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Astorino: Cuomo's handling of Sandy recovery funds 'a bureaucratic maze'

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

COLONIE -- Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino is increasingly criticizing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on superstorm Sandy recovery, saying the pace of getting aid to residents is too slow and too bureaucratic.

Astorino, the Westchester County executive, is looking to tap into Long Island and New York residents unhappy with the speed of the recovery, analysts say. But they add that "going negative" reflects Astorino's deficit in the polls and in fundraising.

Cuomo, who enjoys high poll ratings downstate, says that his administration has funneled aid to nearly 8,000 homeowners and that the state is dealing with additional federal aid requirements designed to prevent fraud.

Astorino has stepped up criticism of the state's Sandy recovery efforts in the past two weeks, releasing two commercials criticizing his Democratic rival. One features a woman in a gutted home who says she's still awaiting aid to rebuild from the October 2012 storm.

"After Hurricane Sandy, the biggest frustration with people is they can't get answers," Astorino said after addressing the state American Legion convention here on Friday. "It's been a bureaucratic maze. Two years after the fact is way too long. We've still got thousands of people without a place to live. Ask them if he's doing a good job."

Cuomo has adopted a standard reply to Sandy aid questions: The state is getting money out as fast as possible, given new anti-fraud requirements implemented in the wake of problems with Hurricane Katrina recovery funds.

"This is taxpayers' money," Cuomo said in Bethpage on June 25. "And we want to make sure it's going to people that need it and is in compliance with the regulations. . . . I don't want to be here a few months from now at a press conference and somebody asks a question, 'Why did that person get federal money when they weren't entitled to it?' Or, there was a situation of fraud and people got money and they actually didn't rebuild the home."

New York has distributed about $350 million to roughly 7,800 homeowners, mostly on Long Island, a Cuomo administration aide said Friday. But the state has some 16,000 eligible homeowners.

Astorino also criticized Cuomo for getting federal permission to use $30 million in aid for tourism promotion in Sandy-impacted areas. The Republican called using the money in such a way "despicable" and said the ads amount to Cuomo promotions.

"I think he should reimburse every dime," Astorino said.

Cuomo campaign spokesman Peter Kauffmann called the complaint "baseless."

"The federal government approved funds for advertising to promote tourism in counties devastated by storm damage. New York State invested in a series of tourism ads to drive vacation dollars to those counties, many of which featured small businesses in the impacted areas," Kauffmann said in an email.

One analyst said there is simmering frustration about Sandy recovery in some areas -- providing some election-year fodder.

"Astorino is right to tap into the anger of people whose houses were destroyed or left unlivable and still haven't gotten any aid after all this time," said Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant who works mostly with Republicans. "The tourism hit might be unfair, but it still taps into the outrage over the aid not getting to the homeowners."

But Doug Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College, noted that Astorino, trailing by about 30 percentage points in the polls, must "throw anything/everything out there and pray something sticks."


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