November 4, 2008, was a blue day for Hudson Valley Republicans. That evening, Democratic candidate Barack Obama carried eight of the Valley’s 10 counties — Greene and Putnam were the only holdouts — en route to winning the presidency, and Democrats won all six of the region’s Congressional seats. On the state level, the Republicans managed to win just over half of the Senate districts in the Valley, only to see that victory offset by Democratic triumphs in two of every three Assembly seats in the region.
As is often the case in the first midterm elections following a president’s inauguration, however, the political winds seem to have shifted. The Tea Party, an antitax, antispending grassroots movement formed in response to Democratic initiatives such as the stimulus package and health care reform, has proven to pack a political wallop. In some cases, Republican voters have bucked the party leadership’s preferred candidates to nominate underdogs with platforms more closely aligned with Tea Party values, even as commentators warned that such candidates could scare away independent voters.
Into this maelstrom comes political novice Nan Hayworth, the Republican candidate for New York’s 19th Congressional district, which includes all of Putnam County and parts of Dutchess, Orange, Rockland and Westchester. Hayworth, a retired ophthalmologist from Mount Kisco, does not match the Tea Party profile of more-ballyhooed newcomers such as gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino: She has largely had the backing of the Republican establishment since she announced her candidacy. But she emphatically shares the Tea Party belief that spending in Washington is out of control. An early poll showed her with a small lead over two-term Democrat incumbent John Hall.
Hudson Valley sat down with Hayworth to discuss her thoughts on life in the Hudson Valley and what she aims to do in Congress, if elected.
Squaring off: Hayworth challenges incumbent Rep. John Hall (below, right) in the 19th District (a seat Hall has held since 2006)
Hudson Valley: Why are you running for Congress?
Nan Hayworth: Conviction and passion. When the supermajority was elected in November ’08, I became concerned about their reach and the continued expansion of the federal government that had already begun before that election. But they proceeded to carry the involvement of the federal government and the financial future of all of our citizens far beyond what the Constitution says.
There’s one word to describe me: I am a constitutionist. I believe fervently this is the greatest nation ever to exist, precisely because of the design of the Constitution that created a federal government with limited powers and that granted unprecedented freedoms to citizens. Because of that passionately held belief, I felt I could be an effective advocate.
Even my professional background, running a small business with my first practice, and my experience as a physician in a service profession; wife of 29 years and mother for about 20 years; I have elderly parents who lived in the district for 22 years — I think I have something to offer in terms of knowledge, experience and the desire to serve. I love to meet people and listen to them, take their concerns to heart, and try to work on solutions.
Had you considered a political career before? Or was it something that first came about in 2008?
In December ’08, my husband, actually, said to me: “You should run for Congress.” It was one of those moments, when someone will say something and it will strike a chord: “Well, maybe I should.” And that began a fairly extensive round of trial balloons with friends and colleagues. I’d tell them, “I’m thinking of running for Congress,” and see how they responded.
Did they respond positively?
They did. Many of them questioned my sanity, but in the nicest possible way.
You grew up in Indiana, then went to Princeton for college and Cornell for medical school. What made you choose to move to the Hudson Valley?
My husband Scott took a job with the Mount Kisco Medical Group in 1988. So we moved to Mount Kisco, and I felt at home from the very start. My favorite form of relaxation is to take a walk around the center of town. But I really haven’t had much time to do that in the past year and a half, unfortunately.
What else do you like to do to relax, when you do manage to find some time?
My moments of relaxation come down now to giving my cats a hug and a kiss. And enjoying the company of my family whenever I can manage to spend some time with them. I have the great blessing of being with cherished friends much of the time so I don’t find the campaign trail to be burdensome.
There are all kinds of challenges, but there are so many compensatory blessings that it would be small-minded of me to say I’m stressed.
So you’re a cat person?
I am. We just lost my precious Laura, who died of complications of heart disease last week. But she lived a charmed life, to say the very least.
We just adopted a little girl [cat]. One of my friends said, “You know, you have so much love to give, and there are so many little ones who need it. Don’t wait. Bring another cat into your life.” She was found full of sores, on a street in the Bronx, three months ago. She was nursed back to better health, and she’s in good shape now.
A Democrat who lives in Dover Plains, John Hall — who faces off with Hayworth for the 19th District seat — was profiled by Joe Queenan in HV’s October 2006 issue
How has your husband been involved in the campaign?
He’s been extraordinarily helpful in many ways. It was his suggestion that I run — it was strictly because he thought I’d be a perfect congresswoman, not because of some self-aggrandizing motive or anything like that. And he’s undergone sacrifices. Family time is almost none. They go on vacations without me, because I’m here. He’s poured a lot of energy and effort into the campaign.
You have two sons?
Yes, they’re 19 and 17 years old. The oldest is a senior at Simon’s Rock, which is a division of Bard College. He’s actually deferred his senior year in order to help with the campaign. We’re delighted he decided to do that. He’s been indispensable to me.
What is your biggest concern as a parent raising children in the Hudson Valley?
My biggest concern is that they and everyone of their generation will have the opportunity that Americans have had since the founding of this country. No other country in history has moved so many millions from poverty and despair to prosperity.
I do fear that a federal government that spends as extremely as this one does, that is nationalizing enormous chunks of our economy and seeing itself as the regulator of all things, will stifle a vibrant economy, as well as innovation and creativity. [I fear that] all of the great things we think about when we think about free enterprise, that those things won’t be available, not only on the personal side but in terms of our strength as the greatest democracy in the world. We have to defend this country, and we are weakened when our economy is weakened.
Do you feel you’ve experienced any special challenges — or advantages — as a woman running for office?
I’ve always been one of those people who doesn’t look at gender when I go into an endeavor. Other than childbearing, of course. (Laughs.) But being a mother has certainly informed my view of the world, and I think it has been very helpful. One of the things you appreciate as a mother is you can encounter substantial challenges to your own view to the way things can be ordered. But in terms of my gender per se, I haven’t perceived it as an impediment.
On your Web site, you say taxes are “killing” the Hudson Valley. What do you mean by that?
On the ground in the district, my fellow citizens describe overwhelmingly that they are having trouble — if not in their own lives directly, in the lives of their friends and their neighbors and their loved ones. They’re worried about being able to afford to stay New Yorkers. The federal tax burden, federal spending, and new regulations have a chilling effect on enterprise, on businesses big and small, on all of the endeavors we use to keep body and soul together. We have empty storefronts. We have employers who are leaving the area, or who are reluctant to hire or grow because they don’t know what this government is going to do. It’s the number one concern of the people who live in District 19.
What we tax, we suppress. You get less of what you tax. Now, certain reasonable taxes can be levied on the things our government really needs to do on the local, state, and federal level. This federal government is spending like mad on a jobless stimulus. There have been no net benefits from the $1 trillion, when you add it all up, that has been spent in the stimulus. We’re the ones who are paying the taxes that are bailing out industries that have not had a bearing, in terms of benefits, on the lives of the people in our district. We feel as though we’re spending for a lot of stuff and getting very little for that money, if anything. We have projects that need to be done in the district, that our municipalities should be able to fund. They can’t fund them because they’re losing their tax base. People’s incomes are shrinking, people are leaving. We could do so much better.
Which taxes do you believe should be lowered?
You’d like to see taxes reduced across the board, with corresponding cuts in spending. It’s easy to say, I recognize. It will be an ongoing challenge to accomplish that. But what do we intend to do? As expeditiously as possible, we intend to perpetuate the ’01 and ’03 tax cuts. I’d like to see them made permanent. I would definitely like to see the Alternative Minimum Tax eliminated, the death tax eliminated, capital gains or corporate dividend taxes reduced. That’s true stimulus because when the resources and money stay in the private sector, good things can happen. Even if the money’s simply in the bank, the bank can use those funds to make loans.
We also need to control spending. The new health law entails an enormous new burden in federal spending. The goal is good. It’s just a very bad law. But we can do it better, if we have the resolve to suspend this bill and repeal it. If we have a veto-proof majority in the Congress, both houses, we can repeal it. But if not, we will steadily defund it and depower it, and work to replace it with a plan that allows insurance to be sold across state lines and empowers health savings accounts. It will control costs so the consumers will be in charge. One of the big problems with the law is that ultimately the federal government will be deciding how to allocate resources for health care. I would rather the American public make those decisions for themselves. And we need liability reform. Because defensive medicine is an enormous cost and a waste of resources.
So in the case of certain items under the new health care law — children being able to stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26; no lifetime cap on benefits; insurers not being allowed to deny benefits based on preexisting conditions — you wouldn’t want the federal government to regulate that sort of thing? You’d leave it up to the market?
The problem is that when the federal government mandates it, it becomes something every policyholder has to pay for. And those particular items may not be something every policyholder wants to pay for. A marketplace always ends up with a variety of choices, because there’s a market for those who want to insure people up to age 26. Go after that market. But make it a choice for people, and then they can decide how much or how little they want to pay for it. Some people want more contingencies, some want less. I’d rather pay less on my policy and pay more on the other end.
Partisanship seems as intense as ever in Congress, and some of these issues you’ve described — taxes, health care — are major problems. Do members of Congress need to make a better effort at bipartisanship and compromise on these issues? Or are these issues so important that members need to fight for what they believe in, regardless of the discord it creates?
This Congress has been dominated by a certain philosophy, which sees bigger government as the source of all solutions, and the challenges we face as having to be solved by increased regulation, increased federal government involvement, increased spending. Republicans in this Congress have been in the position of representing the taxpayer and the private sector, and I think that’s where they had to be. Because what has passed has been damaging to the economy and the citizens these regulations are supposed to help. The employment rate has risen. Our college graduates are especially afflicted by a lack of opportunity. Among the less wealthy, the jobless rate is even worse. It’s a decline that affects all of us.
I think you’re going to see strong advocacy. I think there will be a new majority, and you are going to see very strong advocacy, especially given that those of us who are running on the Republican side — because generally small-government advocates are going to be Republicans — are being given unequivocal orders, if you will, by the voting public, that they want to see the spending stop, they want to see their taxes reduced, they want to see the private sector grow again, they want to see the government shrink.
You want to see strong advocacy in that way. It has to be done with an attitude that is not bitter, that is not accusatory, that acknowledges that all of us have this job to do together. But there is going to be the rise of a new philosophy that brings the government back within its constitutional bounds.
The biggest storyline this political season has been the rise of the Tea Party. Your opponent in the Republican primary, Neil DiCarlo, frequently identified himself as a Tea Party member. Do you?
I’m a member of the Hudson Valley Patriots. I am a proud Son of Liberty and I’ve been endorsed by the Tri-State Sons of Liberty [which] is not a Tea Party group per se; it’s a patriot group concentrating on the Constitution.
What I have in common with members of the Tea Party in general, is that we do emphasize what the Constitution laid out as the plan for the United States of America. I share the concern that I perceive on the part of members of the Tea Party that the federal government has grown far beyond those boundaries, in ways that present a threat from within. In those senses, I am totally in agreement with that enormous enthusiasm toward returning to the Constitution, respecting the enumerated powers, and respecting what’s reserved to the states and citizens.
Sparring partners: Rep. Maurice Hinchey and his Republican challenger, George Phillips (below, right)
Maurice Hinchey, a Democrat from Hurley, has represented New York’s 22nd Congressional district — which includes Ulster and small portions of Orange and Dutchess counties — since 1992. He is seeking a 10th term in November.
Hudson Valley: First thing’s first: After you’ve spent a long week in Washington and you come home to your district, where do you go to grab a bite to eat?
Maurice Hinchey: I get it wherever I can. (Laughs.) When I have time, there are a number of nice little restaurants around here where I like to pop in, but I don’t get a chance to do it very often. You do the best you can. A lot of work these days.
Do you have any favorite spots or parks here in the Valley?
I love the Hudson Valley, and I am dedicated and devoted to the Hudson River Valley. It’s one of the most wonderful places in this country.
I have done a number of things to try to draw attention to the Hudson Valley, and I’ve been doing it for years, starting when I was a member of the State Assembly. The Hudson River Greenway was established, which was designed to get the communities along the Hudson to focus more attention on the river and on each other. When I went down to Washington, I was able to establish the Hudson River Valley as a National Heritage Area. Every time I come back up from Washington, D.C., I see that big sign there for the National Heritage Area. This is an issue I got established back in the late ’90s.
You authored a bill, ultimately passed by the House, that would commission a study about whether to make the Hudson Valley a unit of the National Park Service system. Why are you a proponent of such a designation, and what would it mean for Hudson Valley residents?
It wouldn’t mean there would be any federal purchasing and ownership of the area. The main purpose of this objective is to draw national attention to the history of the Hudson River and the Hudson River Valley. There would be a lot of attention that would be paid by the federal government through the Environmental Protection Agency. It would put a good focus on places that are national areas, like Washington Headquarters in Newburgh, where Washington spent most of his time in the context of the revolutionary operation. He did so because of the importance of the Hudson River and to maintain the freedom of the Hudson River.
That would be one of the things that would generate economic growth. It would bring in people from around the country and even out of the country.
You grew up in Saugerties and have represented various parts of the Valley for 40 years. In that time, jobs have shifted from manufacturing and agriculture to other sectors. How does the economic outlook for the region now compare to 40 years ago?
When I graduated from high school in Saugerties, I enlisted in the Navy. I spent several years in the Navy, most of it on a destroyer in the western Pacific. When I came back, I went to work for one of those manufacturing plants, a cement plant just north of Saugerties. I spent two years there. So I’ve always been very deeply interested in the situation here.
We had a tragedy take place in 1995, when IBM left the operation just north of Kingston. What I have done is to restimulate that whole area, now called Tech City. In 2007, I initiated a not-for-profit corporation called the Solar Energy Consortium, known as TSEC. We’ve been able to generate a substantial number of jobs, and Tech City, the former IBM plant, is now back alive. It used to be virtually empty.
On the issue of solar energy, we have been able to bring in more than 600 jobs to Tech City. We’ve also brought in agricultural jobs, to help in the sale of agricultural products that are developed in this region. We helped Taylor Biomass, which is located in Orange County. I’ve worked with them over the past several years, and we were able to win a key federal award to support its initiation and expansion. Just a few weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Energy gave initial approval for a $100 million small-interest loan, which will guarantee the company can construct and operate a very significant biomass facility in Montgomery. It will be the biggest and most effective biomass facility in this part of the country. The project is going to create 400 local jobs in the construction phase, and when it is in full operation, there will be 80 full-time jobs to deal with the high-tech business.
As a self-described progressive and Democrat, how do you explain the dramatic rise in anger from groups like the Tea Party about the level of spending in Washington?
Well, the anger we should focus on in regard to the spending in Washington was the illicit spending of money in the invasion of Iraq. The Bush administration spent hundreds of billions in borrowed money year after year, so they created a huge debt for the country. Very few people understand that. It hasn’t been explained adequately to most people. But that’s the major cause of the downslide of this economy, the growing debt — which has now gone up to $1 trillion — because of the borrowed money for the military operation in Iraq, which had no justification. They had no connection to the attack on September 11.
To back that, we have not had adequate internal investment in our own country for many years. Now we’re beginning to see that change. We have been able to initiate investment in the internal needs of this country: to generate jobs, promote economic growth; to upgrade the quality of the basic infrastructure of our nation, transportation included.
If you look at some of the ways in which roads are being upgraded here in the Hudson Valley, you can see how the money is being spent, how jobs are being created and how the economy is going up. Route 128, heading west, for example, across Ulster County — it’s now becoming much better. It was a very bad road with a lot of holes in it, a very dangerous situation. Now it’s smooth and effective.
What do you say to people who agree that these sort of changes are needed here in the Valley, but that now may not be the best time to do so because of the state of the economy?
It is the best time to do it because of the state of the economy. We need to invest internally. That’s what we’ve been doing. When you invest internally, you stimulate growth, you generate jobs, and you bring back more than what you invested.
What we have done here in that context is the Walkway Over the Hudson. I was able to get the first funding for that project, which has attracted 500,000 visitors — or something like that — so far. That’s helping the economy. People are stopping and spending money.
Rather than pouring money outside of this country the way previous administrations have done, we’re instead investing internally. That generates jobs. When you pour money out of the country, that reduces jobs. That downslides the economy. For example, during the Bush administration, there were a lot of companies that were in many ways encouraged to move from the United States to places like China. That created job loss here. We’re stopping that and moving in the opposite direction, including trying to bring some of those companies back to the United States.
Do you think another stimulus is needed, or do you think we should wait and allow the previous stimulus package to continue to take effect?
More is needed, and hopefully there will be some more coming in.
Phillips, who lives in Endwell, Broome County, is looking to defeat Hinchey in the 22nd Congressional district (a seat the Hurley Democrat has held since 1993)
Your opponent this year, George Phillips, is running on a platform of cutting government waste. For instance, he’s proposed cutting 10 federal agencies down to just three. Do you see government waste as a significant problem?
I think he just doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. He doesn’t understand the situation in this country; he doesn’t understand the things we’ve been talking about and the positive things that we’ve been engaged in. What we have done is bring the federal taxes that people have been paying back into the federal government, bringing huge amounts of money back here for investment internally.
One of the more pressing issues facing your district is the high level of gang activity in Newburgh and the attendant high murder rate. The FBI had a major sting operation there in May, and I know you’ve pushed the federal government to name the city a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which is an ongoing process. What sort of progress, if any, can Newburgh residents expect in the short term and the long term?
One of the things we’ve done is to bring federal attention to the situation there. You’ve had a lot of people that are coming up from adverse circumstances in the New York City area, generating this kind of violence up here in Newburgh. So it’s a situation that involves not just the city of Newburgh, but other places. We’ve involved the federal government directly in the situation.
Another thing we’re trying to do is to upgrade the quality of the government of the city of Newburgh. We need a group of people in the city government who will be responsible for specific parts of the city. Because they’re all general across the city, there is a lot of inadequate attention that has been placed on parts of that city. I know the mayor of Newburgh is very much interested in this. He understands it. We’re working with him to try to improve the quality of the government there.
Is there anything else you can do about the situation at the federal level?
We’ve put a significant amount of money into Newburgh to try to upgrade the area. The situation is in the process of changing. It’s been down for decade after decade. We have helped generate the deep change along the Hudson River in Newburgh. There’s so much activity which a lot of people have brought to that part of Newburgh. We’ve been working with the mayor and the county here to bring in an aspect of the education operation in Orange County. We’ve been able to bring in federal funding for more police jobs so they can oversee the situation and deal with it more effectively.
You’ve served in Albany for nearly two decades and Washington for nearly two decades. For how long do you think you’ll continue to seek office? Have you given any thought to retiring?
(Laughs.) Well, I’ve given some thought to retiring eventually. The fact of the matter is I’m now a senior member of the appropriations committee, which determines the allocation of federal funding throughout the country. If I’m reelected, I’m going to be a substantially more senior member of the committee, and over the course of the next couple of years, I’ll be able to do even more than I’ve already done for this region.
As a member of Congress, my main obligation is to be responsible to this area. That’s my job — to do everything I can to improve the situation and to make it a better, happier, more secure place for people to live, with better jobs and a better future for all the people here. That’s the focus of my attention, and that’s what I’ve been doing, to a large extent, successfully.
Photograph by Cheryl Casey/Shutterstock
Tea Party supporters advocate less taxation and a scaled-down federal government. But whether their candidates can win in New York is not at all certain
Given the amount of media coverage Glenn Beck and the Tea Party faithful receive, you might get the impression they’ve been marching down the nation’s highways, adding millions to their ranks by the hour, poised to topple every Congressional office and state house in the continental United States.
It’s a little more nuanced than that, of course. The movement’s influence varies state by state, region by region.
So is it tea time in the Hudson Valley? Or is that whistling coming from the kitchen just Uncle Lou trying to entertain himself?
Locally, the Tea Party’s numbers — to the extent they can be determined — are relatively impressive. When the first tea parties were held in April 2009, approximately 4,000 people headed to Dutchess Stadium in Fishkill, making it the 25th-largest of the thousands of events to be held that day nationwide. Carl Paladino — the highest-profile Tea Party candidate running for office in New York — carried every Valley county except Westchester in the Republican gubernatorial primary. (Results for Columbia County were not available at press time.) Other self-identified tea partiers, however — such as 19th District congressional candidate Neil DiCarlo — lost their races.
As the elections draw closer, groups such as the Hudson Valley Patriots and the Orange/Sullivan 912 Tea Party are organizing meetings with candidates and packing debate halls, though most groups stay away from official endorsements. Lisa Douglas, a mother of five from North Salem, founded the Patriots in October 2009 when she started a blog on the Hudson Valley Moms Web site. “I needed someone my age to talk to,” Douglas says. “It was pretty much a therapy session for me.”
Douglas now sends out a daily e-mail to about 2,250 people, including congressional candidate Nan Hayworth. She also publishes a newspaper, titled the Well-Informed Citizen, and distributes it to train stations in Dutchess, Putnam, Westchester, Orange and Rockland counties. Dick Armey, a former congressman from Texas and one of the Tea Party’s most prominent voices, thought enough of the group to kick off his national book tour at a Patriots event.
Whatever the Tea Party’s influence within the Republican party, however, its power over the electorate is unclear. Gerald Benjamin, a SUNY New Paltz political science professor and the director of the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach, doesn’t foresee a small-government platform succeeding in a general election. “New York is a pro-government state,” Benjamin says. “Republicans in New York say, ‘We can do things more efficiently.’ They’ve never successfully argued that less government is the goal.”
Questions about the long-term viability of the movement remain as well. When citizens are less worried about their money, they may be less worried about how the government spends it. “People, most of the time, don’t care what the government does or how it does it — as long as expectations are met,” Benjamin says.
Take a look at the county-by-county totals for Paladino, for example. He scored a whopping 74 percent of Republicans’ votes in Ulster County, the highest percentage of any county in the mid-Hudson Valley, according to unofficial primary results. While any number of factors might explain Paladino’s popularity in Ulster, it’s notable that a CRREO report on the region’s economic well-being rated Ulster’s economic viability at nearly 25 percent below the state average. In Dutchess County, where the economy rated slightly above the statewide average, Paladino garnered 60 percent of the vote, and in Orange, which hit the average on the nose, 54 percent.
It’s hard to say how much the economy weighed on Ulster voters’ minds, Benjamin says. But it’s possible their fervor over government spending will temper if the economy improves.
Douglas doesn’t see it that way. “The real job begins in November,” she says. “If we go back to sleep, things will go right back to the way they were.” Better make sure that next cup’s not decaf, then.
Common ground? Incumbent Greg Ball and his Democratic challenger, Michael Kaplowitz (right), vie for the State Senate seat in the 40th District. Both candidates have pledged to cap property and school taxes for those over 65
Greg Ball may be the most enigmatic politician from Putnam County since John Cesar stalked the streets of Brewster collecting discarded cans to fund a mayoral run. (He won!) Last May, the 33-year-old Republican assemblyman announced he was taking on John Hall for New York’s 19th congressional seat, then zigzagged across the district shaking hands and snagging headlines. In November, he abruptly dropped out of the race and declared his candidacy for the State Senate’s 40th District seat, explaining Albany still needed reforming. The Senate Republican Campaign Committee, apparently displeased with the prospect of Ball’s return to the capital, funneled tens of thousands of dollars to his opponent in the Republican primary. Ball still won.
His opponent for the seat is Michael Kaplowitz, a Democratic county legislator in Westchester. (The 40th District includes Putnam, northern Westchester, and parts of eastern Dutchess counties.) Kaplowitz, an attorney and financial planner, describes himself as a “fiscal conservative,” touting his role in keeping county sales taxes the lowest in the state and increases in property taxes around the annual rate of inflation. Ball — who brags he hosted a “tax revolt” in Carmel a year before the first tea parties — is focusing on instituting a cap on property taxes and freezing school-tax rates for taxpayers once they reach the age of 65. But Kaplowitz too pledges to cap property and school taxes.
Since there isn’t much daylight between the candidates’ platforms, the race will likely come down to which downstater presents his message most effectively. A Ball rout on November 2 saves face and erases memories of his withdrawal from the House race. A Kaplowitz win marks a milestone victory in his own career and delivers a sizable dent to his opponent’s lofty political ambitions.
Albany showdown: Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Cuomo (above) faces off against renegade Republican (and Tea Party devotee) Carl Paladino on Nov. 2. Paladino pulled off a shocking victory in the Republican primary by defeating the heavily favored Rick Lazio
Carl Paladino, a tea-partying, millionaire real estate developer from Buffalo who shocked the political world by thrashing establishment favorite Rick Lazio in the Republican gubernatorial primary, does not mince words. “They say I’m too blunt,” he told supporters after winning the nomination in September. “I am, and I don’t apologize for it.” Paladino has called former governor George Pataki a “degenerate idiot” and said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whom he has compared to Hitler, belongs in prison. Voters may be interested less in his taunts and more in his pledge to cut taxes by 10 percent and spending by 20 percent in his first year in office. That’ll be a tall order to pass through the infamously obstinate Legislature, but Paladino is undeterred. “New York politicians — and the special interests that control them — need to come to terms with the fact that money does not grow on trees,” he says.
Paladino’s Democratic opponent, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, has proffered less austere belt-tightening measures, promising to exact a cap on state spending and to freeze taxes and state employees’ salaries. Cuomo locked up the Democrats’ gubernatorial slot the moment David Paterson began floundering. Naturally, voters will compare him to his father, three-term governor Mario.
The more apt comparison, however, may be to onetime rival Eliot Spitzer. Like Spitzer, Cuomo burnished his credentials for the governorship as a Wall Street-bashing attorney general. Like Spitzer, he’s expected to win big. And like Spitzer, he has vowed to change Albany, despite having spent years as part of its establishment. Of course, unlike Spitzer, Cuomo has avoided unsavory client lists. And the “Prince of Darkness,” a nickname Cuomo picked up as his father’s hard-charging campaign manager, has the benefit of learning — if he so chooses — from Spitzer’s and Mario’s mistakes.
Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, says New Yorkers want a governor who will render Albany functional, a priority that seemingly points to a fresh-faced agitator such as Paladino. “Clearly, Paladino’s the outsider,” Miringoff says. “The question is whether he’s outside voters’ range of acceptability.” An early Marist poll showed Cuomo with 52 percent of the vote, Paladino with 33 percent, and Lazio — who scored the Conservative party ballot line, but quickly dropped out of the race — with nine percent. Paladino will grab many of Lazio’s supporters, but he’ll need a sustained momentum push or a major Cuomo gaffe to make up the difference.