The following appears in the August 27-September 2 issue of the Long Island Business News:
On Sept. 14 – primary day – the candidate New York Republicans choose as their gubernatorial standard-bearer will determine whether their party will remain politically competitive or be reduced to permanent minority status.
Yes, if former Congressman Rick Lazio loses to self-proclaimed Tea Party rival, Carl Paladino, the November outcome may be worse then the GOP’s 1990 disaster when their candidate for governor, Pierre Rinfret, garnered only 23 percent of the total vote.
Who, you ask, was Pierre Rinfret? Here’s a little history: In May 1990, members of a desperate GOP gubernatorial search committee frantically combed their address books and under “R” came across the name of economic consultant Pierre Rinfret. They telephoned him and after a brief conversation, Rinfret agreed to be the candidate against two-term Gov. Mario Cuomo.
It quickly became apparent that Rinfret was not ready for prime time and had no knowledge of state issues.
And he was the loosest of loose cannons. To wit:
• He called incumbent Republican Comptroller Ned Regan an idiot and endorsed the opponent, Democrat-Liberal Carol Bellamy.
• He called the man who discovered him, Sen. Roy Goodman, “one of the most destructive people in this state.”
• He called Secretary of HUD Jack Kemp a traitor to the party and “a lackey” for Cuomo.
• He told a female reporter to come to his inauguration and to leave her husband home.
• He referred to African-Americans who live in Harlem as “those people” and insisted they prefer to live outdoors in the streets.
Columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak said Rinfret “has turned out to be a worse candidate than even his critics feared.” Nassau County’s then comptroller, Republican Peter King, referred to Rinfret as “the brainless wonder.” Republican insiders called him a “bozo,” a “buffoon” and other things unprintable.
On Election Day, Nov. 6, 1990, the political world was shocked by the results: While Cuomo coasted to victory with 53 percent, Rinfret received 865,000 votes (23 percent) to Conservative Party candidate Herb London’s 827,000 (22 percent). The Conservative Party had come within 38,000 votes of outpolling the Republicans. Rinfret received the lowest vote percentage of any GOP candidate in the 20th century.
Paladino has the makings of another Rinfret. In television and print interviews, he has revealed he knows little about the workings of state government or its fiscal problems. Moreover, he is gaffe-prone. Even his rehearsed sound bites come across as puerile bromides.
Republican political consultant Susan Del Percio said Paladino “tends to be inflicted with foot-and-mouth disease quite often…” For instance, Paladino said in March that the new federal health care law would kill more Americans than the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It has also been revealed that he has forwarded to friends and admirers insensitive, racist, pornographic and stupid e-mails.
If Paladino wins the GOP nod in September expect scads of responsible Republicans to jump ship in November and vote for Lazio on the Conservative Party line. And expect the Andrew Cuomo juggernaut to ferociously expose Paladino’s flaws.
With New York’s political demographic becoming darker blue, thanks to the exodus of about 600,000 economically challenged upstaters since 2000, it is possible that Paladino would garner no more than 18 percent of the vote statewide, with Lazio snagging up to 16 percent. Such an outcome would be disastrous for the entire GOP ticket. They would fail to retake the state Senate which would mean Democrats would have sole power to recut district lines of both houses of the Legislature.
Carl Paladino is the GOP’s worst nightmare. One can only hope the rank and file will not be swayed by his money or his bumper sticker formulas to fix New York.