Astorino’s Old Talking Points Wither in the Lights

With millions in federal grants again being withheld from Westchester County, and Rev. Sharpton threatening action in White Plains, Rob Astorino is about to learn why the big spotlight drawn to his run for governor will work against him.

Today Astorino let some reporters into his office to make a statement about HUD’s latest request for an acceptable analysis of zoning in Westchester County. His talking points are the same he’s used for the past two years, and, reading his body language, even he can smell they’re stale. Or at least he may be starting to feel that they won’t hold up to the scrutiny of a statewide campaign.

“Westchester is in full compliance with this [2009 settlement].”

No one but Rob Astorino believes that to be true. One big requirement of that settlement is an analysis of impediments to fair housing in communities across the county. Astorino’s administration has repeatedly submitted inadequate reports to HUD that pretend there is no room for improvement in Westchester’s zoning laws. There may be no outright exclusionary zoning laws (thank goodness), but even inadvertent obstacles need to be responsibly addressed.

“We have already 403 of the units in progress with funding in place, well ahead of schedule.”

“If this were exclusionary in any way we could not be building as of right in these communities nor would we be a year ahead of schedule with this.”

The pace of Westchester’s required development of 750 affordable housing units is not at issue with HUD — the ongoing fairness of Westchester’s housing is. It’s to that end that the 2009 settlement with HUD requires an honest analysis of housing impediments around the county, to make sure that Westchester’s responsibility to provide fair housing opportunities is met in the future without a federal lawsuit.

(Gotta give Astorino some credit here — at least he’s stopped claiming that HUD is now requiring 11,000 affordable housing units at a cost to taxpayers of over $1 billion, as he did during his re-election campaign in 2013.)

“But what we will not do is be held hostage by the federal government by making demands that are not in this settlement and trying to force us to do away with local zoning so federal bureaucrats can dictate housing in Westchester.”

This is the red meat his Tea Party base is going to love, and which he tossed around on Fox News a couple of times last year. But it has no relation to the truth. HUD has made no demands that aren’t in the original settlement, as a federal judge last year made clear when Astorino tried to sue his way out of compliance. And local zoning laws in the county are not at risk as long as they comply with federal anti-discrimination laws. Astorino’s opposition to that standard earned him a biting comparison to Jim Crow South in a NYTimes editorial almost exactly a year ago.

That's not my problem

The truth is, Astorino just thinks that if you’re not rich enough to live in the fancy parts of Westchester, that’s your problem, not his. He’s been against this settlement from the beginning, and has used fear tactics to fuel his last two successful campaigns. But as more reporters become familiar with the history of the HUD settlement and hear Astorino’s stale talking points, he’ll start to look like our own local Cliven Bundy, raving against the federal government, or worse.