Look -- my campaign is not going to be about any of this silliness . . . My campaign is going to the people of the state and saying 'This is what we achieved.' " He attributed the ad to the Erie County Democrats. Erich Weyant, the county Democrats' executive director, said: "The idea behind this was a lighthearted ad that sort of took advantage of opening day" in light of the good news about the Bills.
A political consultant uninvolved in either campaign saw the message of the ad as, " 'He's not one of us, he's one of them.' They were busting Astorino's chops. It's a purely parochial Buffalo play."
With his sports loyalties on the table, Astorino also chose to disclose that he likes the Rangers, Knicks, Yankees and the Syracuse University Orange.
Nine days before the election, on Oct. 26, the Bills will play the New York Jets in New Jersey.
The candidates haven't taken sides in that one.