Rick Lazio is running for governor. He’s the former Republican Congressman who ran against Hillary Clinton for U.S. Senate. At one point in the debate, he shocked a lot of people by walking too close to her podium; Democrats and feminists jumped on him for taking what they perceived to be too combative a posture. I asked him about that time with Clinton and whether he would have done it differently now. He made it clear that he’s older and wiser and no, he would not have made that move if he had to do it over.
Lazio says he can win. That would mean beating either sitting Gov. David Paterson or Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, if he runs. Lazio recalled that when the then-popular Attorney General Robert Abrams ran for Senate against Alfonse D’Amato, he was leading Big Al by 25 points in the polls but still lost.
Lazio is a genuinely nice guy, a moderate Republican who takes progressive stances on issues like women’s reproductive rights. He describes himself as a fiscal conservative. Of course, if the conservative whack-jobs decide that Lazio is not conservative enough, they could throw a candidate into the race, thus dooming Lazio’s chances.
The politics of Lazio and the new Republican state chairman, Ed Cox, sound a lot alike to me. Lazio says that he likes and respects Cox, but when I asked him whether he would keep Cox in the top party job if he became governor, there was a certain amount of hemming and hawing until he decided that he would be comfortable with Cox.
If no one else comes forward to run, Lazio may well get the nod. Assuming that Cuomo is the Democratic candidate, how will Lazio catch up? He will certainly have to go on the attack. When I spoke with him, I got a taste of what that attack might look like. Lazio and some other people I know think that Cuomo’s soft underbelly is his time as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Cuomo didn’t win stellar reviews while he was there. It turns out that Lazio was chairman of the Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunities when Cuomo was at HUD, and Lazio says that Cuomo was a weak secretary. He has facts and figures to back that up. My bet is that his people are doing what we call “negative research” on Cuomo’s time at HUD and we will be hearing a lot more about that from the former Long Island Congressman.
Lazio also senses a major Republican resurgence in New York. He points to a mess of Republican victories around the state in which county legislatures and county executive positions that were Democratic fell to the Republicans. Right now, Lazio has a big name-recognition problem, but if he can ride the wave of anti-Democratic sentiment in New York, fueled by the nonsense in the State Senate and Paterson’s inability to get other Democrats to go along with budget cuts, he might prevail. Stranger long shots have come in.
Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.
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