billionaire Thomas Golisano spent the weekend trying to decide
whether he would run for governor a fourth time - this time on
the Republican line. While Empire State politicos and the journalists
who cover them wait for a statement before the expiration of Mr.
Golisano's self-imposed January announcement deadline, the wisest
course of action would be for Mr. Golisano to sit out this self-aggrandizing,
self-financed political adventure.
at best be an odd fit for the New York State Republican Party.
The once-proud party of Theodore Roosevelt and Rudy Giuliani would
be selling out to a man who has not only been among Governor Pataki's
harshest critics but who also surrounds himself with political
advisers associated with the Reverend Al Sharpton. It's an absurd
lose-lose, no matter how you look at it: left, right or center.
has many of the right reform ideas about for New York State government,
but he is the wrong man at the wrong time in the wrong party.
has been a thorn in the side of the statewide GOP since he first
ran for governor in 1994 as a founding member of the New York
State Independence Party. With his free-wheeling, free-spending
campaigns he has been among Governor Pataki's harshest critics
in each of the last three elections. The fact that the state GOP
would seriously consider selling its line to the most consistent
detractor of its most successful governor since Nelson Rockefeller
is a sign of the party's desperation.
it is a cry for help from the Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno,
who wants Mr. Golisano's big bucks to help fund statewide races
in the hope that he can keep control of the Senate. It is a classic
example of Albany insiders' situational ethics.
previous sponsorship of the Independence Party did our state's
politics a great service by advancing a centrist agenda that promoted
fiscal responsibility, political reform and Libertarian values.
But in addition to memorable ads attacking Pataki for out-of-control
borrowing (one memorable ad called such a practice "pulling
a Pataki," in a line delivered by an actor sporting a Joe
Pesci-esque accent), Mr. Golisano should be remembered for his
close political alliances with folks who have supported the far
left candidacy of Al Sharpton.
once and presumably future political svengali Roger Stone might
be described as a rambunctious Republican connoisseur of hardball
politics. The New Republic less generously referred to
him in a 1985 cover story as a "state-of-the-art Washington
sleazeball." Mr. Stone, a graduate of the Nixon campaigns
and a Reagan Republican, has more recently made a name for himself
by helping the 2004 presidential campaign and national con job
of his self-described friend, Al Sharpton.
lead role in the infamous 1989 Tawana Brawley hoax means his name
is still fighting words in upstate New York, but Mr. Stone nonetheless
unabashedly helped Mr. Sharpton's recent political ambitions.
Mr. Stone's close political and business ally Charles Halloran
served as national campaign manager for Mr. Sharpton's 2004 presidential
campaign, while current Golisano spokesman Steven Pigeon helped
run Mr. Sharpton's campaign in the pivotal South Carolina primary.
bizarre bona fides, it is perhaps not surprising that Mr. Golisano's
name had been floated by aides as a possible candidate for the
Democratic line in the past. Presumably, Attorney General Eliot
Spitzer's commanding lead dissuaded the billionaire and his advisers.
Instead, Mr. Golisano found opportunistic political religion in
October 2005 by leaving the Independence Party he helped found
and switching his allegiance to the Republican Party.
defenders will no doubt point out that fellow billionaire Michael
Bloomberg switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party
before his 2001 mayoral victory, but this seemed to be more a
recognition of practical politics rather than a betrayal of previously
well-articulated principle. But questions of relative integrity
are less a cause for concern than the reality that Mr. Golisano's
campaign would confirm the presence of a new plutocracy, where
billionaires walk into political office by stepping over the plebeians
who have no choice but to follow campaign finance laws.
all signs indicate that Mr. Golisano intends to run: a well-timed
party switch to the Republicans, closely followed by a $30 million
sale of his Paychex stock as reported by the Buffalo Times.
But a simple reality check should give Mr. Golisano reason to
reconsider the wisdom of a fourth run for the governor's mansion.
Governor Pataki will do everything in his power to stop such a
move. Moreover, there is a loss of rationale for Mr. Golisano's
candidacy this time around. There is broad overlap between the
reforms he has argued for the past 12 years and the political
profile cut by the leading Republican candidate and former Massachusetts
governor, William Weld. Both men are strong advocates for fiscal
responsibility and political reform. Both men boast that they
can bring an outsider's perspective to Albany reform. Ever the
happy warrior, Mr. Weld admits as much. "I've been reviewing
his policy statements from past campaigns, and he has a lot to
say in terms of a reform agenda," said Mr. Weld. "The
argument in favor of Tom Golisano getting in the campaign is to
further enrich the reform debate for the State of New York."
The crucial difference is that Mr. Weld has the experience and
personality to achieve these goals, while Mr. Golisano does not.
proof is to imagine the reaction of the Spitzer camp to a Golisano
candidacy. The prospect of a bloody Republican primary would be
greeted like Christmas Day, while the prospect of facing Weld
alone, with 10 months to build his profile and consolidate his
base, would fill the Spitzer team with almost as much trepidation
as the possibility of a Democratic challenge from Tom Suozzi.
If Mr. Golisano
is serious about joining the Republican Party he can certainly
do a great deal to help the party's fortunes in 2006 with generous
donations to candidates across the state. He could be a powerful
ally for another candidate's campaign and if Mr. Spitzer or Mr.
Suozzi should win the gubernatorial contest, Mr. Golisano would
be an early and credible frontrunner in 2012.
But if the Republican Party sells out to Thomas Golisano without
even an attempt to establish authenticity, it will be a step toward
plutocracy and the beginning of a pathetic new era in New York
politics. Mr. Golisano cannot unite the GOP, only underwrite it.
Avlon is a columnist for the New
York Sun and the author