If Lorne Michaels, creator and producer of "Saturday Night Live," happened to be watching the New York gubernatorial debate on Monday night, he may have mistaken it for a skit on his famed show.
Among the seven candidates who took part, there was the madam who arranged Eliot Spitzer’s politically fatal tryst and a candidate from the “The Rent Is Too Damn High” party. With this being the first and only opportunity for voters in the Empire State to see the gubernatorial hopefuls on the same stage, only one word can describe it: pathetic.
At stake is the crucial decision about who will lead New York State, which, if it were its own nation, would be the sixteenth largest economy in the world. So, in the infamous words of Vice President Joe Biden, this is a “big f---in' deal.” Instead, this singular opportunity to hear the candidates’ positions on issues and substantive dialogue about their differences more closely resembled an open mic night at a local comedy club.
Many New Yorkers, especially Republicans, had hoped that Carl Paladino’s straight talk, brash style and populist appeal would make this year’s contest more than the inevitable coronation of Prince Andrew Cuomo. New Yorkers have been mad as hell for a while, but are now finally directing that anger toward Albany. So the timing of the Paladino candidacy could have been opportune.
Liz Noyer Feld, former mayor of Larchmont and recent Republican state senate candidate from Westchester County, suggests “Paladino's primary victory was about one thing: angry Republican voters who saw someone who recognized how they felt. It wasn't hard to find those people. The Democrats are angry, too. [But] he lost Republicans and others after that, when his anger included racist and homophobic rants that have no place in public discourse, in politics, or in government." In short, Paladino has squandered the opportunity to capitalize on this anger past the primary and that is a real let down.
Feld is referring to a recent series of self-inflicted wounds that began to derail Paladino’s otherwise aggressive and punchy campaign. He seemed to offer New Yorkers a legitimate choice between a self-made business man with the political skills of Andrew Dice Clay or a polished career politician with the business skills of Bernie Madoff. As the Republican Party’s nominee, Carl Paladino gave us hope that we at least would not go down without a fight.
It was only a month ago that this was a 10 point race, with Paladino erasing Cuomo’s once overwhelming advantage in the polls. In fact, the Cuomo campaign seemed to be stunted by its inability to decide whether to take Paladino seriously or not. Though crass and unscripted, the Buffalo developer captured the sentiment of many voters in the state and nationwide, who were “mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore.”
Jeremy Gosbee, a Washington, D.C.-based public relations professional who is from Upstate New York observed, “For once it seemed like an Upstate Republican statewide candidate may just have a chance. Paladino’s populist message was more believable. He was ‘Carl the Builder from Buffalo’ and that told a story. -- Kind of like ‘Joe the Plumber.’ Then, Paladino began to fold under the weight of the expectations of being the actual nominee of a major party." Gosbee continues, “Watching Paladino implode almost makes you question your own personal judgment for having thought he was up to the job.”
This brings me to a confession. I voted for Carl Paladino in the primary. I felt that he would at least take Cuomo—whom I find to be an extremely flawed and politically reprehensible character—to account for his role in the sub-prime mortgage debacle and his questionable ethics in business dealings subsequent to his service as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
I count myself among those who, for the weeks following the primary, believed Paladino could win and gladly tried to convince people to keep an open mind about him. Now, it’s as if Paladino has gone from the candidate of the Republican Party to a candidate who incidentally is a Republican. As Feld puts it “He is not the standard bearer of the Republican Party in New York. Our party cannot support or stand for the kinds of things he has said or believes."
Let’s look at the bright side. Maybe the inevitable election of Governor Cuomo will help us win control back of the state senate. In New York politics, all you need is to have one of the three men in the room.
Tony Sayegh, Jr., is a Republican strategist and political consultant who advises candidates at the local, state and federal level. He formerly served as Deputy Mayor of the Village of Tuckahoe and directed several political campaigns in New York State. Tony also appears regularly as a Republican analyst on the Fox News Channel and weekly on Fox News.com's "The Strategy Room." Tony can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.