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Astorino, Cuomo trade barbs over local housing cases

Westchester County executive and candidate for New York

Westchester County executive and candidate for New York governor Rob Astorino answers a moderator's questions during the Crain's Business Breakfast Forum held at the New York Athletic Club on Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The State Democratic Committee headed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has seized on a racially charged housing dispute to brand Cuomo's Republican opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, as "so far right, he's wrong for New York."

Two new television ads by state Democrats -- and Astorino's angry response Tuesday that Cuomo is trying to portray thousands of suburban families as "racist" -- marked the sharpest exchange between the candidates so far.

The ads by the party committee cite a dispute between Astorino and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Astorino has opposed HUD's directive to create low-income housing in Westchester because HUD prohibits landlords from rejecting tenants if their source of income is public assistance or other government subsidies. Astorino also said HUD's program violates local zoning laws.

In his response, Astorino referred to a similar case in Oyster Bay. The U.S. Department of Justice has sued the town, accusing town officials of discriminating against African-Americans in two affordable housing programs. The town denies the charges.

Cuomo's ads don't mention Long Island, an expected battleground in the governor's race.

"New York has a proud history of fighting discrimination," an announcer says in one of two new Democratic ads. "That's why it's shocking that Rob Astorino has repeatedly violated federal anti-discrimination laws for years. He's the only county executive in the nation that refuses to comply."

Astorino said that in "two unforgivable new television commercials, Mr. Cuomo effectively calls me and hundreds of thousands of Westchester and Long Island families racist. The reason? Because we don't agree that sensible zoning laws are discriminatory. Mr. Cuomo's ads viciously attack us for defending our communities against arbitrary federal interference and the insane property tax hikes that would come with it."

"If you've got something to say to me and the people of 31 Westchester communities and Oyster Bay in Nassau County, Mr. Cuomo, say it to us directly," Astorino said. "How about standing behind your attacks by publicly debating the issue, if you have the courage to? . . . What's it gonna be?"

Earlier Tuesday, Astorino mocked comments that Cuomo made last week about the disbanded Moreland Commission on public corruption.

"The remarks that I make today are my remarks. They're mine, I own them," the Westchester County executive said at a Crain's New York Business forum. "I made them, I can take them away."

Cuomo last week dismissed the notion that he had interfered with the commission, telling Crain's editorial board: "It's my commission. My subpoena power, my Moreland Commission. I can appoint it, I can disband it."