All eyes may be trained on Cynthia Nixon's primary challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe is betting that he will be the choice for the voters who don't want to vote for either. According to his campaign, Sharpe has raised more money than any of the Republican candidates combined, placing him just behind Cuomo in terms of fundraising. In a wide ranging interview with City & State reporter Grace Segers, Sharpe talked about why he thinks New York needs libertarian leadership, why he believes rising inequality is a myth, why he would cut off funding to the MTA, and what he sees as his path to victory in November.
C&S: What's your platform?
LS: Do you not know who I am, my dear? I'm, like, famous now. No, I'm totally teasing you. You do know I'm running for the Libertarian line, right?
C&S: Yes, I do.
LS: Great. So you probably have a decent idea. We're about making government more local. We're about not assuming that the person who's sitting in Albany (has) all the answers for everyone throughout the state. It's a critical piece that goes through much of our ideology. Right now, we have an environment that is all about punishment and bribery. If you make an error, I punish you. If you make more money, I tax you. If I want you to stay, I bribe you to stay in the state with some form of "free this, or free that," or I try to bribe you to come to my state, and when the bribes go away, you walk away.
C&S: How would you break that kind of process?
LS: First one, allow the counties to decide how they want to run their counties. Now the response I always get is, “Well then, Larry, some counties will be unhappy or some counties will fail.” They're all failing now, so let a couple of them figure out what's right and what's wrong.
At a more state level, how about the idea of no more of these committees and boards that in theory are there so that no one has too much power, but in reality are there so that no one's responsible. That's why we have things like the MTA or the Board of Regents where it's kind of the governor's responsibility, but kind of not, but kind of the mayor's responsibility, but kind of not. What happens is they're actually petri dishes for cronyism. Now, those have to go away. In business you have to have responsibility. The problem is we're worried about blame. I'm not worried about blame, I'm worried about responsibility. So all of these boards and all of these committees have to be directly under someone, and that person has to be responsible.
C&S: One of the biggest issues in New York right now is rising inequality, especially in New York City with segregation in school districts. How would libertarian policies help to combat inequality in New York?
LS: Yeah, that's not rising. That's a story. That's been around for a long time. That's been true since I was a kid in the '70s in the Bronx. The idea that inequality is rising now is a fantasy. It's always been there and it's been bad. We've been using centralized control to repair it for I don't know how long. And how has it worked? It hasn't. New York state has supposedly been on the forefront of this integration and we're some of the most segregated schools in the nation. The answer is allowing local school districts to deal with things themselves. What will happen? Will there still be some segregated schools? Of course! It's failing miserably now! But will others realize that you know what, some integration and some diversity is going to be popular and powerful. How do I know that? That's what always happens. And the biggest example of that was segregation in the South after the Civil War. They had to make laws to segregate because without the laws they would have integrated. That's what would have happened. It would have been here and there and people would have figured out what works best, and we would have wound up integrating our society. That's what happens when there's no rules and regulations forcing you to integrate. The goal is to allow more local school districts to have more power. What will happen is people will eventually realize what works for them, and it will by default mean diversity, and it will by default mean integration because that's what always happens.
The entire school education system has to be rebooted. The concept that we have K through 12 in itself is an anachronism. The concept that we think that one child should spend 22 years trying to figure out what their career is, is totally backward. We should have K through 10. Lots of kids should not be going to college right away. But more importantly, they should be making decisions at 16. We wonder why our kids don't grow up? We don't let them grow up. But more importantly even on top of that, the average kid today is going to have at least five careers. Not five jobs, five careers. So why not start early? Get out there at 16, 17, 18. Figure out what's going on. We have labor laws from when we had factories. That's been dead for 20 years. And on top of that, we're still teaching to tests. What is wrong with us? In what world does test taking show you to be successful? There are so many ways to fix our education system. The idea that equality is the No. 1 thing is silly.
C&S: The MTA is a big issue, especially downstate. How would you address the deteriorating subway system and the issues we have with funding the MTA?
LS: Yeah, I'm not going to fund them any more at all. They get what they get and that's it. And that will make them have to collapse, I don't care. People say, “Larry, you can't have the subway collapse.” It's already collapsing! It's an embarrassment. It's a disaster. And now we're going to give them more money? We're going to reward that horrible behavior? No! Instead I'm going to open it up to any other idea possible. First things first, the MTA has to have someone in charge of it.
The MTA, and I will have that system decided, it will either be run by the governor or run by the mayor. If it's run by the mayor, then I'm hands off. Have a nice day, good luck, New York City. Do what you've got to do. You want to raise your own local taxes and crush your people? Good for you. I think it's a terrible idea. But I would not stop the local, New York City from doing what they want to do. Or the governor's going to be in charge. And if I'm in charge, I'm going to open up any other idea possible. And when I say any other idea, I literally mean any other idea. If someone says, “Larry, I want to run helicopters across” – let's look at it! Anything. Monopoly is bad. So is governmentopoly. The ideas now are, let's punish Uber and Lyft, real answers, let's do that, so that we can help fund the MTA? What are we, insane? Let's raise more money to come into the city. The tolls are already out of this world! So I come in now and it's going to be $20? What is wrong with us? Why are we thinking this way? Again, punishment. It's all about punishment, punishment, punishment. No.
If we want to fund the MTA, a better way of funding it in general – why don't we start naming bridges. Let's sell the naming rights. Rent out the naming rights to the bridges. Instead of it being a bridge, the Tappan Zee, that we've now named after our aristocracy, the Cuomo family – instead of naming it after that, why don't we let it become the Staples Bridge, or the Key Bank Bridge, whatever the case may be. Who cares. They pay tons of money for this. They literally spend billions of dollars on advertising every single year. Why aren't they sending $100 million our way for some of our bridges? The MTA by itself owns 12 bridges and tunnels, I believe. Imagine if we just got $50 million apiece just for those 12 only, nothing else. We're starting to raise some money! How about we do that and get rid of the tolls. You want to help the average New Yorker? Dump the tolls on the bridges. You want to help the average New Yorker? Make the company who has the naming rights be responsible for all the maintenance. These are real ideas for revenue raisers. Not just taxes.
The problem we have with our current administration – and whoever – whatever Republican or Democrat is going to be in charge, all they're going to do is change how they tax you. Now here's the bigger problem. Our budget is about $170 billion, give or take. Florida has more people, and theirs is about half that. Now people always tell me, "But Larry, New Yorkers expect certain amounts of services." Then why are they all running to Florida? That is a terrible concept. It doesn't even work. I don't know why people say that. It's obviously wrong. If people wanted more services in New York state, why are they running to Florida? We've got 100,000 or so we're losing every year. Youth flight in upstate New York, Western New York, Central New York, is embarrassingly bad. We should be ashamed of ourselves for this. Now our budget keeps going up, yet our population keeps going down. I have an idea, cut spending, get real revenue raisers with things that I just talked about – but even upstate New York, we've got the Erie Canal. Erie Canal is 500 some odd miles long, we've got about two dozen locks on it, why aren't we naming the locks?
C&S: What are the pathways you're looking at to appeal to New Yorkers?
LS: Let me give you my pathway to victory and how I'll get there. First things first, as a Libertarian I have 175,000 people in New York I consider my base. Those are the number of people who voted for Gary Johnson in 2016. Now, don't get me wrong, that's not enough for a win, but that's enough for a start. There's only going to be about 4 million voters. I break 500,000? That's impact right there. But I go one step further than that. Tripling that 175,000 is relatively easy. Why? I started my campaign a lot earlier than Gary Johnson and he spent five minutes in this state. I live in this state. I travel this state. I travel Western New York, central New York, upstate, downstate – I'm everywhere. People are seeing who I am, I'm getting out there. With that in mind, if I triple that 500,000, I now get over 1.5. I break 1.5 million – I get 1.6 million votes – I'm the governor. This is going to be a four-way race at least, maybe even five. And in a four-way race, 1.6 million votes is the governor. That's me.
Now, how do I make that happen? No. 1, the Republicans cannot win this state in a statewide election in 2018. That is a wasted vote and most Republicans are getting that. That's why they're giving me support. They realize whatever sacrificial lamb they throw up is going to lose. How do I know that? The last two dropped. They saw my fundraising numbers and said, "We're done, we're out of here." The Republican Party is broken in a statewide election. They will still be effective locally, of course. But statewide, it's not going to happen, and they're seeing it. If I get those unhappy Republicans to show up, I will get hundreds of thousands of votes. Next, Cuomo is unpopular. How do I know that? The woman from "Sex and the City" is challenging him! Clearly he's unpopular. People don't like him. Even Democrats don't like him. So, the Democrats that are far left are going to vote for him or the actress. One of those two. But there's a whole bunch that aren't that far left and don't like him and realize how bad and how corrupt he is. Those people are also going to come my way. So that's how we'll get the Republicans and the Democrats who are unhappy. Those will come my way.
Next, add on top of that 70 percent of New Yorkers don't vote. That's the biggest voting bloc of New Yorkers. Why do they not vote? Because there's no hope! “Why bother, I'm wasting my time.” I'm the guy that's full of hope. I'm the guy with serious change. I'm the guy they can look at. The other independent candidates are all worthless.
Here's the reality: Either in 2019 Cuomo will be the governor or I will be the governor. Clearly odds are in his favor. But that reality doesn't change. There's no other actual competitor who can win. It will either be me or it will be him. Again, how do I know that? Because I'm the second highest fundraiser in the state. Him, then me. And I'm the third party guy. So it's him or me, either way. Obviously I'm biased, and I think it'll be me.