Donald Trump was at the Empire State Plaza Tuesday for an anti-SAFE Act rally -- as were Carl Paladino, the former Republican candidate for governor, and Rob Astorino, who looks to be the next Republican candidate for governor, along with (we're guessing) about 2,000 people.
Trump talked about protecting the 2nd Amendment during his time up on stage, and then talked a bit about maybe buying the Buffalo Bills during a short press session afterward. Then he left, in a helicopter apparently.
The celebrity something-aire wasn't really the interesting thing during the time we listened on the sunny plaza Tuesday. We ended up being more curious about Astorino -- the Westchester County exec -- who we hadn't seen much of before.
Here are a few thoughts and observations, about the rally, about Astorino, and about Andrew Cuomo...
A lot of the talk and signs at the rally were similar to last year's big rally in West Capitol Park. And it covered a wide range. Some it of was very reasonable and admirable -- urging people to register to vote, taking issue with the often opaque way the state legislature operates. It's the kind of stuff you'd see all sorts of rallies, whatever the issue. But the farther end of the range was much less so -- the idea that the SAFE Act is the first step in some plan for Andrew Cuomo and the government to take everyone's rights, the signs with references to Hitler and Stalin.
While surveying the signs today we were thinking about an article in the New York Daily News this week in which the head of the state Rifle & Pistol Association said he was concerned that the more far-out rhetoric was hurting the cause of gun rights advocates because it made it harder for them to win new allies.
After listening to some of the the speeches at the rallies this year and last, it struck us how much the rhetoric plays off a sense that government -- and Cuomo, specifically -- is coming to take something from the people: their guns, their money, their freedom. Seemingly everything can be turned into a symbol of that tension, including (obviously) a gun. It also extends all the way down to the barricades that had been erected to protect the soaked lawns near the Capitol and the ESP -- something referenced by a few speakers. You know, in some sense, that's your grass -- and Andrew Cuomo wants to keep you from it.
This was our first chance to see Rob Astorino in person. And in this case he came across as likable and reasonable -- which is enough to get a person pretty far in politics.
Astorino also struck a different note compared to the macho indignant tone of Trump and Paladino. The Westchester County exec spent a good portion of his speech talking about how, in his view, his county had been trying to focus on some of the root causes of shootings like the one in Sandy Hook, what he called "the real issues of violence." A clip:
We focused on the children of our county, how to make our schools safer, how to make our children safer. But also what is causing the mental health breakdown in our society and our county that lets somebody get a weapon and do what they did in all these massacres. Or it could just be everyday little things that we turned our back, those in our mental health community that need the help.
So we focused on two things. Absenteeism, if a child is not in school the likelihood that they're going to succeed in life diminishes greatly. So we have to make sure our kids are in school and deal with the issues that keep them out of school, whether it's violence in the household, sexual abuse, bullying, it could be anything. We also need to worry about the children we don't know how to deal with. Thirteen to 18-year-old youth, 20 percent are going to at some point in their life deal with a debilitating mental health issue. And we know what to do when our children fall down and cut their knee -- we put a bandaid on it. We know how to react. But when a child is withdrawn, or talking about violence or suicide, we turn away. We don't know how to deal with that. Those are the warning signs and the cries for help, that's what we need to work on so these kids get the help that they deserve so they grow up to be a good citizens, not dangerous ones.
That's what we worked on, safer communities in Westchester, we dealt with the problem. We didn't want a headline overnight that does nothing to solve the problem except make all of you illegal.
That part didn't get a lot applause from the crowd. But we suspect it will play a lot better in a gubernatorial debate on TV. And while Astorino is probably facing long odds in beating Cuomo, we're guessing clips like the one above already make him a stronger candidate than Paladino, who often came across as just sort of cranky.
The current governor was a frequent topic at the rally, where, um, it's not a stretch to say people aren't fans.
But it's interesting to us how Cuomo ends up being the target at all sorts of rallies, whether it's for gun rights or education funding. People on the farther right see him as too liberal. People on the farther left see him as too conservative.
And we suspect that Andrew Cuomo's OK with that as he tries to chart a wide path through the center (wherever that is), casting himself as pragmatic and non-ideological in an attempt to run up a big win this fall in the gubernatorial race, and possibly broaden his appeal for a potential presidential run. Maybe it works. But it probably also makes it harder to develop a core of people who are really into you and your candidacy.
Anyway, scene of the day goes to this guy dressed up as (we think) a Revolutionary War figure with a life-sized Andrew Cuomo puppet (with the UN pulling the strings):
A few other scenes:
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