Molinaro, Killian, Wofford, Trichter (l-r)
With the primary election over and the Democratic statewide ticket in clear view, attention across the state shifts to the general election, with the November 6 vote fewer than 50 days away. Republicans fought no statewide primaries and have had a slate of candidates ready and raring to take on their Democratic opponents. Those GOP nominees have been raising money and campaigning but somewhat crowded out of the conversation as Democrats waged highly contested races for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General, with a good deal of intraparty fighting that now must be repaired and can offer some fodder for opponents in the weeks ahead.
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, both incumbents up for reelection, won their separate primaries on Thursday and now form a ticket to face Republicans Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess county executive, and his lieutenant governor running-mate, former Rye City Council Member Julie Killian.
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli did not have a primary challenger but will now face Jonathan Trichter, who recently changed his registration from Democrat to Republican and is promising to run the office without political or ideological influence.
In the attorney general race, which will make history no matter the result, Public Advocate Letitia James beat three other Democrats to claim the party’s nomination and must now confront Keith Wofford, a Republican from Buffalo. Both of the major party candidates are African-American, meaning New York is all but assured to have its first black attorney general come January.
In all three statewide contests for state-level seats, there are smaller party candidates running as well, including gubernatorial candidates Howie Hawkins (Green), Larry Sharpe (Libertarian), and Stephanie Miner (Serving America Movement), their lieutenant governor running-mates, as well as candidates for comptroller and attorney general.
Though they face significant headwinds due to New York’s heavy Democratic enrollment advantage and apparent anti-Trump enthusiasm among Democrats, the Republican statewide candidates have been preparing for this roughly seven-week spring to Election Day.
An overview of the Republican statewide slate follows, with additional profiles of the candidates and coverage of their campaigns to follow as November approaches.
Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor, has served as Dutchess County Executive since 2012 and was a member of the State Assembly for five years before that. He was nominated unanimously at the State Republican Party convention in May, after Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and State Senator John DeFrancisco withdrew from the race as support of party leaders coalesced around Molinaro.
Molinaro has spent his entire adult career in politics, beginning with election to the Tivoli Board of Trustees in 1994. He was elected mayor of Tivoli one year later; at 19, he was the youngest mayor in America at the time. In 2000, he was elected to the Dutchess County Legislature, where he served for six years concurrently while also serving as mayor of Tivoli. In 2006, he stepped down as mayor and county legislator to run for the Assembly. Five years after that, he ran for County Executive and won with 62 percent of the vote.
In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one, Molinaro has mostly eschewed conservative firebrand rhetoric in favor of criticizing Cuomo on a broad range of issues, including mismanagement of the MTA, taxes he says are too high, and a culture of corruption he says Cuomo is at the center of, highlighting the Buffalo Billion scandal in particular. Molinaro has outlined only a few detailed policy proposals, including regarding government ethics and the MTA, promising more to come soon, highlighted by a tax reform package he says will shake up the state.
The GOP nominee appears to mix moderate and conservative principles, while promising that his approach to government is a bipartisan one focused on bringing all voices to the table and finding solutions that make sense, no matter where they might fall on the ideological spectrum. He regularly promises that as governor he would only show allegiance to New Yorkers, not donors or political supporters.
Molinaro has called for term limits for elected officials, ending “pay-to-play” politics, and closing the LLC loophole, though he himself has taken LLC money in this election cycle, in conjunction with other campaign finance reforms. He also says that JCOPE has “no integrity,” and sued it this summer to find out whether it is investigating Cuomo for ethics violations. Molinaro has backed calls for public hearings on sexual harassment in Albany, calls that have been ignored by Cuomo and legislative leaders, including the Republican Senate majority leader, as those top officials designed new anti-harassment laws behind closed doors and passed them with no public review during the most recent budget.
On education, Molinaro has critiqued the culture of high-stakes standardized testing but nonetheless believes the SHSAT should remain in place for entrance to the city’s top high schools. In the Assembly, he voted against raising the cap on charter schools in 2010 along with other Republicans, but his current position on charter schools appears more open. Molinaro supports fracking, which Cuomo banned in the state in 2014, but is an issue that could play well in upstate communities with high unemployment. On the MTA, Molinaro backs New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s “Fast Forward” plan, but also thinks that the state needs to go after bloated union contracts and bring down construction costs.
Like most Republicans in the state, Molinaro lists one of his top priorities as reducing property taxes, which he says are driving away businesses and individuals who might otherwise locate in New York.
Molinaro has said he has changed his stance since he voted against marriage equality while in the Assembly and said he opposes expansion of abortion rights, but is not supportive of trying to overturn Roe v. Wade or undo current New York laws, which pre-date Roe and further limit choice. He has taken a somewhat vague stance on gun control, criticizing Cuomo’s signature SAFE Act as going too far, but hesitating to discuss what changes he would pursue if elected.
While the Cuomo camp has worked to tie Molinaro to President Donald Trump, referring to him as a “Trump mini-me,” the Republican nominee has tried to distance himself from the president, whom he says he did not vote for. Molinaro supports the president’s tax reform law but has criticized its slashing of the state-and-local tax deduction, and has taken a far less hostile tone toward immigrants. He called for an end to the Trump administration’s immigrant-family separation policy, though he is not in favor of New York becoming a “sanctuary state.”
In order to win, Molinaro will have to persuade a combination of Republicans, independents, and moderate Democrats to choose him over Cuomo and others on the ballot. No Republican has won statewide since Governor George Pataki won a third term in 2002.
Julie Killian, a former Rye City Council member, became the Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor shortly after losing a special election for State Senate in Westchester to Democrat Shelley Mayer. She had unsuccessfully challenged now-Westchester County Executive George Latimer in 2016 for the same Senate seat, which Latimer held at the time.
Like Molinaro and many Republicans in the state, Killian is focusing heavily on what she characterizes as the state’s burdensome taxes, which she says are causing a “brain drain” from New York to Connecticut and the south. Like Molinaro, Killian has been critical of the cultures of corruption and sexual harassment in state government.
A native of Buffalo with a working class background, Wofford is a Harvard-educated attorney and co-managing partner at Ropes & Gray, an international white-shoe law firm based in New York City. He previously worked as a senior securitization analyst at Moody's Corporation.
Wofford became the first African-American Republican nominee for attorney general at the May convention. “The first thing the next attorney general has to do is to get the corruption in government under control,” Wofford said in a campaign video released Monday. “The corruption we tolerate in our state government is holding us back.” Just last week, the night of the Thursday primary, Wofford’s campaign launched its first television ad, part of a $3.25 million ad buy which will air statewide. The ad buy is indicative of Wofford’s strong early fundraising, possibly helping him compete against James, the Democratic nominee, who had to spend much of her initial haul on a tough primary.
A first-time candidate with little name recognition across the state, Wofford indicated in Monday’s video that he wants to use the office of attorney general “to make sure that we have an environment, legally, that makes it possible for jobs and business to grow in this state.” He also wants the office to focus on “the big villains, the people who are doing real damage to citizens and taxpayers,” though he did not explain who those villains are.
Painting himself as an outsider to he political system, he said he doesn’t have to cut deals to be elected, which could be seen as a dig at James, who won her primary with help from Cuomo and the Democratic establishment. Wofford has also promised to tackle the opioid epidemic, leveraging the office’s power to investigate opioid manufacturers and distributors.
In interviews, Wofford has signalled a far different approach than the current office has taken to respond to federal policies under Trump. “The last attorney general [Eric Schneiderman, who resigned earlier this year amid domestic abuse allegations] talked about resisting the federal government and it was clear...that was motivated to establish a partisan political position,” he told the Watertown Daily Times last week.
On Tuesday Wofford announced his intention to, if elected, immediately begin investigating what his campaign called “systemic corruption involving state and local government officials across the state.” In doing so, Wofford sought to distance himself from James, who has said she will seek legislative approval of the authority to broadly investigate public corruption, which she and others have said the attorney general does not currently have.
“Unlike Democratic candidate Letitia James who has said she must receive the Legislature’s authorization to investigate corruption, the law is clear that the People’s Lawyer has both the constitutional and statutory duty and right to represent the people’s interests,” Wofford said in a press release. “From day one as New York State Attorney General, I will use every tool at my disposal to fight corruption and protect taxpayers.”
Trichter was until recently a registered Democrat who worked for Eliot Spitzer’s successful attorney general campaign in 1998. He had to obtain special permission from the state Republican Party to run on its line against Democratic incumbent Tom DiNapoli.
By trade an investment banker who once worked for JP Morgan, Trichter has been actively involved in government and politics, with broad experience. A public finance expert, he was the policy director for Harry Wilson, the Republican businessman who ran for state comptroller against DiNapoli in 2010. Trichter later worked for Wilson’s corporate restructuring firm, MAEVA.
In his campaign launch video, Trichter described the comptroller as a Superman of sorts, with “an office that could be more powerful in Albany than a locomotive and could leap tall buildings in a single bound.”
Trichter has pledged to release detailed policy papers laying out his positions. He has already published four papers that dive deep into the state’s pension system, which he believes has been underfunded and mismanaged while DiNapoli has been in office.
His strategy for victory, laid out on his campaign website, seems to also rely on linking DiNapoli to the disgraced former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who first led the appointment of the comptroller to his seat to fill a vacancy brought about by public corruption. Trichter has promised to bring a cold eye of data analysis and no political interests to the office, only focusing on what is best for taxpayers.
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette