There are three things for sure about this year’s New York State gubernatorial election season.
- Nobody four years ago could have predicted this. The man once known as “The Sheriff of Wall Street” and “The Steamroller,” subsequently identified as “Client #9” and now “Disgraced Former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer,” is now a CNN talk show co-host, sharing the limelight with a blonde-helmeted, pearl-bedecked right-winger. His death match with former State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and their spectacular symbiotic flameout put the state on track toward the current slow-motion train wreck we’ve been witnessing. His handpicked heir, David Paterson, got himself slammed so fast and so often that he smartly recused himself from the re-election process, leaving the door open for the long-salivating pretender to the throne, Andrew Cuomo.
- With Paterson out of the way, the race is Cuomo’s to lose. Following eerily in Spitzer’s footsteps, Cuomo as state attorney general has positioned himself as another crusading hard case, going after the low-hanging fruit of easy-to-despise, easy-to-prosecute rip-off artists and corrupt officialdom. As a candidate, he’s staking a claim as a reformer and Albany outsider. If anything, though, he’s genetically linked to the old school Democratic state machine, and, as The New York Times is for some reason fond of pointing out, is taking in bagfuls of campaign money from entities he purports to be ready to cut off when he gets in office. None of the bad press has had any effect on Cuomo’s poll numbers, which consistently have him 30 points ahead of the nearest contender.
- There are an awful lot of hats in the ring, most belonging to virtual unknowns and a few of them having come from atop some very weird heads. The perceived power vacuum has emboldened individuals from an almost comically wide ideological spectrum to make a name for themselves floundering in Cuomo’s dust. At last count (and please, someone, correct me if I’m wrong), there are 11 contenders, including Cuomo, who will be flanked about equally on the right and the left if everybody gets their 15,000 signatures in on time.
Blue Dog swap meet
Cuomo’s mainstream competition will naturally come from perennial fresh-faced lightweight Rick Lazio, a Republican who could easily be mistaken for a Blue Dog Democrat if it weren’t for his uncharacteristically soft position on gun control. A trio of no-nonsense white male candidates to the right of Lazio are gunning for the Tea Party vote, and will probably manage to splinter it into fractions. They are:
Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, who in fact was a Blue Dog Democrat before switching to the GOP to try and steal the nod from Lazio at the convention, a gambit that backfired miserably. He’s weighing his options, which include trying to run as a Tea Party or Taxpayers Party candidate. He’s also staked out his turf in the growing political tug-of-war over natural gas mining in the state, sounding a bit like a born-again Sarah Palin with his “drill baby, drill” mantra.
Crusty, foul-mouthed Buffalo developer Carl Paladino, running as a Howard Beale figure yelling “I’m mad as hell” and admitting to crazy antics like sending dirty, racially charged e-mails to his cronies, has a petition drive going to get on the Republican primary ballot and is involved in jumpstarting his own band of Tea Partiers. Besides Lazio, he’s the only one running to clock more than 25 percent in polls against Cuomo. He also has a ton of money, and is refreshingly specific about how much he’ll be spending: $10,362,444.75.
Joel Tyner is not the lowest-ranked elected official trying to leapfrog into the governor’s mansion without paying some political dues. That dubious honor belongs to Guilderland town board member Warren Redlich, the Libertarian Party nominee who like Paladino is gunning for a spot on the ballot against Lazio in a September primary.
Swinging for the fences
There are other more fringe-worthy candidates on the right as well, both of whom happen to be women. They are:
Kristin Davis, a.k.a. “The Manhattan Madam,” whom Redlich bested for the Libertarian nod, inspiring her to start her own party: the “Personal Freedom Party.” She’s for all the requisite hands-off stuff, including legalizing marijuana, prostitution and same sex marriage, and keeping guns in the house. She may not look like the brightest bulb in the bunch, but at least she’s on record as realizing she can’t win.
One blogger maintains that Jan Johnson, a staunch anti-abortionist and conspiracy theorist is the first statewide candidate the right-wing Constitution Party has ever fielded.
Out of left field
On the left, things are just as interesting, with an added hopeless quality to the fund-challenged campaigns of people who care about the poor and dispossessed. Our own Mid-Hudson region has spawned not one but two progressive Democratic candidacies for the mainstream media to ignore. The planks of Dutchess County Legislator Joel Tyner’s and chemist/environmental toxicologist Andi Weiss Bartczak are remarkably similar. They’re both populists who think the solution to the state’s budget problems is to increase the tax burden on the wealthiest 5 percent. Tyner has been on a 150-mile walking jaunt for the past week, calling it a “Walk for Main Street, Not Wall Street.” I met up with him at a house party in Woodstock just before he left, at which there were five other people, two of them gutter journalists and one of them Jeff Cohen, the alternative media maven who started F.A.I.R. (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) and produced the Phil Donahue show. He was there to donate a box full of signed books to Joel’s cause. Joel asked for donations and I gave him a few bucks.
I have yet to run into Andi, but hope to at some point. She’s a big booster of newspapers, the sort that used to stir things up as opposed to parroting the party line. I think we’d get along.
Green and black are the new red
The Greens have put forth a viable candidate in the form of Howie Hawkins, who actually co-founded the party in 1986 and is second only to Ralph Nader in vote-pulling clout. The Green Party is trying to reposition itself as the true home for people who call themselves Liberals. and are fond of characterizing Democrats as sellouts to right-wing ideals, which they often are forced to contemplate when the voting public skews rural. Hawkins also predictably nailed the state Socialist Party nod.
Further afield, Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron, an original member of the Black Panthers, has renounced the Democratic Party and started his own, the Freedom Party, from which to assault the political process. He’s running for governor to give his fledgling party some statewide credibility.
That’s all I could really get a handle on. I may have missed one or two stragglers who weren’t making any noise, but you get the idea. There’s much more that can be said about each of these people, and I suggest you do your own research before pulling a lever — er, feeding that ballot into the scary black box. Happy voting!