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Primary time in the puppet regime


It's a shame former Conservative Party candidate Daniel Mahony moved to Connecticut earlier this month, thereby disqualifying himself from the race for lieutenant governor. If his running mate, Rochester businessman Tom Golisano, won the governorship and subsequently abdicated to, say, goal tend for the Buffalo Sabres, Mahony would make a great Guv. He's got one quality New Yorkers would really appreciate: He's a lousy liar.

In court on August 15 to face allegations he manipulated the electoral system to vote twice in several elections, Mahony developed a sudden fondness for the core principles of our Constitution. On the stand, he reportedly took the Fifth 10 times, perspiring profusely and blushing as he did so. As soon as his "testimony" was over, he bolted from the courtroom, eluding the press by running down five flights of spiral stairs (we always ride the elevator).

Clearly, this guy's got what it takes to lead the Empire State. At last we'd have a governor incapable of obfuscating problems with vague pledges of reform, fuzzy math, and wry smiles. Faced with tough questions about his policies, Governor Mahony would either answer them honestly or curl up under the podium and sob, in which case we could comfort him ("It's OK, Dan. You still the man!") and get to work actually fixing things.

But alas, Mahony's out of contention (though by no means out of the woods --- felony convictions for registering and voting twice each carry up to seven years in subsidized, high-security housing). We're left with a group of gubernatorial hopefuls unwilling to admit their mistakes, much less flee the state when faced with them.

In the September 10 primary, registered Democrats get the chance to choose between former federal Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo and current state comptroller Carl McCall. Neither has seriously challenged the other on any substantive policy issues, preferring instead to snipe at Pataki and complain about one another's campaign strategy.

For example, in early June McCall characterized the increased presence of ex-governor Mario Cuomo in his son's campaign as Andrew having to "run home for dad" for help in the primary. The elder Cuomo criticized McCall's comment, saying the comptroller was trying to "make this a street fight."

Of course, when it comes to intra-Democratic-Party rumbles, Mario Cuomo's scrapped with the best of 'em. His 1982 primary fight with Ed Koch was notable mostly for its nastiness.

Cuomo went on to win the primary and the governorship that year. His campaign manager: Andrew Cuomo. His pick for lieutenant governor: then-State Senator Carl McCall (McCall lost the Democratic lieutenant governor primary to Koch's running mate, Al DelBello).

The Cuomo-McCall scrap is like a bout between boxing-nun puppets. It's fun to watch, it's more than a little ridiculous, and in the end, no one really gets hurt. The Dems' idea, after all, is for one of the contenders to survive the primary with enough strength left to beat two-term incumbent George Pataki. And to the Dems' amusement, Pataki's also got a fight on his hands.

Golisano, a Pataki challenger in 1994 and 1998, is back for Round 3. And like Rocky III, the budget for this production is the biggest yet.

The founder and CEO of Paychex doubled the amount of his own personal fortune he spent on each of the last two campaigns --- and doubled his percentage of the vote, accordingly. Granted, the $13 million he blew through in 1998 made him little more than a blip --- he only got 8 percent of the vote. But this year, he's pledged to spend as much as $75 million to punch holes in Pataki's record. And a double-digit showing could sap Pataki of enough conservative and independent votes to hand the election to the Democrat.

As we've previously reported (see "Fear of a dark horse," City,August 7, 2002), Golisano's strategy seems to be one of divide and conquer. He's challenging Pataki on primary day on the Independence Party line and the Conservative Party line, though registered Conservatives supporting Golisano will have to write in his name in the latter case.

Pataki and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Mary Donohue, have the Republican line all to themselves this November. Any votes the pair gets on the Independence and Conservative lines would be added to the ticket's total from the Republican line, but only if they remain paired on the third-party lines after September 10.

If Golisano can pick off Pataki in one or both primaries, or if one of his running mates (Rochester lawyer William Neild on the Independence line; Staten Island Conservative Party activist Marylou Shanahan, Mahony's replacement, a write-in on the Conservative line) can beat Donohue, Pataki would lose the third-party gravy votes that can swing a tight major-party race.

That possibility is the main motivation behind the Pataki camp's legal challenges, which question the validity of signatures gathered to put Golisano and his running mates on the ballot. Golisano's camp lost the first two rounds in court, but the billionaire has vowed to take the fight to the highest levels.

Let's get ready to rumble...

Andrew Cuomo

Background: Andrew Cuomo, 44, grew up on the mean streets of Queens. He's a graduate of Fordham University and Albany Law School, where he trained to be a lawyer before taking a job as Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan in 1984. The next year, he took a job as a partner at a New York City law firm, where he fought court battles until 1988. That year, he founded Housing Enterprise for the Less Privileged (HELP), a non-profit, comprehensive social service organization for the homeless that's since grown to become the largest organization of its kind in the country.

Cuomo is the son of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. His wife is Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, daughter of former New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy and, by extension, a member of the Kennedy political dynasty. They have three daughters.

Political experience: In 1982, Cuomo worked as his father's campaign manager during Cuomo the elder's successful gubernatorial bid. (As though to prove his toughness, the pol-in-training let it be known he was paid only $1 for his efforts.) He also worked as one of his father's aids and advisors for several years in the early 1980s.

In 1991, he was appointed to head the New York City Commission on the Homeless. Cuomo went on to become Assistant Secretary of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a position he held from 1993 to 1997. He served as HUD Secretary from 1997 to 2001.

Record: Cuomo touts his tenure at HUD, highlighting accomplishments such as the fact home ownership rose to its highest level ever under his leadership: 67.7 percent. He also claims to have saved taxpayers millions by reforming the way the department operates.

Cuomo has made a name for himself as a proponent of gun safety. He's collaborated on state and local government lawsuits against gun manufacturers, and spearheaded the Clinton Administration's successful push to make the tough guys at Smith & Wesson change the way they design and sell handguns.

Platform: Cuomo is pro-choice, and goes so far as to support a measure, enacted in only two other states so far, allowing women to get "Emergency Contraception" (read: the morning-after pill) from specially trained pharmacists, without a prescription.

On the gay rights front, Cuomo supports state recognition of same-sex unions, bestowing such couples the same benefits and legal protections heterosexual married couples enjoy. He also supports passage of the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in matters of employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and credit.

An advocate for reforming the harsh Rockefeller Drug Laws, Cuomo would eliminate mandatory minimums for small-scale, non-violent drug offenders; direct judges to consider an offender's role in a crime, rather than just the amount of drugs involved; and support community-based drug treatment for non-violent drug offenders.

He supports a $1.60 boost in the minimum wage, bringing it to $6.75 an hour. A bill to that effect passed the Assembly this year, but hasn't gotten much further.

His environmental platform includes implementation of a "New York Kyoto Protocol" to reduce greenhouse gases in the state to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2010, and cap carbon dioxide emissions at 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2010. His "Clean Air New York" program would give tax credits to power plants investing in clean-air technology. He also says he's committed to cleaning up Superfund sites and brownfields.

In terms of education reform, Cuomo says his top priority is to attract qualified teachers to the state. Toward that end, he says he'll improve pay and give scholarships and student loan forgiveness to teachers who commit to work in New York classrooms. He claims his Empire Scholars program will bring 5,000 new teachers to the state each year. The rest of his education agenda is a mix of pledges to demand greater accountability, reduce class sizes, increase funding for pre-school education, make college more affordable, and reform state funding of public schools.

One interesting note: If the state budget is late, as usual, when he's in the governor's mansion, he's pledged to forgo his salary until the budget is passed. If the specter of poor, hungry kids doesn't move lawmakers to action, perhaps the prospect of a poor, hungry governor will get their pens moving. Or, perhaps not.

War chest: Over $6.3 million.

Key endorsements: Former Governor Mario Cuomo, unions representing New York State sheetmetal workers and steelworkers, the New York State Association of Letter Carriers, and the New York State chapter of Communications Workers of America.

Running mate: Attorney Charlie King.

Carl McCall

Background: H. Carl McCall, 66, was raised in the rough neighborhoods of Roxbury, Massachusetts, in Boston. One mini-scandal in the campaign stemmed from McCall's claim to have lived in public housing as a child. "I started in public housing and I don't mind going back into it," he's joked in speeches, referring to his hope to live in the governor's mansion. In mid-August, the New York Post looked into McCall's claim and found no records to back it up. Instead, it seems the multifamily homes McCall lived in were privately owned, albeit dumpy. The gist of McCall's response: My mother --- who raised me and five siblings, alone, on welfare --- told me we lived in public housing when I was an infant. The scandal has since subsided.

McCall graduated from Dartmouth College, and attended Newton Theological School and the University of Edinburgh. He was a vice president of Citicorp for eight years. His wife, Dr. Joyce Brown, is president of the State University of New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. They have one daughter.

Political experience: The state's comptroller, McCall is the first African-American elected to statewide office in New York State. Ironically, it was then-Governor Mario Cuomo who tapped McCall to fill the post when Republican Ned Regan resigned it in 1993. McCall won the job on his own merits in 1994 and 1998. He received more votes than any other statewide candidate in 1998: 2.9 million.

McCall has been President of the New York City Board of Education, an ambassador to the United Nations, Commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Commissioner of the New York State Division of Human Rights. He served three terms as a New York State Senator.

The comptroller's primary duty is to oversee the state pension fund.

Record: The state pension fund has grown from $56 billion to over $112 billion since McCall took office. That's down from a high of $127 billion in 2000, though the stock market's decline is mainly to blame.

McCall's taken some heat lately for his management of the Venture Capital Program, a program designed to provide seed money to upstart businesses in the state. The Buffalo News reported in mid-August that in the three years since the program was created, only $14.1 million of the $250 million available in the investment fund had been distributed. And of that fraction, businesses headquartered in other states had received millions, while no investments were made in companies in Western New York.

McCall defended the out-of-state investments as within the scope of the program's purpose. More money will be invested in New York firms in the future, he said, adding that he was trying to manage the fund "prudently."

Outside his duties running the pension fund, McCall has focused on education, leading efforts to restore state budget funding for New York's public university system, among other efforts.

Platform: Like Cuomo, McCall is pro-choice, supports state recognition of same-sex marriages with full benefits and protections, and favors of the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act.

McCall has urged Pataki to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws. He's embraced the bill passed by the Assembly that would give judges more discretion in sentencing offenders; put non-violent drug offenders in mandatory treatment, rather than prison; and improve drug-treatment programs in prisons. The law would also increase sentences in cases where guns are involved or the offender has sold drugs to kids.

The minimum wage bill that passed the Assembly also has McCall's support.

McCall's environmental platform calls for the passage of a brownfields bill that would make it easier for local governments clean up and redevelop plots of industrial wasteland. Like Cuomo, he'd refinance Superfund. McCall's energy policy is geared toward reducing consumption, and he would require utilities to purchase 10 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2008.

His education plan specifically calls for an $8 billion increase in education aid over his first four years in office. Greater school accountability, smaller classes, and sound pre- and after-school education are also prominent features of the plan. In addition, McCall says his Excellence in Education Scholarship Program --- an initiative that would give students who agree to teach in public schools for five years a free graduate-level teaching education --- will bring 10,000 new teachers to New York each year. Estimated cost: $95 million the first year, as much as $185 million in future years.

In terms of higher education, McCall would reduce tuition at state community colleges by about 25 percent, so no student would pay more than $2,000 a year in tuition and fees, and increase the state's investment in higher education, among other measures.

War chest: Nearly 5.6 million.

Key endorsements: US Senator Charles Schumer, US Representatives Louise Slaughter and John LaFalce, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Assemblyman David Gantt, Monroe County Democratic Party Chair Ted O'Brien, Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson, the Civil Service Employees Union.

Running mate: Businessman Dennis Mehiel.

George Pataki

Background: George Pataki, 57, grew up on his family's farm in Peekskill, NY. He graduated from Yale and Columbia Law School. He and his wife, Libby (a marketing consultant), have four children.

Political experience: After graduating from Columbia, Pataki was elected mayor of Peekskill, where he served two terms. He went on to serve four terms in the State Assembly, and was elected to the State Senate in 1992. Two years later, he ran for Governor, defeating three-term incumbent Mario Cuomo. He was re-elected in 1998.

Missing in his Web bio is a stint working for the campaign of former Governor Nelson Rockefeller, a conservative Republican whose liberal tendencies invoked the ire of right-wingers.

It's also worth noting that Pataki pledged in 1994 to serve only two terms. Yet, here he is, again.

Record: Among Pataki's first decisions in office was to reinstate the death penalty. Despite this, no convicts have been put to death in New York while he's been governor.

Elected, in large part, because of his conservative credentials and voter dissatisfaction with Mario Cuomo's liberal policies, Pataki has since drifted toward the center of the political spectrum. Earlier in his current term, he tightened the state's gun control laws and signed the Women's Health Bill, which requires insurers to cover the cost of birth control and other contraceptives. Taxes have been cut, though they remain high compared to other states, and both debt and state spending have increased under his leadership.

Job growth upstate (that is, outside New York City, Long Island, and three downstate counties) has increased by a small fraction (about 0.7 percent) compared to the nation as a whole (which saw employment increase almost 10 percent) since Pataki took office. But Pataki's party counters that private-sector jobs have increased far more under his administration than during Mario Cuomo's reign.

Primary challenger Tom Golisano has been flooding the airwaves with ads claiming New York has lost 300,000 jobs since Pataki became governor. However, statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show the state has added 600,000 jobs since 1995, and Pataki credits his administration's initiatives, such as the creation of Empire Zones, with keeping businesses in New York.

Platform: Pataki is pro-choice, and has made no effort to ban so-called partial-birth abortions in New York. Despite his on-the-record support for the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, which passed the Assembly and seems to have enough support in the Senate to reach the governor's desk, Pataki has not pushed hard enough to make the legislation law. The idea of recognizing same-sex unions seems well outside his political radar.

Reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws has likewise languished under his leadership, though he's generally supportive of the reforms outlined in the Assembly bill. Increasing the minimum wage has not been a priority.

On the education front, Pataki's taken a lot of heat for his administration's court clash with a coalition seeking increased state aid to New York City Schools. Pataki has embraced the dubious argument that New York's Constitution only requires the state to provide students with a junior-high-level education. The legal battle continues.

Meanwhile, Pataki points out that under his leadership, state support to schools has increased by $4.8 billion, or 49 percent. The "Flex Aid" reforms he's proposed would tie school performance to state aid, providing more aid to the neediest school systems. His "Teachers of Tomorrow" program seeks to attract and retain educators through tuition reimbursement, funding for teacher certification, and other incentives.

Environmentally, the Governor's taken flack for the state's failure to refinance the Superfund toxic-site cleanup program. Pataki supports refinancing Superfund, but has clashed with Assembly Democrats over the details.

In particular, the Assembly plan calls for a $200-million-a-year program capable of cleaning up all of the state's toxic waste sites, within a decade, to the highest standards. Pataki has proposed funding the program with $90 million a year, stringing out cleanup efforts over two decades, and allowing some sites, such as those zoned for industrial use, to be cleaned up to a lesser degree than sites suitable for residential development. His plan would also split the cost of cleanups evenly between state funds and fees paid by industry; the Assembly plan calls for companies to pay 75 percent of the program's costs.

War chest: $23.3 million.

Key endorsements: Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; SEIU-1199, a health care workers union; the Teamsters Union, national and state chapters; the New York League of Conservation Voters.

Running mate: Lt. Gov. Mary Donohue.

Tom Golisano

Background: Tom Golisano, 60, grew up in Irondequoit, the son of a heating contractor and a seamstress. He completed a two-year business program at SUNY Technical College at Alfred.

In 1971, he started Paychex Inc. with $3,000. The publicly traded payroll services company is now valued at more than $10 billion and employs more than 7,000 people. As founder and CEO, Golisano is estimated to be worth $1.7 billion.

Critics have accused Golisano of running his seemingly Quixotic campaigns to boost the value of his company's stock. According to the website, which tracks the value of Paychex stock while Golisano stumps around the state, the company's stock value "soared" during his first two gubernatorial bids.

This year, however, that's not the case. According to the site, Paychex' stock price had dropped over 33 percent by August 21, compared to its value the day Golisano announced he was running again, May 1. Whether that's due to the stock market's general decline or a perception among investors that Golisano's being distracted from his duties as CEO is a matter of debate.

A philanthropist, Golisano has given over $33 million to area colleges and the Strong Children's Hospital, according to his official bio. In 1986, he established of the B. Thomas Golisano Foundation, which awards grants to organizations providing services to people with disabilities. He serves on RIT's board of trustees, and has served on the boards of Rochester General Hospital, Norstar Bank, St. John Fisher College, and the Executive Committee of the Greater Metro Chamber of Commerce --- again, according to his bio.

Golisano has been divorced twice and has two children and five grandchildren. He lives in Victor.

Political experience: Golisano helped found the state's Independence Party, and ran on its ticket in 1994. He got 4 percent of the vote. In 1998, he ran on the Independence Party line and received 8 percent of the vote.

He has never held elected office.

Platform: Golisano's campaign has been all but silent on social issues so far, focusing instead on the businessman's fiscal initiatives. Golisano has, however, been critical of Pataki's gun-control measures, and boasts of sleeping with a shotgun under his bed.

Golisano pledges to cut property and income taxes. According to his website (, he intends to pay for those cuts, in part, by "slashing the waste and political patronage from government spending" and "reforming the state budget process." His campaign has been short on specifics in this regard.

Golisano also supports passage of Initiative and Referendum Laws, which would allow citizens to put legislation on the ballot for a public vote, provided they collect a sufficient number of signatures. Pataki also supports changing the state Constitution to allow such citizen participation, though he has not exerted much political muscle to make it happen.

A self-financed candidate, Golisano would try to make corporate and union campaign contributions illegal in New York. He says such a measure would free New York from "the grip special interests have on the state." Golisano also supports term limits for all statewide elected officials, and says he'll seek changes in New York's election laws to make it easier for third parties, like his own, to compete in the political process.

Although Golisano says his business interests are unrelated to his political campaign, since announcing his candidacy, he's publicly expressed interest in two sports-related matters that could rally Western New York fans to his side.

In early August, he announced his interest in buying the Buffalo Sabres NHL hockey team. The NHL is selling the team because former owner John Rigas is bankrupt and facing fraud charges in connection with Adelphia Corp.'s finances. Golisano, who's described himself as "sort of" a hockey fan, has said he'd like to lead a group of Western New York businessmen in acquiring the team, and would consider converting it to public ownership in the future to ensure the franchise remains in Buffalo. The NHL is still in the process of seeking bids.

Later in August, Golisano offered the State University of New York at Buffalo a multimillion-dollar donation to improve its football program, but on one condition: the school change its name to New York State University. He told the Democrat and Chronicle the name change could make the team "a rallying point for the entire state," the way college football fans in Tennessee, Ohio, and other states affiliate themselves with their states' state university programs. University officials have not publicly commented on the offer.

War chest: By late August, Golisano had given his own campaign $35 million. His camp has indicated he's willing to spend as much as $75 million on his bid this year.

Key endorsements: None to speak of.

Running mates: Rochester lawyer William Neild (Independence Party), Staten Island Conservative Party activist Marylou Shanahan (Conservative Party, write-in candidate to replace Daniel Mahony).