Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp, who represented upstate New York in the House for 18 years, unleashed a torrent of criticism yesterday at Pierre Rinfret, the New York Republican Party's choice to challenge Gov. Mario M. Cuomo (D).

Speaking to reporters, Kemp criticized Rinfret as a one-issue candidate who has decided to "walk away" from the accomplishments of the Reagan administration and is "practicing the politics of the death penalty" in his campaign for governor.

"He's running on the death penalty for drug pushers," Kemp said. "I mean, goodness gracious, if . . . that's what politics has descended into in the 1990s -- who can get to the far right on the death penalty -- it is a sad day."

Kemp, who has been campaigning across the country for several GOP candidates, said Rinfret is squandering an opportunity to challenge Cuomo on the governor's proposals to increase taxes and has failed to support President Bush's call for a cut in the capital gains tax.

"I don't want to be in the Republican Party of New York if that's all they can talk about, the death penalty," Kemp said.

"I am for the death penalty, but that pales in significance to the need for a healthy economic and opportunity-oriented state, whether it is New York or the state of the economy nationally," he added.

Kemp also said that Rinfret, a wealthy Manhattan economist making his first run for public office, is the "beneficiary of the chaos" surrounding the GOP's search for a candidate to challenge Cuomo.

Kemp, who lives in Bethesda, is registered to vote in Maryland.

Rinfret campaign officials declined to comment on Kemp's remarks, but Republican National Committee spokeswoman Leslie Goodman said the party still expects Kemp to campaign on behalf of Rinfret this fall.

"When all is said and done, we support our Republican candidate 100 percent," Goodman said.