NEW YORK – Marcus Molinaro, selected Wednesday as the Republican gubernatorial candidate at the party’s convention, called for “a revolution in New York” and sought to portray himself as an “ordinary New Yorker” trying to take on a member of a Democratic political dynasty.
In the most important speech thus far in his fledgling gubernatorial campaign, Molinaro, called himself an agent of change who will bring fresh views and transparency to “shake the yoke of corruption” that has left the state Capitol weary by ongoing scandals.
“When are we going to break the chains of self-interested state government? When are we going to free ourselves from the humiliating corruption in Albany that taxes not only our wallets but our spirit? When have we had enough? It has to be now,’’ Molinaro told GOP delegates.
Molinaro and his fellow Republicans highlighted Albany’s seemingly unending reign of political scandals and said the little-known Molinaro can make in-roads against Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo by explaining to voters the financial and other ramifications of all the corruption cases New Yorkers have witnessed in their state Capitol.
Molinaro, the 42-year-old Dutchess County Executive who also goes by "Marc," peppered his acceptance speech with a mix of softer edge themes from perhaps some past GOP gubernatorial candidates, but gave delegates plenty of traditional Republican rhetoric about the woes of New York’s high taxation and big government programs. The Republican said he would not “cede compassion” to Cuomo and the Democrats, who have sought to portray Molinaro in the mold of President Trump, who remains highly unpopular in blue state New York.
Molinaro said he will unveil a plan to cut property taxes, not just cap their growth, and force the state to take over Medicaid costs funded by counties, halt back-door, non-voter sanctioned borrowing by the state and halt “corporate welfare” that drives big subsidies to companies. He vowed he would impose a two-term, eight-year limit if elected governor.
“Stay tuned, because we’re going to break some eggs. No more sacred cows in New York. No third-rail excuses, only real, meaningful, sustained relief and economic opportunity," Molinaro told delegates after they unanimously supported his bid to be at the top of their ticket in November.
Molinaro joined in on Republican efforts to tag Cuomo as coming from and living in political privilege. “I don’t come from wealth or fame. I wasn’t born into a political dynasty. I’m no film or television star. I’m just an everyday New Yorker with a calling and some hard-earned know-how. I make no other claim," said Molinaro, who was raised by a single mother who had to go on food stamps.
“I stand before you today proudly staking my claim to normalcy, to being an ordinary New Yorker. I wear it as a badge of honor," added Molinaro, a former member of the state Assembly whose first elected office post – mayor at age 18 of the village of Tivoli in northern Dutchess County along the Hudson River – made him the youngest mayor in the United States at the time.
Molinaro sought to reach out across party, ethnic, racial and sexual preference lines. “I know what it means to struggle. I know what it’s like to need a helping hand," he said.
To make their point about GOP underdogs able to win a governor’s race in New York, Republicans turned to former Gov. George Pataki, the little-known state senator from the Hudson Valley who defied polls and pundits in 1994 and ousted Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo, from the governor’s mansion. Pataki went on to serve three terms.
Pataki, in brief remarks to delegates to introduce Molinaro, recalled a reporter telling him of a poll coming out the weekend before the 1994 governor’s election that showed him down 17 points. He won by 4 points, defeating a liberal icon of the Democratic Party. Pataki criticized the media for discounting Molinaro’s campaign as unwinnable. “You wrote the same thing about me in 1994," Pataki told the gathering.
After Molinaro’s speech, Pataki told reporters that the new GOP nominee has plenty of time to get his name and message out to voters. “People don’t know Marc. They didn’t know me (in 1994). But they know that Albany needs to be changed dramatically," the former governor said.
Beyond the usual rallying cries against such things as New York’s standing as a "tax hell" state, Republicans pounded a central theme throughout the first day of the convention: corruption in Albany. Though wrongdoing has not by any means been exclusive to Democrats, Ed Cox, the GOP chairman, started off his statewide Democratic wrongdoers’ list with former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi and reminded delegates of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and, more recently, former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, all being pushed out of office in disgrace.
Cox touched on scandals that have rocked former close associates of Gov. Cuomo, including Joseph Percoco, convicted earlier this year in a bribery case, and the upcoming Buffalo Billion trial that has federal prosecutors keying in on how major development deals were done in Buffalo and the Syracuse area. “A fish rots from the head and Andrew Cuomo heads our state government," Cox said.
“This is the place where we come together united in our mission to restore honesty, integrity and effective governance in New York," Cox said.
Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy said the party needs to be “constantly” reminding voters about the Percoco and Buffalo Billion corruption cases.
Republicans, however, have some number problems. First, they will never be able to raise the money Cuomo has been hauling in since becoming governor in 2011. Second, Democrats have deep get-out-the-vote organizational abilities, largely the courtesy of labor unions aligned with Cuomo. Third, there is the GOP voter enrollment problem: 6.2 million New Yorkers are registered as Democrats, compared with 2.8 million Republicans.
But Republicans at the sparsely attended gathering in a ballroom of a former midtown movie theater were putting a good face on things Wednesday, saying Molinaro’s status as an underdog is an asset at a time like this in New York politics. “Nobody’s going to out-work Marc Molinaro,’’ Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, who earlier this year ended his own GOP gubernatorial campaign, told delegates.
Republicans also have another hope that they say could help Molinaro with a path to victory: Cynthia Nixon. The activist and actress is challenging Cuomo from the left, trying to mount a Democratic Party primary against Cuomo. She already has secured the Working Families Party line. The longer she stays on the scene jabbing at Cuomo – she crashed the Democratic Party’s convention Wednesday morning on Long Island – the more it could help Molinaro, goes the GOP thinking.
“Cuomo hasn’t satisfied voters on the right, who are very angry with him. But he’s also got a lot of dissatisfied voters on the left. The governor’s dishonest politics have left a lot of people behind in this state,’’ Langworthy said in an interview on the floor of the convention ballroom.
“I truly believe this is the best opportunity for Republicans to elect a governor since George Pataki,’’ he said.
GOP delegates Wednesday afternoon tapped Julie Killian as Molinaro’s running mate. A former deputy mayor of Rye in Westchester County, Killian has had two unsuccessful runs for the state Senate. To residents of New York, she said: "I want them to know help is on the way.''