New York State

Marcus Molinaro vs. the Empire

Marcus Molinaro on how to beat Cuomo – and which "Star Wars" character he sees himself as.

Marcus Molinaro in Rockefeller Center

Marcus Molinaro in Rockefeller Center Sean Pressley

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon are embroiled in an increasingly bitter Democratic primary, Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro has garnered enough support to become the presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee. The former Tivoli mayor and assemblyman spoke to City & State at an Au Bon Pain across the street from Rockefeller Center on Tuesday morning about possibly running on a fusion ticket, how he will appeal to New York City voters and which "Star Wars" character he thinks he most resembles.

C&S: The Daily News reported that intermediaries of yours were considering reaching out to Preet Bharara for a fusion ticket, with him as attorney general. Would that be a good idea?

MM: I think Albany needs somebody who’s going to challenge the status quo. I don’t think we need an attorney general who’s going to be interrogated or interviewed by the governor. I think the people deserve somebody who’s going to really take on the culture of corruption that has infected Albany. I used to work there, six years in the state Assembly – I can tell you that I’ve seen, sadly, the worst of it. Whomever that individual is, he or she needs to be someone who will challenge what has been a pattern of bad behavior.

C&S: So, would you want to run on a fusion ticket?

MM: We should be presenting the very best for New York. I don’t think ideology solves problems, I think people do. So what that ticket looks like, I leave to the party and the people. But I’m willing to run with anyone who’s earnest and honest about confronting what has been a pervasive culture of corruption.

Marcus Molinaro on his cellphone
Photo by Sean Pressley
C&S: There was also an article about your search for lieutenant governor (that mentioned 11 possibilities, mostly legislators from the New York City area).

MM: Do you want to be lieutenant governor? Are you available?

C&S: There might be a minor conflict of interest with me.

MM: Perhaps. That’s possible.

C&S: What are you looking for in a lieutenant governor?

MM: First of all, somebody who could absolutely be governor. And with that, somebody who is a partner. … I’m looking for someone, and will have someone, who will challenge me to do a better job, who will challenge state government to be more responsive to the people.

C&S: You had a very public journey in choosing to run for governor. What was the exact moment where you knew, “I’m doing this”?

MM: When I started the car and drove to Saratoga (where he told party officials that he would run for governor at a party meeting). I think New Yorkers deserve a considerate elected official, someone who’s actually thoughtful about their decision-making. Frankly, with this governor, he lurches from left to further left based on some reaction to Cynthia Nixon or someone else. … When it was clear to me that, “I think I am the best to speak on behalf of struggling New Yorkers,” I got in my car and let my party know.

C&S: Why do you think that you are a better Republican candidate for governor than John DeFrancisco?

MM: I have the greatest deal of respect for John. My party had several really qualified, capable people. To the broader point, I think New Yorkers deserve a governor who knows how difficult it is to live in New York, someone who lives and breathes a middle-class life … someone who knows the difference between right and wrong, and is willing to challenge his party, his government, to truly embrace that which is best and right for the people.

C&S: So you say, “difference between right and wrong,” “willing to challenge your party” –

MM: And the government.

C&S: And the government. Would you be willing, as governor of New York, to continue challenging President Donald Trump when you think it is appropriate?

MM: My job, should I be elected, is to do what’s best for the people of the state of New York. There are going to be times when we need the federal government to make investments in infrastructure, to truly invest effectively in housing. There will be times that the federal government and the president do or say things that are not in the best interest of New York. One quality that I think Tivolians appreciated from their mayor and Dutchess County residents appreciate from their executive is, I say it the way I see it.

C&S: Do you consider yourself an outsider candidate?

MM: Those are labels that I think people have applied to me. I see government, limited and active government, as an effective way to solve problems, and I think that officeholders are merely part-time stewards of the public’s trust. … But the truth of the matter is, I’ve always seen myself as someone who will challenge the status quo, and now more than ever New Yorkers need someone to challenge what is a broken status quo.

C&S: What do you think needs to change about Albany, and what would you do to change it?

MM: I used to joke that the best part of going to Albany was going home again. I appreciated the drive home more than the drive up. You have to lead by example. I think governors set the tone, and I think this governor has set a poor example. I think that he has allowed, either himself or his staff, to govern in a very demeaning and bullying way. … I also think that term limits are necessary to ensure that the public is really holding the power, and not the insiders. I would seek to establish and see adopted term limits, and/or hold myself to two four-year terms, no more. And a truly independent ethics commission, one that isn’t responsible to the governor or even the legislature, but can hold people accountable. I think there needs to be greater transparency in oversight of contracting similar to those that the comptroller and others have put forward, to make sure that the dollars aren’t spent by a single human being.

I’m a government geek. I think that elected officials who truly understand the details, who can make government function effectively, are necessary. I don’t think this governor dabbles in detail. He issues a press release, or stands behind a camera, and then moves on. … I’d empower the Committee on Open Government to have more of an oversight role, so that people like you and any other New Yorker has access to public information from all branches of government, and that more of the decisions we make are online and people can access it.

I do think this governor has a problem distinguishing between right and wrong.

C&S: How are will you appeal to voters in New York City?

MM: This governor has abandoned much of his responsibilities around New York City. The entirety of the transit system is the responsibility of the state of New York, and he has merely ignored its failings and its continued deterioration and attempted to take credit for only the successes he can point to, and has used the transit system as some sort of gambling chip in his quest to outmaneuver the mayor. One of the single most important responsibilities of state government in the city is to make the transit system function. So that means making proper investment in infrastructure and ensuring that we’re making the appropriate repairs, not necessarily engaging in lofty, expensive projects.

Making sure that folks living with developmental disabilities have access to the transit system: We should have a universally accessible transit system in the city.

And he’s been governor for seven years and only recently realized that there’s been problems in government-subsidized housing. Having benefited from food stamps as a child, I can tell you that I understand the social service system. I’m now responsible for a social services division and my daughter benefits from Medicaid as a child with special needs. I can tell you that the system is dehumanizing, demoralizing and inefficient.

The state, since the first Gov. Cuomo, has been dismantling its mental health services and has allowed far too many to live homeless, or living with mental illness, or drug addiction. So those, I think, are all issues that a governor needs to address, but I think (it) will be unique for New York City residents to hear that come from a candidate of my party.

C&S: What do you think about the Democratic primary?

MM: Whether it’s Cynthia Nixon or Andrew Cuomo, they do seem more interested in being the governor of the Democratic Party than necessarily the governor of the state of New York.

C&S: You’re the father of young kids, and soon will be having another child. Is it difficult to balance campaign life with parenting duties?

MM: I have an exceptionally supportive family. I’m fortunate, my kids have been around an elected official their whole lives, and my wife is exceptionally more talented than I am.

C&S: You’re a fan of "Star Wars." Which "Star Wars" character do you most identify with, and why?

MM: I guess, in fairness, I would have to say Luke Skywalker.

C&S: Hero of your own story?

MM: Hero of my own story. Maybe not the hero you want. (Laughs.) But like Batman, at times, the hero you need. And up against, you know, somewhat of an Empire.