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Ad Wars Heat Up In New York Governor's Race

Office of Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro / Bebeto Matthews / Frank Franklin II
Candidates for New York governor, Marc Molinaro, Cynthia Nixon and the incumbent, Andrew Cuomo.

The end of August used to be considered a slow season in politics, but television ads released by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and his Republican challenger, Marc Molinaro, are getting heated. Molinaro says Cuomo insulted his pregnant wife while the governor’s campaign tried to bar the GOP candidate’s spot on state corruption from airing on television stations.

Cuomo, who has far more money in his campaign account than Molinaro, employed the classic campaign tactic of trying to negatively define an unknown opponent to voters. In this case, the governor’s first campaign ad mentioning Molinaro links the Republican candidate to President Trump, who is unpopular among many New Yorkers.

“A Trump mini-me for governor?” a deep voiced male narrator asks. “No way, no how.”

Molinaro did not vote for Trump in 2016, and has distanced himself from the President. The GOP candidate called out Facebook for violating the platform’s new rules against untruthful advertising, by permitting the ad on its site. He says the ad is “blatantly false” and can be easily disproved with simple fact checking. And Molinaro counters that Cuomo received $64,000 in campaign donations from Trump in past elections. The governor has said he won’t return the money.

But the GOP candidate became truly enraged over an ad, by the Cuomo campaign, which began airing Tuesday.

It links $5,000 in campaign donations to Molinaro from a construction company, and tax breaks awarded to the firm, Tinkleman Brothers, by Dutchess County, where Molinaro is the county executive. The company also gave a job to Molinaro’s wife, Corinne.

“Return the dirty money and come clean,” the narrator says in the ad. “What are you really hiding?”

Molinaro, visibly angry, responded in a video.

“You want to fight? Fight with me,” the candidate says, looking into the camera. “My six-month pregnant wife is out of your league.”  

Molinaro says the Tinkleman Brothers contracts were competitively bid, and that his wife made just $27,000 for directing marketing for the company before leaving earlier this year after she became pregnant. She also wanted to devote more time to raising the couple’s three children, one of whom is disabled.

A spokeswoman for Cuomo’s campaign, Abbey Collins, accused Molinaro of having a “meltdown” and says the GOP candidates has “been busy taking the nepotism page from Trump’s playbook and giving tax breaks to companies with county contracts” and is trying to play New Yorkers for “fools.”

Meanwhile, Molinaro’s campaign has also been producing some hard-hitting ads against Cuomo.

The GOP candidate’s spot ties the governor to the recent corruption convictions of several former Cuomo associates on bribery and bid rigging charges, including his former closest aide, Joe Percoco.

“Guilty, guilty, gaily,” says the female announcer. “And now, he’s under investigation again, in another pay-to-play scandal.”  

Cuomo says the ad is untruthful because the governor has not been implicated in the latest investigation by federal prosecutors of a potential pay-to-play scandal involving a Hudson Valley health care company.

Cuomo’s campaign manager sent a cease and desist letter to television stations, but many aired the ad anyway. The ad buy has now concluded.  

Before the general election officially begins, Cuomo first faces a primary challenge from actor Cynthia Nixon on September 13. Nixon, running a campaign financed by small donations, has not purchased any TV ads. But she has released several videos on social media, including ones critiquing corruption in state government and the state’s policies on sexual harassment. The governor’s campaign has not aired any ads against the Sex and the City actor. 

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.