BOLTON LANDING, N.Y. — After sparring through commercials and news releases, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Rob Astorino came face to face here on Friday.
Mr. Astorino, a Republican who is the Westchester County executive, showed up unannounced for a speech by Mr. Cuomo to a statewide business group, staking out the entrance of a hotel ballroom in an effort to force a handshake upon the governor.
The governor, a Democrat, returned the favor during his remarks, denouncing the high property taxes in Westchester, as Mr. Astorino stood at the side of the room, an impassive look on his face.
The uneven playing field between Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Astorino was palpable here as the Business Council of New York State convened for its annual meeting. Business leaders, a natural constituency for an aspiring Republican politician, showered Mr. Cuomo with approval. Mr. Astorino spoke to the group on Thursday night, pleading with attendees to rethink their fondness for the governor.
In a fleeting interaction, Mr. Astorino, right, asked the governor, “You ready to debate?”
Mr. Astorino called his speech a “reality check.” The crowd cheered longer for Mr. Cuomo.
The race for governor hinges in large part on how voters perceive New York’s economic fortunes. Mr. Astorino is spending his time railing against oppressive taxes that he says are driving businesses and residents to flee; Mr. Cuomo, seeking a second term, is showcasing his record of turning an imposing deficit into an impressive surplus, and cutting taxes along the way.
Though the back-and-forth between the two candidates has focused in recent days on frivolities like football allegiances and unicorn killings — the subjects of recent advertisements on both sides — the race took a step toward substance as the candidates courted business leaders at the meeting, which was held at the Sagamore, a resort on Lake George.
In a pair of speeches that offered a comparison of their economic views, Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Astorino sounded as if they were discussing different states.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo spoke on Friday at the annual meeting of the Business Council of New York State at the Sagamore, a resort on Lake George in Bolton Landing, N.Y.
Flipping through a slide presentation filled with numbers and charts, Mr. Cuomo pointed to the private-sector jobs created during his time in office and upgrades to the state’s credit rating. He offered plans for dividing up billions of dollars in surplus revenue, suggesting it go toward areas like aid for upstate economic development and incentives to encourage local governments to consolidate. He highlighted some of his marquee programs, including regional councils to help dole out economic development grants around the state, as well as the creation of tax-free zones at college campuses that are meant to attract new businesses. He predicted the tax-free program, Start-Up NY, would be “the greatest economic savior for upstate New York.”
“Over all,” Mr. Cuomo said, “the state economy is night and day from where we started.”
The governor, whom some liberal activists have accused of favoring the state’s corporate class, proudly invoked what he called “the battle I’ve had with the teachers’ union over the past four years,” and bragged that he had reduced the state work force to its smallest size in more than 50 years.
Still, Mr. Cuomo has drawn some recent trepidation from business leaders because of a deal he struck to receive the backing of the Working Families Party, a group of labor unions and liberal activists. The governor agreed to push for Democratic control of the State Senate, and to advance a number of causes favored by liberals, including raising the minimum wage.
The Business Council endorsed Mr. Cuomo in 2010, but has not made a decision about whether it will make a choice in the race this year.
Mr. Astorino has spent months bemoaning the state’s economic climate. In his speech, he cited rankings showing New York at the bottom of the heap compared with other states, and questioned why business executives were not complaining as loudly as he was.
“You have the clout — the power — to demand better, yet you reward leaders who, at best, are managing the steady decline of New York,” Mr. Astorino said.
“Whoever gets elected gets the business community’s support in New York, and rarely your criticism,” he added. “Everyone is afraid to offend the governor’s office, state legislative leaders, City Hall. In elections, as soon as it looks like a winner is emerging from the pack, the money pours in to that candidate — regardless of the candidate’s economic views.”
The fleeting interaction between the two candidates on Friday was a small triumph for Mr. Astorino, who seemed to delight in crowding the spotlight of a governor whose public appearances are meticulously planned to avoid exactly this kind of spontaneous encounter.
Mr. Astorino, grinning, positioned himself inside the entrance to the ballroom where Mr. Cuomo was set to speak, ensuring the governor would run into him.
About 10 minutes passed as Mr. Astorino waited, along with a crowd of journalists.
When Mr. Cuomo finally entered, he shook hands with Mr. Astorino, who asked, “You ready to debate?”
Mr. Cuomo responded affirmatively, patted him on the shoulder and continued walking.
“Tell me when,” Mr. Astorino said.
The entire interaction was over in five seconds. (Mr. Astorino at least fared better than Zephyr Teachout, the governor’s top opponent in the Democratic primary, whom his aides physically blocked from greeting him at a parade this month.)
Afterward, Mr. Cuomo was asked about Mr. Astorino’s decision to show up to his speech.
“I hope he enjoyed it,” the governor said.
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