ALBANY – Sen. John DeFrancisco started his campaign for governor Tuesday trailing far behind the incumbent, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in the fundraising race and facing statewide voter registration that shows two Democrats for every Republican.
The Republican from the Syracuse area says numbers don't tell the whole story.
“I’m not the type of person that says, ‘Look, he can’t be beaten. He’s not vulnerable. Let’s give him a life term. Let’s make him the monarch of the state of New York.’ I think whatever the odds are, you’ve got to do what you think is right,’’ DeFrancisco told a handful of reporters at the state Capitol on Tuesday.
Later in the day, DeFrancisco was to hold an event in the Syracuse area, where he has been their representative in the Senate since 1993, to formally announce he is a candidate for the GOP nomination for governor
DeFrancisco, the deputy majority leader of the state Senate, lives in DeWitt outside Syracuse. He is a former trial lawyer and today is of-counsel to the DeFrancisco and Falgiatano law firm.
The senator joins Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, who represents the Finger Lakes region, and Joel Giambra, former Erie County Executive, as candidates for the GOP nomination.
DeFrancisco comes to the campaign with two campaign accounts totaling just under $1.5 million. Cuomo earlier this month reported a campaign bank balance of $30.5 million.
DeFrancisco sought to flip the fundraising situation.
“Even though he’s got a ton of money, I think that may be damaging in a certain way,’’ he said.
DeFrancisco noted the big donations Cuomo gets from Hollywood and the television industry, which are both beneficiaries of more than $400 million a year in New York tax credits that Cuomo has pushed for years. The senator said he will have enough money to challenge Cuomo.
“You don’t need $30 million to beat anybody,’’ he said.
The Syracuse-area Republican runs with Conservative Party backing and is known in Albany for his wit and ability to debate. A couple years ago, he lost out on a bid to become Senate majority leader, a post that went to Long Island Sen. John Flanagan.
DeFrancisco dismissed the rosy picture of New York that Cuomo likes to paint. He noted migration of New Yorkers to other states, that one-third of New Yorkers are on Medicaid and that Cuomo wants to raise more than $1 billion in new taxes and fees in the coming state budget.
“The governor can have as many news conferences as he wants to show how he’s done wonderful things for the upstate economy. It’s just not the case. People are voting with their feet,’’ DeFrancisco said.
Cuomo finds himself this week watching the second week of a corruption trial of his longtime confidante Joseph Percoco, who was charged with taking bribes from three private sector executives – with business before the state – who are also on trial with him in lower Manhattan. In June, some of the governor’s key upstate economic development programs, including the Buffalo Billion initiative, will come under scrutiny in a corruption trial that features Alain Kaloyeros, a former SUNY college president who Cuomo turned to for help with big upstate projects, and several businessmen, including three former executives with Buffalo’s LPCiminelli general contracting company.
Do those trials make Cuomo politically vulnerable?
“I think his record makes him vulnerable politically, his entire record, and the corruption trials certainly don’t help,’’ said DeFrancisco, a Duke University law school graduate and a former prosecutor in Onondaga County.
DeFrancisco appears willing to grab the underdog title as he starts his campaign, dismissing questions that suggest Cuomo is looking at a certain third term victory. “The rationale is, really, that we need a change in direction … My real feeling is enough is enough and somebody’s got to do it and I’ve got the fire in the belly and I’m going to go for it,’’ he said.
Geoff Berman, executive director of the New York State Democratic Committee, blasted DeFrancisco as out-of-step with the views of New Yorkers on a range of policy issues stretching from gun control to the environment.
"The moderate Republican Party is dead in New York and has been taken over by the extreme conservatives who shaped the Trump candidacy,'' Berman said in a statement.