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Harry Wilson becomes latest GOP candidate for New York governor

Harry Wilson
Harry Wilson campaign screenshot
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GOP businessman Harry Wilson announces campaign for New York governor

Days before New York Republicans gather for their convention, the race for governor has a new candidate. Harry Wilson announced on Tuesday he will seek the nomination, joining a field that also includes Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, and Andrew Giuliani.

Wilson says he will put millions of dollars of his own money into the race. It comes 12 years after he narrowly lost a statewide election to Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

It's interesting timing. Why are you announcing that you're getting in right now?

Well, the reason I'm running for governor is because I think New York's badly broken and in desperate need of a turnaround. And that's what I've spent my entire career doing is leading the turnaround of failed organizations. And as I looked at the field, I did not believe that there was a candidate who could bring the same skill set that we desperately need to the race. And I decided to enter to try to earn the support of first, Republican primary voters, then hopefully, in the general election.

So what I hear you saying is you don't think the frontrunner, the current frontrunner, Lee Zeldin, can win a statewide race?

Well, I think that is true. And I think the most important question, though, is really to focus on what do we need to succeed in Albany. And I think we need that outsider with real skills and experience to drive fundamental change in what has become a failed state government. And that's why I ultimately focus on kind of, what's the core problem. The core problem is failed leadership by career politicians in Albany. And I do not believe another career politician will be able to fix it, regardless of party.

Is that a criticism of Governor Kathy Hochul?

It's a criticism of the entire state government. I mean, look, you know, the evidence is before all of us every day, right, we have the highest taxes in the country, we have skyrocketing crime, we have a rapidly rising cost of living. We've had kind of a series of failures, we have public schools that are near the bottom nationally. And so as a result, we are have a government that is extraordinarily expensive, but does a poor job in its most important services. And that is much an indictment of the Cuomo-Hochul regime as it is just an indictment of Albany more generally, you know. It's become normalized to have this kind of these failures across the board. That is not acceptable for all the hard-working people in the state who give up their hard earned tax dollars to expect better results. And my whole focus will be on making sure that everything the state government does, every dollar it spends, every regulation it has, serves the purpose of making the state a better place to work and live for everyday people. If it doesn't, then we have to strip that away and focus on the things that do.

Is it fair to say, though, you might be rushing to judgment on Governor Hochul? I mean, after all, she's only been in there for six months so far.

Well, she's been lieutenant governor for seven years. And we have the data from the last seven and a half years of the Cuomo and Hochul administration. We also have seen what Governor Hochul has put forth so far, which so far has been to spend a lot of tax dollars to effectively buy influence and support. And that, no surprise, has led to record fundraising by her and her campaign. But it's all at the expense of taxpayers. And that I think is just a continuation of the problems we've had for a long period of time in state government. So, you know, and I would just say we think about that, if you believe that we are operating in New York state and our state government on all cylinders, if you believe that things can't be better, that our schools are as good as they can be, if our streets are as safe as they can be, if our public health is as strong and as robust as it can be, if every New York kid has a fair shot in life. If you believe all that, then then absolutely, I believe we should continue more of the same. But if you don't believe that and you believe that 49 other states seem to do a better job, then we desperately need a change in leadership in Albany?

Specifically, what would you do as governor? Because let's say you do win the nomination and the general election. You know, the Democratic legislature is likely to grow only more Democratic in November's elections. You've got supermajorities in the Senate and Assembly as things stand.

There's no question there's kind of substantial Democratic representation in the legislature. That's fine. I've worked across the aisle in the past. But the more important question to me is really, you know, what are the tools the governor has to drive results for the people of New York, and specifically, the governor has enormous budgetary authority. So in my first budget, in the budget of 2023, we will implement a turnaround plan for the state of New York. And we'll go through every single dollar of state spending, every single regulation, as I described earlier, and focus on things that actually deliver tangible results in a cost effective way for New Yorkers. I believe that budget will be far more effective, and much smaller. And then, you know, as you know, if the budget is not passed by March 31, the legislature does not get paid until it does. And we will sit there and negotiate in good faith, but focus on protecting taxpayers and the best interests of the people of the state, until we get it done.

What happens if, as is likely at the convention in a few days, you do not emerge as the party backed nominee? What will you do between now and the primary?

Oh, I certainly do not expect to be the party backed nominee at all. One of my opponents has been running for a year and has said publicly that he has close to 100% of the weighted vote locked up. So we went into this knowing that we would need to petition our way onto the ballot. And that's what we plan to do. And so that's the first step is petitioning our way onto the ballot. And then, you know, concurrently we’ll be focused on earning supportive of primary voters.

What differentiates you from the other three Republicans who are in the field right now?

I think the primary differences are one, I've spent my entire career fixing broken organizations, and a skill set that is desperately needed to lead a turnaround of Albany. That's, I think, the most important question around who can actually effectively be a successful governor, and I think it comes down to that experience and proven skills, and, frankly, the guts to make major changes. So that's the first thing. The second thing is, in the last 20 years, even though I've only run for office once, I have had the most successful Republican campaign statewide of anybody in 20 years. The average in that period of time, there have been 18 statewide races, the average Republican loss during that time has been 27 points, I lost by four. Mo one else has come within nine points of me. So even though when I started, Ian, back in 2010, in that campaign, I had no idea what I was doing. I had never worked on a campaign before, much less had a campaign on my own. And yet, despite that, we had the best Republican showing of anybody in the last 20 years. And so I believe that that combination of the skill set to be successful governor, plus the proven statewide electoral success that, you know, I would only improve upon in a second run where I have a much more much broader, much more well-resourced campaign. I think those are the combinations that would a make us the most likely to be to make us the best candidate to be successful governor, and the most likely to win.

You are very wealthy. What would you do, if anything, to separate your business interests while serving as governor from the business of the state?

I will put all of my assets into a blind trust and have it managed independently.

And like a real one, not the way that President Trump did that, where his children were still in charge of the business while working in the White House.

Yeah, a blind trust to me means someone where I have no influence or decision-making their decisions.

Do you accept that President Biden won the 2020 election fairly and was duly elected?

Yes.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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