Conservative Developer Joins Race for Governor, As Ognibene Hopes for “Takeover”
Carl Paladino had an interesting entrance onto the political stage yesterday:
BUFFALO — Carl P. Paladino, a blunt multimillionaire developer with Tea Party political leanings, announced his campaign for governor on Monday, becoming the third Republican to enter a race that is quickly becoming a scramble for conservative support.
Mr. Paladino, 63, delivered a Palinesque populist message to a boisterous group of about 1,000 flag-waving supporters here, denouncing what he said was the government’s deepening encroachment into the lives of ordinary Americans.
“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Mr. Paladino told a roaring crowd that had gathered at the Ellicott Square Building in downtown Buffalo, one of several office complexes in his commercial real estate empire in western New York.
“The government is in shambles, and we’re paying for it in unbearable taxes far, far above the national average,” he added. “Are you mad? Are you gonna take it anymore?”
Mr. Paladino hopes to harness some of the frustration and anger among conservative voters over the leadership — both in Albany and Washington — of the Democratic Party.
“If they don’t know already, the Albany ruling class will soon realize the strength of our movement and the remarkable day of reckoning of New York voters that is coming in November,” Mr. Paladino said. “Get up, and come with me to Albany.”
Though he lacks the institutional support enjoyed by the two other major Republican candidates — Rick A. Lazio, the former congressman, and Steve Levy, the Suffolk County executive — Mr. Paladino brings something to the race that neither of the them has: a personal fortune he plans to dip deeply into during the race.
Mr. Paladino, who estimates his net worth to be $150 million, has pledged to spend as much as $10 million of his own money in the campaign. If elected, he has vowed to serve only one term.
Despite his wealth, the path to securing the Republican nomination will not be easy for Mr. Paladino. He has decided to forgo the traditional route of seeking a spot on the ballot at the state’s Republican convention in June. Instead, he will use the petition process, which requires him to collect 15,000 signatures from registered voters in at least 15 of the state’s Congressional districts.
Mr. Paladino, who describes himself as anti-abortion, pro-gun rights and against same-sex marriage, said he was “the only Republican in the race who agrees 100 percent with conservative values.”
But he has to overcome several issues that threaten to undermine his support from the right. Until 2005, he was a registered Democrat. And he has used his fortune over the years to support Democrats who are lightning rods for conservatives, like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Al Gore.
Mr. Paladino has also been forced to acknowledge that he fathered a child in an extramarital affair.
Over the years he has become known as something of a political gadfly in Buffalo. He has eagerly and aggressively opposed policies and people he finds objectionable — like road tolls and politicians he deemed unsupportive of charter schools.
He has always had a knack for being provocative, and shows no signs of toning down his language during the governor’s race.
He calls his campaign — his first run for public office — a “crusade.” He has excoriated state political leaders as “a parasitical ruling class” and pledged to send corrupt legislators to the state prison at Attica.
He has railed against the health care legislation passed last month by Congress as an affront to personal liberty. He urged his followers to sign a letter he wrote to Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor. He called on Mr. Cuomo to file suit against the federal government to block the implementation of the health care measure, which he has deemed “a radical extension of federal power.”
Mr. Paladino used his outspokenness as a selling point on Monday, telling his supporters: “I have a tendency to speak my mind — and in many cases, your mind. I can be blunt, maybe sometimes too blunt. But you’ll always know where I stand.”
At his rally, Mr. Paladino treated his supporters to roast beef sandwiches, beer and wine. Many wore stickers that read “I’m mad as hell too, Carl.” Before the speech, a clip from the movie “Network,” in which the “mad as hell” rant originated, played on two giant screens.
One supporter, Deanna DiGiulio, 46, a restaurant owner from Buffalo, said: “I think we are mad as hell. We don’t have direction. We need a leader. We need a leader for the people. And that leader is Carl.”
Mr. Levy’s campaign responded to Mr. Paladino’s entrance into the race with a blistering statement that cast the Buffalo businessman as a nothing more than a sound bite machine.
“Simply saying ‘I’m mad as hell’ and being a millionaire does not qualify somebody to be governor,” Mr. Levy said. “We need solutions.”
Mr. Lazio’s campaign is ignoring Mr. Paladino for fear of legitimizing him as a candidate. When asked for a response to Mr. Paladino, a spokesman, Barney Keller, declined to comment.
Meanwhile, an old political name has been mentioned in all of the GOP gubernatorial tumult: Tom Ognibene.
Tom Ognibene sees gubernatorial hopeful Carl Paladino as the best hope of turning around New York’s moribund and factionalized Republican Party, which the former City Council minority leader says he feels has drifted too far to the left.
“This is more than just a run for governor,” Ognibene told me this morning. “I hope we have somebody who is willing to retake control of the Republican Party.””That’s his most important role – a magnet for conservative Republicans who can re-energize the party. If he can do that, I’d like to participate in it, whether I’m lieutenant governor or not.”
Ognibene downplayed talk that he’s interviewing to be Paladino’s running mate, although he didn’t deny being interested in the job, saying: “You know me; I’ve always been fundamentally interested in politics.”
Paladino’s spokesman Michael Caputo told me yesterday that the Buffalo businessman is interesting in recruiting a woman to be his LG, but also didn’t rule out the possibility that Ognibene might be under consideration.
Ognibene said “mutual friends” he shares with Paladino approached him to sit down with the candidate. He wouldn’t name names, but when I asked about Roger Stone, Ognibene replied: “Roger Stone and I are two people who have a similar view in politics.”
At first blush, Paladino and Ognibene seem like an odd match. For starters, Paladino is a former Democrat from Buffalo, while Ognibene is a former Conservative from Queens. Both are now Republicans.
The one thing they do have in common: A penchant for saying exactly what they think – no matter how un-PC that might be.
“He’s got some aggressive and fresh ideas,” Ognibene said of Paladino. “Like me, he’s not afraid to speak his mind…Sometimes you need a devil’s advocate.”
Ognibene is not a fan of Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, whose candidacy he says does not “further the interests of the party or the conservative movement.”
The former councilman called Levy’s Democrat-to-Republican switch a move born of “political expediency” and an “obnoxious political deal” between Levy and state GOP Chairman Ed Cox “for his family purposes.”
Unlike Levy, Paladino switched parties due to a philosophical shift, insisted Ognibene, who believes a major party takeover is a better bet for Paladino than trying to create yet another minor party as a vehicle for his campaign.
Ognibene did not fault state Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long for endorsing Rick Lazio, but said he believes that decision was made at a time when Paladino wasn’t as serious a candidate as he appears now.
“A three-way primary is a wonderful thing for the Republican Party,” Ognibene declared. “…The people who are running the party have completely turned me off. I think they’ve turned a lot of stalwart Republicans off. We haven’t followed the policies that made up strong – being fiscally restrained, reducing crime – it got too easy, and we fell back into the same traps.”
It would seem what was once a somewhat uninteresting race has now just heated up!!!