A 'Wild and Crazy Guy' for NY Governor?

With just eighteen days remaining in what has been by far the most bizarre yet entertaining election for Governor of New York in memory, the Republican-Conservative candidate -- Carl Paladino, a highly successful Buffalo businessman and attorney -- has pretty much blown it by allowing himself to be cast in the role of a nutjob.

Cast in the role of hero and savior is the Democratic-Working Families Party (read: ACORN front) candidate, state attorney general Andrew Cuomo.

It did not have to be like this. It almost wasn't.

Why, pray tell, would any voter in his right mind think that a good choice for reforming the corrupt, dysfunctional gang that passes for a state government in Albany and rescuing the state from its disastrous policies is someone who has been an Albany insider his entire adult life and a devoted apostle for the very sort of thoughtless ultra-liberalism that has New York twirling on the brink of bankruptcy?

New York has the highest state and local government taxes in the country and the nation's second-worst business climate. Andrew Cuomo worked long and hard to help make that happen.

Should voters trust fixing this wretchedly broken state to a guy whose sole executive experience as Bill Clinton's HUD Secretary was an unmitigated disaster? It was a job to which he brought merely his desirable last name but zero experience in either banking or finance.

As the only federal official with the power to regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Andrew Cuomo recklessly forced both to devote 50% to sub-prime mortgages and contrived other nearly as dangerous high-risk HUD misadventures while doggedly refusing to put monitoring and reporting requirement checks in place.

His "no money, no credit, no job = no problem" approach to mortgage lending has secured for him a place in history as the in-over-his-head fool who did so much to help trigger the mortgage crisis that wreaked havoc on the national and world economy, cost U.S. taxpayers hundreds of billions in bailout money, and endangered the savings and jobs of tens of millions of Americans.

Wasn't Andrew Cuomo's running HUD a test indicating how he might perform as governor? Didn't he fail that test miserably? Shouldn't this disqualify him from any serious consideration for promotion to governor?

And how does Andrew Cuomo explain giving a pass to certain persons most voters would think should have been prosecuted?

Now here's the big question: Why isn't this record -- rather than some silly sideshows -- the focus in the election for Governor of New York?

The answer begins with the fact that in New York, both the Republican Party establishment and Conservative Party establishment are brain-dead.

When they put their heads together on the race for governor, the score was nothing-to-nothing as they jointly proclaimed that what they and Albany desperately needed was a liberal RINO for governor -- former congressman-turned-Wall Street lobbyist Rick Lazio, best remembered for having ten years earlier run an incredibly inept campaign against Hillary Clinton for U.S. senator.

And Lazio also suffered from this unique huge minus: because of both his stances while in Congress and the particular area of his subsequent lobbying work, he was in no position to go after Cuomo about his HUD sub-prime disaster. In fact, he shared vulnerability on this critical issue.

It was a given that Andrew Cuomo would easily coast to coronation with few New Yorkers paying attention to Lazio or to the election.

But then, over in Buffalo, up popped multimillionaire real estate developer Carl Paladino, saying that -- just like in that movie -- he was mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. He pledged to put up $10 million to run for governor, entered the Republican primary, and successfully petitioned to get a new Taxpayers Party on the ballot so he could ensure a fight to the finish.

He said he'd take a baseball bat with him to Albany to beat sense into state government. Some feigned dismay at such "talk of violence," but voters liked the metaphor and, if anything, wished it were not merely a metaphor.

He now and then made some weird utterances -- such as spouting off about teaching personal hygiene to people on welfare and about sending the Speaker of the Assembly to Attica prison without explaining why or how -- but few cared, and besides, he was entertaining.

When "Little Ricky" Lazio refused to commit to debates and tried to ignore him, Paladino had a man dressed up as a chicken follow Lazio on the campaign trail. When Lazio seemed to agree to a debate on a specific date at a Syracuse location but then backed off, Paladino threw a free chicken barbeque and invited the public to come devour some chicken with him.

When the State Assembly Speaker announced he would leave the state if Paladino was elected, the next day Paladino revealed that he had purchased a one-way train ticket from Albany to Miami in the Speaker's name and was arranging for it to be available for him to pick up at the station the morning after Election Day.

Polls indicated that Paladino didn't have a prayer. 

Then news reports divulged a slew of his private e-mails. In the media, he was characterized -- over and over and over -- as a recipient and forwarder of messages that were "racist," "lewd," and -- horrors of horrors! -- "insensitive." The Republican Party establishment, the Conservative Party establishment, and the media pronounced him finished.

And then, on the night of September 14, in a primary that saw a record turnout, Carl Paladino won the Republican nomination by a record margin.

In the area that knew Paladino best -- Erie County (Buffalo) -- he received 93% of the vote. In neighboring Niagara County, he also got 93%. That's not a typo: 93%. About as close to a shutout as you can get in a free election. Elsewhere across upstate, Paladino crushed Lazio and the political establishment with margins in the high 60s, 70s, and here and there in the 80s.

"But haven't you looked at his private e-mails?" -- that, in essence, was the establishment and media reaction. They had been run over by voters in rebellion, and they still didn't get it.

Unlike the media and establishment elites, the public was much more interested in hearing ideas for how to clean up and fix Albany than they were in any Bottom Ten list of Carl Paladino e-mails, however much in poor taste and even raunchy they might be. Many voters, of course, had themselves received and/or forwarded e-mails they would not wish to see splashed all over the newspapers or the internet and suspected that the same might be true of those folks feigning shock about Paladino's. It was not lost on many that some of those most stridently urging them to read Paladino's private e-mails were the same sorts who throw fits when the intelligence community intercepts private e-mails of terrorists and suspected terrorist enablers.

Voters liked Paladino when he said he would cut state spending by 20%, cut state taxes by 10%, eliminate the state capital gains tax, temporarily freeze state workers' pay and benefits, reform education with school choice, push for term limits, etc. And they liked his blunt talk. But the media and political elite kept right on beating dead horses. 

With much ado, a "bipartisan" trio of prominent New York political figures stepped forward to unveil a joint letter to the public lamenting that "a fringe element" had chosen as the Republican nominee "a divisive figure" in this state that "has a long history of electing highly qualified, forward-looking candidates." Their letter also denounced Paladino for his bad taste in his private e-mail messaging, for having rented office space to government agencies, for having his company participate in government programs that produced poor return on taxpayer investment, and for having donated to political campaigns.

Paladino had donated to political campaign? Yes, so had those three. So what?

Paladino's company participated in a government program that didn't produce the results its creators had claimed it would? Was that possibly because the program itself was phony-baloney? Why not keep people like him from benefiting by cutting the program?

Paladino has rented office space to government agencies? Yes -- as the lowest bidder, and after the leases were reviewed by the office of the state's attorney general, Andrew Cuomo. 

Paladino is "a divisive figure"? Isn't, by definition, anyone who disagrees with anyone else about anything being "divisive"?

Paladino was picked by "a fringe element"? Receiving a record vote in a record turnout makes someone the selection of "a fringe element"? Since when? Don't normal people refer to this as receiving a mandate?

Now, when someone is being kicked by a jackass, it's always a good idea to consider the source. The "bipartisan" trio denouncing Paladino were three Cuomo boosters -- Democrat Ed Koch, an affable man who just happened to be miserably ineffective as Mayor of New York; Democrat former state comptroller Carl McCall, a Charlie Rangel protégé who Paladino said should have been investigated for, among other things, sending sixty-plus letters that he wrote on official state letterhead to heads of companies in which the state pension fund held huge blocks of stock, urging them to hire his relatives and friends; and -- because every circus should have a clown -- former Republican U.S. Senator Al D'Amato, whose misadventures in matters of ethics dwarf McCall's, who was thick as thieves with Cuomo while Cuomo was at HUD and he was chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and while he later worked as a consultant for Fannie May, and who epitomizes the very worst of the what's-in-it-for-me approach to government and politics the public has come to so loathe.

Their letter could have been drafted by the Cuomo campaign. Its line of attack was exactly the message that Cuomo would soon market in his comments and campaign ads.

No one would ever mistake D'Amato, McCall, and Koch for "The Three Wise Men," and what struck so many New Yorkers as particularly amusing and bizarre about their dopey letter was their portrayal of recent state officeholders as pillars of excellence in government.

Everyone knew that the state's current accidental Democratic governor is not running for election because he has effectively been forced not to -- because of the ethical clouds hanging over him. The man, remember, is legally blind -- and yet he got into one scandal by pocketing for free some very expensive tickets to the World Series. How dumb must you be to risk criminal prosecution for grabbing tickets to games you can't see?

Everyone knew that the state's preceding Democratic governor was driven from office in disgrace. That would be Client #9, aka Eliot Spitzer. He probably should have been subjected to criminal prosecution but wasn't. Instead, he was offered and accepted the humiliation of co-hosting a show on CNN.

And at the time D'Amato, McCall, and Koch were in the public eye moaning that Paladino was not in the same league with them and other such New York giants, voters were following in the news the long-running story of the corruption escapades of Democrat Alan Hevesi, who had resigned as state comptroller in 2006 following a felony conviction and was back again, this time facing additional felony corruption charges in connection with his abuses of the state's massive public pension funds, for which he shortly thereafter pleaded guilty.

Such is the state of things in New York State.

And so dense and self-absorbed are the media and political elites in New York that they seemed to have no idea that the widely publicized D'Amato-McCall-Koch rant merely helped solidify Paladino's image as someone whom politicians see as a real threat -- and fear.

And so it came to pass that the first post-primary poll came out. And it showed Paladino within easy striking distance of Cuomo -- down only 6 points.

Republican officials who wouldn't touch Paladino with a ten-foot pole went shopping for shorter poles.

The Conservative Party state chairman, who had vowed he could never support Paladino and would continue to push Lazio on the Conservative line even if it resulted in electing Cuomo, suddenly figured out that the way things were breaking, unless he dumped Lazio and replaced him with Paladino,more than likely there would be less than 50,000 votes cast for Governor on the Conservative line, which under New York law meant they were no longer automatically entitled to a line on the ballot, which meant he would lose his job. So he booted Lazio and embraced Paladino.

The blunt-talking, kick-ass guy from Buffalo was on a roll, Andrew Cuomo was said to be throwing fits, and one heck of a lot of New Yorkers were finding themselves thinking that Carl Paladino and his baseball bat just might end up in the governor's office once occupied by the father of the man Paladino dismisses as "Prince Andrew."

It had all the makings of a great story. 

Except for their forgetting to plot a happy ending.

With a smashing upset primary victory behind him and New Yorkers in such a mood for some real hope and change that it just might enable him to overcome the huge party enrollment disadvantage and his being massively outgunned in campaign war chest, Carl Paladino had the ball. It was first down, the goal-line was in sight, the crowd was cheering. Then he punted.

Instead of spelling out solid, specific ideas for dealing with what ails New York; instead of contrasting what conservative reform could do for New York with what liberal Democrats had done to New York; instead of contrasting his great success as a business executive in the real world with Andrew Cuomo's one-man wrecking crew performance at HUD; instead of contrasting Cuomo's Tea Party-sounding campaign prose with  his real performance and his being joined at the hip with the crowd responsible for the mess in Albany, the Paladino campaign chose to act like it was auditioning for one of those daytime television shows so popular with morons.

It was mind-bogglingly stupid. They just took their giant opportunity and tossed it away.

Paladino accused Cuomo of having had a string of affairs while he was married. Asked for evidence to back up his claim, he said "later." Then he suggested that what he really said was that it was unfair for the media to keep dwelling almost exclusively on his long-ago affair that resulted in his then-mistress having his child, something he revealed when he declared for office. But while it was true that coverage of him dwelt on such matters while Cuomo wasn't even drilled about the contradictions between what he was now saying and the sort of policies he had always embraced or about the damage he inflicted on the country as HUD Secretary, it was not true that this was what Paladino had really said.

Then -- final straw -- when a particularly aggressive reporter from the New York Post, probably the only major paper in the state that would lend him anything approaching a sympathetic ear, asked him to back up his affairs accusation against Cuomo, Paladino shouted at the reporter, accused him of working on behalf of the Cuomo campaign, accused his paper of stalking his daughter (that paper hadn't done that -- but someone else had), and seemed to threaten him with physical harm by saying, "I'll take you out."

Instead of coming to grips with the fact that voters don't take a shine to something that has the appearance of thug-like conduct and apologizing with an explanation that the "I'll take you out" comment is boastful Buffalo street talk meaning he'd come out on top in the end, the campaign just tried to make excuses for the inexcusable. It is one thing for the opposition to try to label you "as nut job," as a Cuomo aide did; it's quite another thing to be seen as trying to prove their case for them.  Sheer stupidity.  Credit - or blame - for Paladino campaign strategy goes to political consultant Michael Caputo, a protégé of another Paladino advisor, Roger Stone, who has lately been loudly proclaiming that his advice is being ignored.

Among the excuses is that Paladino's just a novice. So is everyone else who runs for public office for the first time. So what?

"Well, he's a businessman, not a politician." Wait a minute. Politicians like to say -- because voters like to hear it said -- that they will run government like a business. Being a business success cannot simultaneously be an asset and a liability.

Remember Ross Perot? An amazing success in business. A true patriot. Early in the 1992 campaign, he led both incumbent President George H.W. Bush and challenger Bill Clinton in the polls. Then he said some really nutty things, such as charging without any evidence that the Bushes had plotted to disrupt his daughter's wedding. When in 2000 he endorsed George W. Bush for president, few noticed, and fewer cared.

A Rochester billionaire named Thomas Golisano spent $93 million of his own money in three races for Governor in '94, '98 and '02 with way too little to show for it in the way of votes and no impact on public policy.  He was the driving force behind the Independence Party, on whose line he ran and made it third on the state's ballot line, bumping the Conservative Party down to fourth row.  Both parties now have a reputation for authoritative rule, for making erratic and seemingly contradictory endorsements and for being as interested in patronage as they are in principles, which explains how the Conservatives initially backed the more liberal Lazio over Paladino and the Independence Party is endorsing Cuomo.

Golisano, who last year changed his legal residence to Florida to protest New York State's excessive taxation, thereby saving himself $13,000 a day in state taxes, is believed to be advising his friend Paladino.

When the dust settles after Election Day, if Paladino and Golisano and like-minded, very wealthy New Yorkers want to do better than the mere satisfaction of seeing their names on the ballot, they should consider conducting a never-ending campaign against what is so wrong with New York. Set up a well-funded shadow to Cuomo and the Democrats and take them on with media campaigns any time they stand on the wrong side of any significant issue. Don't just fade away -- use your notoriety every chance you can to move public opinion and make them squirm, and sometimes you will succeed in blocking them. As Ronald Reagan said to me many times, "If you can't make them see the light, make them feel the heat." Just a thought.

Right now, if Paladino thinks he has no chance of winning -- and if he thinks otherwise he's just about the only one -- he should at least make a good effort to try to bring what is looking more and more like a rout down to a more respectable loss. He certainly owes that to other candidates who share ballot lines with him.

Not much he can hope for when he and Cuomo meet Monday evening for their first and likely last debate. Largely because of the Paladino's campaign's foolishness in thinking it would win them points, they insisted that the debate include the five fringe candidates as well, so instead of just him and Cuomo going head to head, there will be seven candidates on the stage, including a former prostitute and prostitute ring madam and a former Black Panther.

Largely -- though not entirely -- Paladino has Paladino to blame for his having been cast as "a nut job" candidate. "Crazy Carl" is what many are calling him. Perhaps he could use that label to try to minimize the extent of his upcoming loss. But try to change it from an angry nutjob to a more likable nutjob -- something more like the ole Steve Martin "Wild & Crazy Guy."

Instead of continuing to do things that get him laughed at, why not ,as Election Day draws nearer, try getting people to laugh with him? A little self-depreciating humor might go a long way -- but certainly not far enough -- toward rehabilitating him in the eyes of the voters. Perhaps something like this:

Hey, folks, I've said some nutty things during my campaign for Governor. That's the biggest difference between me and Andrew Cuomo. I say nutty things - he does nutty things. 

They say it was nutty of me to say that Prince Andrew shouldn't have dragged his young daughters to a Gay Pride parade spectacle. Normal people like you and me take our kids to 4th of July parades, the circus, movies, things like that -- but never to a Gay Pride parade because, to me, and I bet to you, too, that's nutty.

The nutty things I've
said haven't hurt you. They've only hurt me -- by making it less likely that enough people will vote for me to make me your governor.

But the nutty things that Prince Andrew has done have hurt you, not him.

The actions he took as HUD Secretary -- you've heard about them, haven't you? -- triggered the mortgage crisis. That caused the hundreds of billions of dollars for bailouts that reduced the value of your home and your savings and maybe put your job in jeopardy.  None of it hurt him. In fact, they helped him raise money to run for governor.

If you vote for me for governor, there's a real good chance you will have a governor who now and then will say some nutty things.

But if you vote for Prince Andrew, you can count on his doing nutty things -- like he did at HUD, the only time he ever held any real executive position.

It's your money, your state. Think about it. Aren't nutty actions a whole lot more to worry about than some mere nutty words are?

If the man has any sense of humor, he might as well try this. It's pretty clear that he has nothing to lose -- and it'd be fun to watch.

Fred J. Eckert is a former conservative Republican congressman from New York and twice served as a U.S. Ambassador (to the U.N. and to Fiji) under President Reagan, who called him "a good friend and valuable advisor." He served nine years in the New York State Senate. Upon his resignation to accept an ambassadorship, he said that his biggest regret from his time in Albany was that he was not able to acquire the comedy rights to the New York State Legislature.