With campaigns heating up in New York’s top statewide races, Republicans from the Hudson Valley are being mentioned as potential candidates. Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who had considered running against Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, announced in early January that he would not enter the race. Now, the Republican is being urged to reconsider. Meantime, an attorney from Westchester County is considering challenging Democratic state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
State Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb recently dropped out of the race for governor, soon after state Senator John DeFranciso launched a bid. Now, there is a “Draft Molinaro” Facebook page; the first post went up Feb. 12. Political spokesman David Catalfamo says Molinaro is listening. State University of New York at New Paltz political scientist Dr. Gerald Benjamin says Cuomo, who would be going for a third term, has a formidable record and financial advantage.
“However, it’s very important both for small ‘d’ democracy and for New York state in general to have competitive elections statewide. I think Marc Molinaro is a very able person. He has deep experience in local government and state government. And he’s a talented executive and he’d be a viable, a strong, viable candidate,” Benjamin says. “I think DeFrancisco also a viable candidate. I think it serves the Republican Party to have more than one person in the field at this stage. So it’s good for New York and good for the Republican party.”
He says it would be a very difficult race, nonetheless. Molinaro spoke in January about his decision not to run.
“I have said consistently, and I’ll say it again, I just didn’t think 2018 was the right time for me to lead a ticket. I remain committed to helping make the case because I think New York state government is broken. I think that New Yorkers have lost democracy in this state and, for every reason, they’ve lost faith in a state government that has exposed itself for being dysfunctional, bloated, arrogant and corrupt,” Molinaro said. “And I’ll play whatever role is best suited to take that case to the people of the state of New York.”
Asked at that time whether the door were completely shut on a run, Molinaro replied:
“You never say never,” said Molinaro.
As for the having more than one Republican vying to run against Cuomo, Benjamin says it shows the GOP is taking the nomination seriously and with strong alternatives.
“I think it would produce, in net terms, more visibility for the person who’s finally the challenger if there is a contest now for the nomination,” says Benjamin.
New York state Democratic Committee Executive Director Geoff Berman, in an emailed statement, says, "Given the untenable, anti-New York positions of the GOP’s current de facto nominee, I’m not surprised they are exploring other alternatives. Unfortunately for them, Molinaro is more of the same.”
Meantime, Sarmad Khojasteh, an attorney from Bedford, says he is considering a challenge to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman after being approached by party leaders in Westchester. Khojasteh, partner with a New York City law firm, says he feels compelled to strongly consider the possibility despite the strength of the incumbent.
“When we’re considering whether to run here, we’re not doing so because it’s easy or because there’s a path to victory. We’re doing so because we feel that for many New Yorkers, lower- and middle-income folks, specifically, their voices aren’t just being, they’re just not being heard whether it’s by Albany elected officials or by the attorney general, for that matter,” Khojasteh says. “And our goal here is to provide an alternative to business as usual in Albany and be a Republican who articulates not only what the party’s against, but articulates clearly what we’re for.”
Khojasteh, who withdrew from seeking the Republican nomination to run for the state Senate seat vacated by now Westchester County Executive George Latimer, a Democrat, says he will have to decide soon but there is no set date. When asked about discussions with state Republican leaders, he declined to comment, citing private conversations.
“Today, as the gap between the powerful and the vulnerable in our society is widened, the abuse of power, the daily indignities and corruption witnessed by New Yorkers, too, has grown,” says Khojasteh. “And, unfortunately, the laws that are meant to restrain these abuses of power haven’t kept pace. And to heed Bobby Kennedy’s words, our society should get the kinds of laws it deserves.”
And here’s Benjamin on the race for attorney general.
“Again, I think there should be a challenger and there should be an election and it should be a serious election, although the attorney general has been very action and very vigorous and be very hard to defeat,” says Benjamin.
Meantime, former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra and former Pataki aide Joseph Holland, both Republicans, say they’re in the race for governor. And former Hudson Valley state Senator Terry Gipson, a Democrat, says he’s running against Cuomo.