What was destined to be a contentious fight for the State Senate seat in the 40th District has seen both sides throwing harder rhetorical jabs as the November election looms closer. In one corner is Peter Harckham, the Democrat and current seat-holder. In the other is his Republican challenger, Rob Astorino, a former two-term Westchester County Executive and admitted friend of President Donald Trump.
What’s unclear is whether Astorino’s alliance with the controversial president will help or hurt his chances. The district traditionally leaned conservative before the 2018 elections and a perceived backlash against Pres. Trump ushered in Harckham. But in a state where many contests are expected to go blue, the GOP sees the 40th District as a potential, and thus important, seat to pick up. Which is the likely cause for the attacks ratcheting up.
During an interview with the River Journal, Sen. Harckham said Astorino has “spent the last three and a half years on national TV defending Donald Trump’s divisive, hurtful policies. His record is what it is, and he can’t run from it–just go to the tapes.”
Harckham was referring to Astorino’s appearances as a political analyst on CNN, where he dubbed himself the channel’s “Trump translator.” Some commentators wonder why Astorino would step away from working in cable news, as well as at a New York City law firm and the Archdiocese of New York, leading to speculation that Astorino would use a State Senate position as a stepping stone to another gubernatorial run after a failed attempt running against Andrew Cuomo in 2014. Though, commenting to the River Journal, Astorino maintained his focus is on the 40th District.
Astorino also didn’t downplay his friendship with the president to the River Journal. Yet, he called himself a political pragmatist and said the commander-in-chief is “often his own worst enemy.” He emphasized, “I’d work closely with a President Trump or a President Biden to benefit the people I represent.”
As soon as he announced his candidacy, Astorino began the strikes, including what he terms “Pete Harckham’s rush to eliminate cash bail in New York, the trigger for this growing crime-wave.” Things got more colorful after that with the introduction of a bill that would limit funding to school districts with potentially offensive race-based mascots or logos. Astorino said the legislature left him“flabbergasted’’ and made him question Harckham’s “judgment and priorities.” (In a Facebook posting, Harckham said his name was “errantly ascribed” to the bill.)
Astorino reportedly has around $800,000 campaign war chest left over from his governor run, some of which he put towards mailers decrying how divided the country and local community has become, and thus the need for Republican representation in government to counter Democrats. The mailers stood out, because they contained quotes from prominent Democrats praising Astorino, like Sen. Chuck Schumer, State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. The move was quickly denounced as misleading by not only Harckham’s campaign but also by the politicians named, as they have all endorsed Harckham and the comments were made in different contexts years ago.
The two have battled before. Harckham served as the Democratic majority leader in the Westchester County legislature when Astorino was county executive. It was during this time that Astorino stayed true to his pledge of not raising taxes, a move popular amongst constituents but which Harckham said left local governments underfunded for necessary disaster preparations like the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent storm damage.
While Astorino touted his fiscal record, Harckham emphasized his busyness in dealing with all the struggles besieged upon people, which necessitated working seven days a week on food drives, writing a bil that provided guidelines for supermarkets to donate excess food, and pushing for more federal funding devoted to those suffering from substance abuse disorder and mental health issues left without adequate resources during the pandemic.“
Government has to balance between the things we want and the things we can afford,” Astorino told the River Journal–a theme central to his campaign. Meanwhile, Harckham, who ranks first among freshmen legislators in passing bills in 2020, described his campaign strategy by simply saying, “I’m going to run on my record.”