New York, New York
Carl Paladino should be kicking himself—or firing whoever’s been giving him political advice. The Buffalo businessman vying for New York’s governorship this election, now better known in the New York Post as “crazy Carl,” is running a confused, undisciplined campaign. Paladino has drawn national attention for all the wrong reasons: comments he’s made about homosexuals that many found offensive, physically threatening a reporter who he thought was getting too close to a child he had with a woman out of wedlock, and insinuating that his opponent, Democrat Andrew Cuomo, is having an affair without providing any actual evidence.
“I’m not politically correct, and I like being not politically correct,” Paladino told me. “I think political correctness is a way of denying truth to the people.”
“I could care less what those who don’t like me have to say about me,” he said about the overwhelmingly negative press coverage and his outspoken critics. “I don’t care what they think. It doesn’t matter. I could sleep through a train-wreck--I sleep very well at night.”
“I’m not an intimidatable person. Okay? I’m not politically correct. I’m not intimidatable. I’m very determined. When I want to do something, I will do it.”
On Monday night, the gubernatorial candidates will meet for a debate on Long Island, a constituency that Paladino calls “important” for him to win. The Republican insists that the mere fact Cuomo agreed to a debate is because Cuomo “knows he’s going to lose this election right now. He has to debate. He has to take that risk. He knows what’s going on behind the scenes. He can smell that the people--he doesn’t have an agenda.”
Most political pundits would scoff at Paladino’s arrogance. He’s down 19 points in the polls. And the debate, the only one on schedule, will include all seven candidates for governor--meaning the leader Cuomo will essentially be relegating Paladino to the status of the other five no-name candidates. But Paladino can’t help himself: “Absolutely brilliant that he agreed to a debate. He has nowhere to go but down.”
The thing is, when you actually get Paladino talking about the issues facing New York voters, something I found that he’s really trying to do these days, he’s surprisingly wonky, well-spoken, and even convincing.
So what’s the Paladino plan?
“We have two things we want to get across to voters: Our message, which is pretty basic, and our delivery--our ability to deliver,” Paladino told me in a private conference room in a swanky New York hotel. “Our substantive message is that we’re going to cut spending and we’re going to cut taxes.”
The Paladino plan is to cut 20 percent of spending in the New York State budget and to cut state income taxes by 10 percent. “That’s it. It’s that simple,” as he told me numerous times throughout our 45-minute conversation.
The cuts themselves--never mind Paladino’s other, more hair-raising rhetoric--would most certainly come with controversy. “In some cases we’re going to get rid of entire agencies; in other cases we’re going to get rid of just some departments and divisions; in some cases we’re going to combine things, we’re going to streamline,” Paladino explained. “There’s a bunch of different efforts that are included in cutting spending.”
Laying off state workers is never something that goes over too well. But that doesn’t deter Paladino.
What exactly would you cut, I asked the candidate, knowing that practically everyone, Democratic and Republican, talks very generally about cut backs when campaigning, and knowing that very few actually provide any sort of tangible way to cut back government spending and growth. “A couple small [government agencies]: The Adirondack Park Agency, [saving] $35 million a year, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Those are small. Large: Division of Housing and Community Renewal.” Sure, these agencies provide some services, Paladino said, but not much would be lost if they were reconstituted and combined with other government bureaucracies that are doing the same, or similar, things.
“We really want to create jobs, we just don’t want to say we’re creating jobs,” Paladino insisted, claiming that he’s results-oriented. “We don’t want to say, oh, we’ll pay this company so much money for every job they create. How about number one, we figure out how to retain jobs. We lost 274,000 jobs last year in the state of New York. Nevertheless, we hired thousands of people. . . . We’ve got 198,341 people working for the state of New York. They raise our taxes in the last two years [by] $15 billion. 198,341 people and you couldn’t find one to lay off? Not one. Not one. But, no, we want to create jobs. Because jobs is the number one thing for people. For their kids, for their grandchildren, for their neighbors, for their friends, for the people of the state of New York. Cutting spending, cutting taxes is how you get there.”
One example of a myriad Paladino offers is the wine industry in the state of New York: “To grow grapes and make wine in New York you have to have nine separate licenses. The only place on earth that you have such government intrusion in this industry.”
That means less intrusion from an “abusive” and “out-of-control” government. “Government can’t take advantage of the people….government should be for the people,” he says.
Paladino, who ran a very successful real estate development business, seems to sense that he and his foibles have been too much in the spotlight. “This election is about the people," he says. "It’s not about Carl Paladino. It’s not about Andrew Cuomo. It’s about the people. And the frustration of the people with their government.”
In our conversation, Paladino took frequent shots at Obamacare. “There’s another, better way to do this than create another goddamn bureaucracy – excuse my English.”
When one considers Paladino’s chances after the primary election, it’s pretty easy to see that at least at one point in this short campaign, he had a path to victory. The day before the Republican primary, Paladino told me, he was down one point. “I surged from single digits, over a period of two months [and] we won by 26 points.” Turnout in upstate New York was double for this Republican primary than most previous primaries. The polls, Paladino hopes, are not a good gauge of turnout. “The voters will speak on November 2.”
Circumstances gave Paladino a fighting chance, too: New York faces an uncontrollable state capital that has promised public sector unions far more than it would ever be able to deliver. The state’s spending has risen dramatically, and New York taxpayers are having to foot the bill with the highest taxes in the union.
And it’s an anti-incumbent year, and the businessman is running against a life-long politician who is currently his state’s attorney general. Paladino bristles at being described as a politician himself: “Am I a politician? Don’t ever, ever accuse me of that. Don’t say that in your article, please.”
If elected, Paladino promises to be a one-term candidate: “I’m running for four years [as governor]. That’s it. I swore on my children I will not serve a day longer than four years. I’m not looking to uphold an elected office. I’m not looking for a career in politics. Okay? I’m doing this as a service to the people of New York who have been maligned by their government. I’m not your normal, everyday guy.”
All this leads one to think: What if, after Paladino’s surprising upset in the Republican primary over former congressman Rick Lazio, he had run an issue-based, well-disciplined campaign? But that’s precisely what Paladino didn’t do.
Most experts now rightly consider his chances to be close to nil. His only hope may be for New Yorkers to decide that reputations can be deceiving. Eliot Spitzer was thought to be a reformer who had the potential to one day become president of the United States. But it all busted the day the former prosecutor was found to have been seeing prostitutes on the side even while he was serving as governor. As for Spitzer's successor David Paterson, he was very well liked and respected, but it turned out that he, too, had a women problem and a past drug problem.
What's known about Paladino are his antics. Underneath it all, however, there might be a man who could shake up Albany, possibly the most corrupt state government in the country.
Is Paladino crazy? Probably. Does he have the ability to blow-up? Clearly. Does he still present a better alternative to Cuomo? That’s a decision that New York voters will have to make on November 2.