Rick Lazio, the state’s only declared candidate for governor, came to Kingston this Tuesday promising change and renewal if elected.
Lazio, 52, a former three-term Republican congressman from Long Island, was defeated for U.S. Senate by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2000. He has since held a number of private-sector positions, most recently as an executive with Morgan Stanley Bank.
“We need to bring private-sector discipline to the public sector,” he said at a press conference at Nekos Restaurant on Wall Street in Kingston. Speaking of a looming $9 billion state budget deficit, he said, “Everything (in terms of program reduction) has to be on the table,” he said.
Lazio was critical of his would-be Democratic opponent, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, whom he accused of “trying to run out the clock” by refusing formally to declare his candidacy or to speak publicly on issues confronting the state. Major-party nominating conventions will be held in late May or early June.
Responding to a reporter’s question, Lazio said he found “appalling and unbearable” the last three years in Albany. “What with Hevesi, Spitzer, Paterson and Rangel [Charles Rangel, a congressman from Manhattan] we have become the corruption capital of America,” he said.
He said New Yorkers were looking for change, but would “only achieve the status quo with Andrew Cuomo.”
A former lobbyist, Lazio charged Cuomo with accepting “millions” in campaign donations from special interests.”
“I’m not an apologist for Wall Street,” he said, speaking of his own connections to big banking,” but I’d rather have people paying taxes in New York than Hong Kong. The financial sector is vital to the economy of this state.”
Lazio dismissed as premature recent polls that show Cuomo with a double-digit lead. “We were up in some polls by 12 points [in 2000],” he said. Clinton won the election by 12 points.
Lazio said dealing with the state’s “fiscal and ethical problems” would be his first priority as governor. “I wouldn’t be in Gov. Paterson’s position if I had been governor,” he said. “I would not have signed a budget [last March] calling for a spending increase triple that of inflation.”
Speaking to perennial themes in Albany, he said state government needed to establish “responsible” revenue projections certified by the state comptroller. Absent agreement, he would use actual revenues collected the year previous as the benchmark for going forward.
Lazio has called for abolition of the state Senate, but allowed that such a fundamental change in state government would be unlikely absent a constitutional convention. Lazio believes unicameral state government, similar to the structure of local government, would be more transparent and responsive. In the final analysis, he said it is the people in government who make the difference.
Pushback from tea partiers
Lazio spoke of the 900,000 New Yorkers out of work in this recession. “We are badly losing the fight for competiveness,” he said. He called for a cap on property taxes and a reduction in state taxes on businesses with fewer than 100 employees. He also wants to reduce state spending on Medicaid (about 30 percent of the state budget) and cut the state workforce.
Lazio said recent suggestions to close or limit the hours of state parks were “a reflection on the depth of failure of state government.”
He felt David Paterson’s ability to govern was being compromised by the controversy surrounding him. He said that the governor should speak directly to the people on the allegations. Paterson, who is not a candidate for election, has said he cannot speak because of legal action pending against him, some of which is being pursued by Cuomo’s office.
Lazio, who said he was confident he would be the Republican and Conservative nominee and is seeking the Independence Party nod, said he would also actively pursue tea-party discontents. A Republican moderate, he said he expects some “pushback” from the more radical elements of the tea party, but said, “We can’t be influenced by fringe elements at either end of the spectrum.”
With Democrats outnumbering Republicans in the state by a 5-3 margin, Republicans enter most statewide contests as underdogs. Lazio plans to run a populist campaign. “We’re listening, talking to people, building a grassroots movement.” he said. Nekos’ chocolate Easter bunnies gazed silently on.
“We need an army of people. This is not about stacking up big shots. If people don’t come out and make a choice for change, we are [all] lost.”
Prior to his 40-minute press conference, Lazio met in private at county Republican headquarters on Wall Street with local Republican elected officials and politicians, including tea-party enthusiasts.
“It was a good exchange,” GOP county Chairman Mario Catalano said. “We got an idea of what he’s about, and he probably heard a few things he didn’t want to hear.”
The last gubernatorial candidate to visit Nekos (and Kingston) was Eliot Spitzer in 2006.