Wise Guy: A Q&A with Guy Molinari
Wise Guy: A Q&A with Guy Molinari
Guy Molinari has spent a lifetime in politics. His father was an assemblyman, his daughter and son-in-law were members of Congress, and Molinari himself served 27 years – three terms in the Assembly, five in the House of Representatives and three as Staten Island borough president.
Although he hasn’t held elected office since 2001, Molinari has continued to play a key role in the borough’s politics, recruiting and grooming Republican candidates and steering them into key offices.
In an interview with City & State’s Jon Lentz, Molinari discussed the borough’s new district attorney, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s unpopularity, and his history with the Bushes.
City & State: How involved are you in the borough’s politics these days?
Guy Molinari: I’m still as involved as I can be. The problem is my health is such now that I have a difficult time. I can’t walk very well. So with that handicap, most of the political work that I’ve been doing is at home. We just finished this campaign, unsuccessfully, but I had any number of meetings at my house here, and I look forward to being involved next year.
C&S: In that Staten Island district attorney race, former Rep. Michael McMahon, a Democrat, beat Republican prosecutor Joan Illuzzi.
GM: Well, they’re going to come after Dan Donovan. Danny used to work for me for years, and he was the D.A. for 12 years, and he’s now the congressman. Since the Democrats won, they’re saying he’s next. I look forward to that fight. I’ll probably be running that campaign. Danny’s my buddy, and he does a good job, so I’m confident that we’ll put together a good campaign and we’ll win.
C&S: Does McMahon’s victory give Democrats momentum?
GM: If I were them, I wouldn’t go crazy because they won a race recently. I know how it was done, and they’re not going to be able to repeat that. That race, everyone’s going to be together on it. Everybody loves Danny. He’s a very popular guy. He’s working hard, and we’ve run a number of his campaigns, so we know what we have to do. He anticipates a race. My advice to him would be to get as much earned media as he can get before the election comes.
C&S: How did McMahon win?
GM: First of all, he got a ton of money, far outspent us, 3 or 4 to 1. The fact that his wife was the administrative law judge helped them raise a lot of money. The lawyers contributed rather heavily, as the filings would show. So he had a lot of money to play with. They got a huge vote on the North Shore, which is primarily African-American, so they were able to pull out that vote big time. Our efforts were geared to the South Shore, which is a conservative Republican area. Despite our best efforts, voter turnout was low in those areas. So that’s what caused us to lose the race. That’s too bad, because the lady was just a dynamite candidate. She’s a tremendous professional. Probably nobody will ever run again for that office who would be more suited for that kind of a position. I know that Cy Vance has contacted her already wanting her to come back. Our loss may be Manhattan’s gain.
C&S: McMahon distanced himself from Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat. What does that say about the mayor’s reputation on Staten Island?
GM: It’s very, very bad. They don’t like him at all here. It was a smart move not having him be out front, because that would have cost them a lot of votes. The interesting part about this race is Debi Rose, the City Council member in North Shore, an African-American, appealed to African-Americans talking about the Eric Garner case. They turned out to prevent what happened to Garner from happening to other African-Americans in the future. So it becomes us versus them again. In the meantime, the PBA and Patrick Lynch played a very heavy role in McMahon’s campaign. I’m wondering, if something does occur, how that would play out in a new administration.
C&S: Any thoughts on the presidential field?
GM: I’m a Jeb Bush supporter. I was a close associate of 41. I ran his campaign here and they asked me to take over in New Hampshire when they were losing. I went up there and turned that race around. He had lost in Iowa, and if he had lost in New Hampshire, he was over. We were down by 12 points at the time, and I worked my tail off. It’s a small area, only two congressional districts, so you’re able to make an impact. I turned it around, and we won by 12 points. That was probably one of my best races. I loved the man. I think he was the greatest American I ever met. There was a friendship there, and I was like a member of the family.
C&S: Can Jeb Bush can turn it around?
GM: Obviously, they don’t look very good by the numbers these days. But he’s got a good team behind him, and in a race like this you never, never, never can mark off anybody that has that combination of support. I expected that he’d play a more aggressive role, and I felt pretty strongly that the Trump and Carson phenomenon would die out as we get closer to crunch time. I still think that may happen. The question is who would be the beneficial recipient. I’m not sure it would be Bush at this point in time. Marco Rubio’s come a long way, and he’s looking pretty good. Cruz, of course, the numbers look good, but can he win? Off to the right extreme, I doubt it.