ALBANY - In the most critical week so far of New York’s hardball contest to be New York’s next governor, tea party Republican Carl Paladino gave voters a full look at this enigma who wants to head state government so he can rip it apart.
There was the gracious Paladino on Wednesday when he accepted the Conservative Party nomination from leaders who spent months trying to tear him down.
There was the businessman hours later, who wowed the state Business Council with his plan to flay tax and regulatory barriers to employers in the long declining state economy.
There was the father on Wednesday night who stood toe-to-toe in a red-faced shouting match with a reporter, accusing his tabloid employer of stalking and endangering his 10-year-old daughter, while cameras captured it all.
And there was the mudslinging novice politician who on Thursday admitted he had no evidence to take the low blow that his opponent, Democrat Andrew Cuomo, had extramarital affairs a decade ago.
As for Cuomo, Paladino and tightening polls have dragged the Democrat from his Rose Garden strategy that relied on surrogates to attack Paladino in what has become the nastiest campaign in memory. Cuomo told reporters Friday how he was hurt by Paladino’s claim and how he had to explain it to his three daughters.
“This was a very important week,” said Lee Miringoff of the Marist College poll about Paladino. “Those who like his metaphor of going to Albany with a baseball bat, he’s reinforced that. For those just getting to know him, it becomes a rough introduction and has raised questions of credibility and what kind of candidate he is and what kind of governor he would be.”
In two weeks, the shaky video of Paladino’s outburst will amount to just another dot on the canvas for most voters still trying to picture him, Miringoff said. The verdict from editorials and talk radio isn’t yet clear. Some say Paladino proved he is unfit for office; others say his impolitic anger to protect his daughter is exactly what makes him fit for office in this year of voter anger.
Such shouting matches between newspaper reporters and politicians aren’t unusual. Most politicians, Cuomo among them, are renown for their tirades. But they are usually conducted through aides or, if they are direct, far from cameras.
Not with Paladino.
“You send another goon to my daughter’s house and I’ll take you out, buddy,” Paladino shouted at the Post State Editor Fred Dicker. He had been repeatedly calling on Paladino to produce any evidence Cuomo had affairs during his marriage, which ended in divorce. Paladino later said he meant to imply he would stop talking Dicker, who Paladino accused of being a “bird dog” helping Cuomo.
Friday’s New York Times editorial was headlined, “If he can’t take the heat,” using the old President Harry S. Truman quote that ends, “get out of the kitchen.” The editorial concluded: “The last thing this state needs is an out-of-control governor who can’t take the heat.”
But Truman, the straight talking president praised more these days than in his, is also cited by those who say Paladino simply showed what he’s always proudly said: He’s no politician.
In 1950, Truman’s daughter, Margaret, held a Washington concert. The president’s note to the arts reviewer who trashed her singing stated: “Someday I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”
“Paladino said the hell with it,” said nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh, calling Paladino “Trumanesque.”
“His whole campaign is outside the norms, a breath of fresh air,” Limbaugh said of Paladino on the air. “He’s voicing the frustration at the ruling class the people of this country feel.”
History Professor Wendy L. Wall of Binghamton University sees another parallel to Truman and his 1948 campaign of whistle stops and handshakes against former New York Gov. Thomas Dewey, the prohibitive favorite. It was the race when Truman famously defied the polls and early editions of newspapers to win.
“It’s not so much is Paladino like Truman; it’s whether Cuomo is falling into the same position as Dewey,” she said.
Today, the fight is over which spin gets through to voters by Nov. 2.
“It was a good week for Paladino that turned into a bad week,” said Maurice Carroll of the Quinnipiac University poll and a former New York political reporter. “The press coverage has been incredibly hostile for Paladino. And he led with his chin.”