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9th June
2006

First Published in The New York Sun, June 9, 2006

By Andrew Wolf

The victory of John Faso in last week’s Republican state convention has been portrayed as an upset. It shouldn’t be. Mr. Faso, the former Assembly minority leader has routinely been underestimated. Although he faces a hard road ahead, he can be elected governor. Conventional wisdom says Eliot Spitzer. Tell that to “Governor” Howard Samuels, “Governor” Ed Koch, and “fourterm” Governor Mario Cuomo.

Mr. Faso demonstrated that he had the right stuff four years ago when he came out of nowhere to finish strong in the race for state comptroller. In that contest, Mr. Faso faced a well-known opponent, Alan Hevesi, who had served as the city’s comptroller for two terms and for a while was considered the front-runner to succeed Mayor Giuliani.

Elections for comptroller rarely get attention, so it was all-the-more impressive that Mr. Faso was able to run such a close race. He showed he could hold his own against a better-known opponent, a talent he will certainly need this year as the decided underdog. It does not hurt that Mr. Faso is Italian American. In New York State, voters of Italian heritage are an important swing bloc, well represented in both major parties.This was behind the electoral success of Senator D’Amato, who defeated the iconic Jacob Javits in 1980, and Governor Cuomo, who surprisingly dispatched Mayor Koch back to City Hall in 1982, when it seemed that Mr. Koch was a shoo-in to make the move up to Albany.

The conventional wisdom is that the departure of Mr. Faso’s opponent for the GOP nod is helpful to the Republican effort. I think that it is just the opposite. I haven’t a doubt that Mr. Faso would have dealt just as effectively with former Massachusetts Governor Weld in the primary as he did at the nominating convention. What he would have gotten with a primary was weeks of free publicity, culminating in a victory party just as the final campaign heats up. This is called momentum. If Mr. Faso shows momentum, I suspect he might find fund raising a good deal easier.There certainly are a number of folks with deep pockets who would like to derail the candidacy of the presumed frontrunner, Eliot Spitzer — if there is a reasonable prospect of success.

Unfortunately, conventional wisdom, and perhaps a bit of common sense of Mr.Weld’s part, prevailed, and Mr. Faso is spared the primary. So where does he go from here?

It is essential that he re-define Mr. Spitzer. This can be done by repeatedly asking the simple question, “What is it exactly that Eliot Spitzer has protected us from?”

Who are the dangerous miscreants Mr. Spitzer has put in jail? I can’t think of any. Do ordinary voters really care that the head of the New York Stock Exchange might have been overpaid, though Mr. Spitzer hasn’t come close to winning that case yet and may well be made a fool of? Maybe they might care more that special protection might have been afforded by Mr. Spitzer to the member of the Exchange’s board who was in large part responsible for signing off on the pay package, a prominent Democrat named H. Carl McCall.
Mr. Spitzer should be portrayed at the center of a shake-down scheme that forces businesses to pay protection to avoid continued bad publicity over what are largely technical violations that few really understand. This may have won Mr. Spitzer some headlines. Mr. Faso needs to explain that this was a dangerous endeavor as the industries targeted are the economic engine that drives New York State.

Rather than portrayed as a white knight, Mr. Spitzer can be admonished for his own ethical lapses, beginning with his deception over the financing of his campaigns in 1994 and 1998. Mr. Spitzer covered up the fact that his father, a wealthy developer, was bankrolling his campaigns.

And what of the use of his office to provide directed contributions to charities of Mr. Spitzer’s choosing? Last year I wrote about one such incident. Philip Anschutz, the former chairman of Qwest, was ordered to pay $4.4 million to charities of Mr. Spitzer’s choosing, as a settlement of a case against him. One of the charities Mr. Spitzer selected for a $100,000 “donation” was the Hispanic Federation, a group with close ties to his political consultant, former Bronx Democratic boss Roberto Ramirez.

Mr. Faso must put the Spitzer campaign on the defensive, day-in-and-day-out. Invest in the best research and slowly but surely undo the cumulative effect of years of Spitzer press releases.

Mr. Faso also will profit by running from, rather than embracing, Governor Pataki. He must run against the Pataki record if he hopes to convince voters, particularly upstaters, that a Faso administration will not reprise Mr. Pataki’s capitulation to the Albany establishment and special interests.

I’m not suggesting that Mr. Faso should reject the endorsement of the governor, which Mr. Pataki has already delivered.That would be bad manners. But he simply can’t embrace the many failures of the Pataki administration. Mr. Faso has to make it clear that he is his own man and that the candidate in this race that stands for the status quo of the last eight years is Eliot Spitzer.

Everything I suggest to Mr. Faso holds for Democratic hopeful Thomas Suozzi as well. But I am not optimistic about his campaign. Each day I receive a copy of Mr. Suozzi’s campaign schedule. This is not the kind of whirlwind scheduling of a candidate who is serious about winning the hearts and minds of voters. His schedule is far too thin, still too parochial and Nassau-centric to afford him the exposure he must get to achieve the momentum his campaign desperately needs.

© 2006 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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