ALBANY – Donald Trump, a man seldom at a loss for words, took to character-limiting Twitter to announce something that surprised few Democrats or Republicans: He won’t be running for New York governor.
In his posts Friday evening from his palatial estate in Florida, Trump tweeted no criticisms of the man he wanted to defeat – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo – but aimed his few words to bash the state Republican Party, calling its leadership “totally dysfunctional” and winless in statewide races for years.
“I have clearly stated that if the New York State Republican Party is able to unify, I would run for governor and win. They can’t unify – SAD,” Trump wrote.
He teased that he has “much bigger plans in mind – stay tuned.” He did not elaborate.
Trump critics called his gubernatorial ruminations just a publicity stunt by the billionaire who has his name on everything from office towers to casinos to dress shirts. Some Republicans also were privately wondering if Trump’s odyssey about a possible gubernatorial run that began in December didn’t end up helping Cuomo by detracting attention away from Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who a week ago did announce he is running for the GOP nomination to challenge Cuomo in the fall. The Republicans will pick their nominee at their convention in May, and Astorino is the only announced candidate.
“We’re grateful for his past support and look forward to following his future endeavors,” Jessica Proud, an Astorino spokeswoman, said of Trump.
State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox, despite the criticism he has received from Trump and some other Republicans, said Friday night he encouraged the billionaire to get in the race with Astorino. Trump maintained throughout that he would only run if the Republican leaders gave him a clear path to the nomination, which would mean no primary against Astorino.
Cox said a primary battle between Trump and Astorino would have been good for the party, getting publicity and driving home the party’s message against Cuomo. He said he recently went to Trump’s mansion in Florida to try to urge him to get in the race.
“The party will rally around Rob,” Cox said, noting that Astorino also has the backing of Mike Long, the chairman of the state Conservative Party, a small but influential group that Republicans running statewide need in order to go up against the voter enrollment edge Democrats enjoy statewide.
Republicans say Trump’s departure now will clearly focus the attention on Astorino, and help him in doing something essential: raising money to take on Cuomo, who has amassed at least $33 million in his campaign bank account for the fall election.
Trump, who got heavy encouragement from Republican operatives in Western New York to run for governor, declined an interview request. His senior adviser, Michael Cohen, would only say that Trump kept his word to make a decision by the end of the week.
Trump has insisted that he had the support of at least 60 percent of the weighted vote by county GOP leaders for the May nomination vote.
One of those county leaders who was hoping Trump would run is Nick Langworthy, the Erie County Republican Party chairman, who met with Trump and other Republicans three times in the billionaire’s Manhattan office to discuss strategy and the political calculations for a Trump run. Langworthy also hosted Trump at a January fundraiser for the local party group in Lancaster. On Friday evening, Langworthy said Trump called him to discuss his decision.
“He thanked me for everything that a lot of folks in Buffalo did with encouraging him to run, but ultimately he was not convinced that there could be unity in the party,” Langworthy said. He said Trump told him he wanted no part of a primary “and that his time was spent in better ways doing something else.”
“It looks now like we might have one candidate, not two. That’s the question I’ve been waiting to have answered and now it looks like we have a clear field for Rob,” Langworthy said. He added, “The party can unite around Rob.”
Langworthy was among those who believed Trump was serious about running and said the businessman, despite his many private sector interests, did much homework the past few months and held numerous meetings and strategy sessions about challenging Cuomo.
It remains to be seen whether Trump will stay on the scene to help Astorino. Trump has offered up much rhetoric that New York is failing under Cuomo’s leadership.
“He brings a large platform. He certainly has the ability to get a lot of media attention … If he is willing to be helpful I would hope that help would be taken advantage of,” Langworthy said.
Trump has said associates of Cuomo reached out to him to give him a clear signal that the governor did not want him to be his challenger in the fall – a suggestion, Trump interpreted, that the governor was most afraid of him as a political foe.
Assemblyman David DiPietro, an East Aurora Republican, met eight times with Trump to try to convince him to run. He said Trump, in a private meeting with him, Langworthy and Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino in Syracuse on Tuesday night, made it seem all but certain he would not be running. Trump was in Syracuse that night for a GOP fundraising dinner.
DiPietro said Cox, the GOP chairman, put up every possible roadblock to steer Trump away from running. “He got what he wanted. He played the heavy hand to get Trump out, so now he put his political future on the line,” DiPietro said of Cox if Astorino does not win.
Paladino did not return a call for comment Friday. He has threatened to try to run as a Conservative Party candidate if Trump did not run or if Astorino does not publicly oppose GOP legislative leaders in the Senate and Assembly who Paladino considers to be too liberal and too cozy with Cuomo.
Trump started out in December saying he had no interest in running. But he was approached by a number of Republicans, including DiPietro, in a meeting in his office, and ever since has sent signals that he would run if the state GOP leadership embraced him in a unified way and could guarantee there would be no primary.
“As far as I’m concerned, he didn’t want to sacrifice himself on the altar of a failed state Republican Party. I can’t blame him,” said Michael Caputo, an East Aurora political consultant who ran Paladino’s failed 2010 gubernatorial campaign and who was among the team of operatives trying to convince Trump to run.