NYT: Even in G.O.P., Lazio’s Bid for Governor Is Hard Sell
With 2010’s elections now within sight, Rick Lazio faces a difficult race for Governor, the Times reports:
CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. — Rick A. Lazio is on a tear: ripping into corruption and cowardice in Albany, blasting state leaders’ addiction to spending and taxes, warning that New York is on the verge of losing a generation of job seekers to economic decline.
“It breaks my heart,” Mr. Lazio, the former Long Island congressman, tells a few dozen Republicans here in the Finger Lakes. “People are fed up, they’re disgusted, they’re disillusioned, and they’re scared.”
Now comes the ask. “It is our turn to fix this mess, and not to leave this for our kids and our grandchildren to clean up. Please join me in this great mission.”
Not a hand claps.
Political comebacks can be tough, and Mr. Lazio’s exit from the stage, after his disastrous 2000 Senate contest with Hillary Rodham Clinton, was humbling. But even among New York Republicans, with whom he is personally popular, Mr. Lazio’s fiery pitch for his gubernatorial campaign hasn’t yet ignited any prairie fires.
Many party regulars were deflated by former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s decision not to run. And they seem resigned to the idea that Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo — whose poll numbers are formidable — will overtake Gov. David A. Paterson to be the Democratic nominee, and could be all but impossible to beat.
After listening to Mr. Lazio’s speech, Matt Kellogg, a law student, offers this assessment: “If he runs against Paterson, he’s got a good shot.”
“He has a lot of what it would take,” says Gary Baxter, the Ontario County treasurer. “I admire him for taking on a challenge.”
Mr. Lazio, 51, whose hair is grayer and shaggier since his Senate run, is undeterred. Asked after a long day on the trail why he had not chosen to challenge Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand instead of running for governor, he bristled. “Maybe it would be an easier race,” he said. “But it’s not about me,” he added sharply. “I’m not looking for a job. I don’t need this — and I definitely don’t need that.”
Indeed, Mr. Lazio did quite well as a Wall Street lobbyist, first for the Financial Services Forum, a trade group for chief executives that paid him more than $900,000 in 2004, according to its tax filings, then for JPMorgan Chase. He left Long Island behind, moving with his family to Manhattan, and rebuffed entreaties to run for Nassau County executive in 2001, for his old congressional seat in 2002, for Suffolk County executive in 2003 and for attorney general in 2006.
But then, he said, he watched Gov. David A. Paterson fail to rein in state spending last year, and began to think about challenging him. Later, while driving his oldest daughter, Molly, to visit colleges, he began brooding over whether she might one day feel forced to leave New York in search of a job.
“I figured, if I’m thinking about that for my child, imagine the hundreds of thousands of other New Yorkers who are going through the same thing,” he said. “There’s a lot of politicians who wring their hands and say, ‘I’m going to wait for the right opening,’ ” he added. “I only thought: this state is in desperate need of a debate, and we are in real trouble. And it’s not self-correcting.” (The December night he visited Canandaigua, his daughter won early admission to Hamilton College, in Clinton, N.Y.)
If Mr. Lazio is remembered for anything in the 2000 race, which he entered after Mr. Giuliani’s late withdrawal, it is for walking across the stage during a debate and asking Mrs. Clinton to sign a no-soft-money pledge; the ill-advised stunt made him look like a bully. Intent on attacking her as a carpetbagger who saw the job as a springboard, he never told his own story and looked inexperienced next to his opponent, then the first lady.
Now, with more time to hone his message — and with help from Arthur J. Finkelstein, political guru to his Republican forebears Alfonse M. D’Amato and George E. Pataki — Mr. Lazio assures voters of his record as a village attorney, prosecutor, county legislator and four-term congressman. He tells of his stint at “probably the best-managed bank in the world,” where he learned from people “with a different level of intellect” who did not care what party anyone belonged to.
He says he will govern without concern about being re-elected and with a discipline Albany is unaccustomed to: a strict hiring freeze, a hard property-tax cap, conservative budgeting, no more passing on the cost of state-mandated programs to local governments and structural reforms like a unicameral Legislature, an ethics overhaul and tighter campaign-finance rules.
“I know what this turnaround looks like: It is ugly,” Mr. Lazio says, imagining his first draconian budget and labor negotiations. “When I do what I need to do, we’re going to see name-calling and picketing and commercials, and stuff that’s really tough to see. And I get that, and I accept it, and I approach this job knowing that this is part of the deal. But I just want to get this state in a place where my successor has a better chance than we have right now.”
Yet Mr. Lazio’s tough talk has its limitations. Meeting with a group of business leaders in Buffalo, he deflected, four times, when they asked if he would lay off state workers to close state budget gaps, which are expected to be in the billions. He barely promised to cut jobs through attrition, instead saying there could be savings in streamlined contracting.
His audience grew frustrated. “Don’t tell me we’re going to improve purchasing,” said Kevin Murphy, the regional president of Bank of America, after Mr. Lazio had departed. “It’s almost an insult to the people in the room. I think in this environment, people are beyond being sugarcoated. There’s an opportunity for someone who wants to be bold.”
Mr. Lazio’s advisers say there is plenty of time for boldness; first he must capture the nomination. A potential Republican rival, the Erie County executive, Chris Collins, produced a letter last week from 15 Republican county chairmen urging him to run.
But with Mr. Giuliani out of the picture, Mr. Lazio is making the most of his head start. He already has the endorsements of nine county leaders representing more than 25 percent of the state, enough to secure a spot on the ballot. And he expects more, including big counties in the New York City suburbs, by early January.
Oddly, but understandably, Mr. Lazio finds himself defending the governor he wants to defeat, while hectoring the attorney general at every opportunity.
“There’s competency issues,” he says of Mr. Paterson, “but I don’t doubt that he’s trying to move things in the right direction. But Andrew Cuomo is not stepping forward, he’s not providing leadership, and he could. It’s almost as if people around him think the worse things get, the more things collapse, the better off it’s going to be for him politically.”
Beyond the primary, Mr. Lazio’s strategy, it seems, is to be there and hope for a break. If Mr. Paterson somehow wins the nomination or Mr. Cuomo survives a bloody primary — and a possible run by Steve Levy, the Suffolk County executive, could make a Democratic free-for-all more likely — he will count his blessings. But if the way is cleared for Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Lazio may be seen as heading into a gun battle with a slingshot.
Then again, he reminds skeptics that Republican underdogs in Nassau and Westchester, vastly outspent, upset formidable Democratic incumbents in November.
“We have the wind at our back,” Mr. Lazio said in Canandaigua. “It is the people’s voices back there, saying, ‘We have had enough.’ ”
From The New York Times.