A record-setting crowd of more than 700 guests attended the Business Council of Westchester’s annual dinner Tuesday night, but that turnout was trumped by one notable absentee on the dais: Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Scheduled to speak at the ballroom event in the Hilton Westchester Hotel in Rye Brook, the Queens-raised governor instead flew to Kansas City with the owner of the New York Mets to root for the team from Queens in the opening game of the World Series. The game ran about three hours longer than the governor’s skipped dinner engagement, ending in a 14-inning loss for the Mets after 5 hours and 9 minutes of play.
Calling the headliner’s cancellation “disappointing news,” Business Council of Westchester president and CEO Marsha Gordon said Cuomo, a Westchester resident, promised to appear at another Business Council event before the end of this year. “So please stay tuned,” she said.
Cuomo’s Republican opponent in the 2014 gubernatorial election, Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino, donned a Mets cap as he briefly spoke and gently jibed at Cuomo’s choice of the World Series over the Hilton Westchester’s filet mignon.
“I’m sorry the governor couldn’t make it,” Astorino said, drawing laughs from the crowd. “Look, life is about choices. Given a choice of Kansas City or Westchester, I’ll take Westchester every time.”
Cuomo’s absence in turn might have been trumped by keynote speaker Mark Halperin’s assessment of both parties’ presidential candidates — and especially the prospects for a voluble businessman familiar to Westchester’s business community, Donald Trump.
Halperin, the managing editor of Bloomberg Politics and a chronicler of recent presidential campaigns in two books, including the best-selling “Game Change,” called the current primary-season campaign for party nominations “a very strange race.” Halperin, who has covered presidential races since 1988, said this one is “the hardest to understand, the hardest to predict.”
Assessing the crowded field of Republican candidates, he said, “I think it’s the most overrated field either party has had.”
Established politicians, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Jeb Bush, either already have dropped out of the race or have not been able to gain traction in polling, he noted. The early frontrunners are two anti-establishment candidates, Trump and Dr. Ben Carson, closely trailed by another strong anti-establishment contender, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
“It’s a strange time in the Republican Party and nothing is stranger than the strange rise of Donald Trump,” Halperin said. The analyst said part of Trump’s attraction to voters “is that people don’t want a Bush or a Clinton” to again occupy the White House.
Halperin said his supporters see Trump as extraordinarily successful yet “just like us” in the way he talks and acts, despite that he lives in a Park Avenue building “with his name on it.”
Halperin said Trump is the most likely Republican nominee for the nation’s highest office. If he wins two of the three early primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, “He’ll be hard to beat,” he said.
Carson and Cruz also have a strong shot at being their party’s nominee. “The (Republican) establishment will be less happy with Cruz than with Trump,” he said.
Halperin said Trump will stay in the race to the party convention, where the choice of nominee could be a brokered deal if delegates’ votes are split among seven viable candidates.
“I don’t think Donald Trump is going anywhere very easily,” he said of a possible campaign exit by the businessman. “I don’t think Ben Carson is going anywhere easily.”
In the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton “is the strongest non-incumbent frontrunner the country has ever seen,” Halperin said. While Republicans battle each other in the primaries, “She has the luxury now of thinking about the general election and some solutions” to end the partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C., which President Obama failed to achieve, he said.