Cuomo's scandals give GOP candidates hope

Apr 23, 2021

Several Republican office holders who are interested in running for governor next year made their case to the state’s GOP county leaders at a meeting in Albany this week. The meeting comes as Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has said he wants to run again, has been weakened by a series of scandals.

New York has twice as many enrolled Democrats as Republicans and it’s been almost 20 years since anyone from the GOP won a statewide office. Republicans lost control of the state Senate in 2018. But Republicans see new hope as Cuomo struggles with several scandals.

Cuomo is facing allegations of sexual harassment from several women and there’s a federal investigation over whether he covered up the number of nursing home COVID-19 deaths. An impeachment inquiry by the state Assembly also focuses on whether the governor violated the public officers law when his staff helped him write and promote a book, and whether he favored friends and family by giving them access to hard-to-get coronavirus tests. 

As a result, potential candidates are lining up. 

Rep. Lee Zeldin makes an appearance in Rochester April 13.
Credit James Brown / WXXI News

Congressman and former state Sen. Lee Zeldin is one of the only announced candidates so far and he said he’s already raised $2.5 million since he declared his intentions on April 8. Zeldin is running on an anti-tax platform, saying New York’s high costs are driving out not only the rich, but also the middle class.

Zeldin disagrees with recent criminal justice reforms enacted by Democrats in state government, including cashless bail. He’s also capitalizing on Cuomo’s controversies.  

“I believe that New York is ready to be returned to glory, but it’s not going to happen with a continued reign of Andrew Cuomo,” Zeldin said. “We are living through the final chapter of his time in elected office.”  

Lewis County Sheriff Michael Carpinelli has also announced a run for governor. Rep. Elise Stefanik, from the North Country, has expressed interest in the race and would be considered one of the front-runners if she ran. She skipped the meeting due to a family emergency.  

Two Republicans who ran against Cuomo in the past also met with the committee.

Rob Astorino, who was the 2014 gubernatorial candidate, said he worked well with a Democratic legislature when he was Westchester County executive. He, like Zeldin, also believes that new tax and spending increases and the easing of some crime statutes is taking the state in the wrong direction. 

“The system is so broken right now, the state and New York City is in a death spiral,” Astorino said. “This is upstate’s last stand.” 

A screenshot from the Marc Molinaro campaign-style video pinned to the Dutchess County Executive's Twitter account.
Credit Marc Molinaro / Twitter

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who lost to Cuomo in 2018, has not announced his intentions, but has recently released campaign-style videos on social media with a more positive message of unity and understanding.

“One cannot love America without loving Americans, not just the Americans you agree with or those who look like you,” Molinaro said in the video, “but all Americans.”  

Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin also met with the state committee members, as did the two Republican legislative leaders, Senate GOP Leader Rob Ortt and Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay.  

Joseph Holland, a New York City-based attorney and real estate developer who grew up near Ithaca, served as housing commissioner under former GOP Gov. George Pataki and has helped set up homeless shelters. Holland, who is African American, said he’s the only one among the potential candidates who can also appeal to the Democrats who would be needed in order for Republicans to win the election.  

“We can’t win without the crossover vote,” Holland said. “And I’m the candidate who can do that.”

Andrew Giuliani, son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, has also said he’s interested in running.

Cuomo has said he has no intention of leaving office despite the scandals. And though his popularity is plummeting in the polls, he has not changed his previous intention to seek a fourth term.

He could face a primary challenge, as he has in the past two elections. Potential candidates include state Attorney General Tish James, who is investigating Cuomo over the sexual harassment charges and was recently authorized to probe the governor’s book deal.