After months of “will he, won’t he” deliberation and weeks of behind-the-scenes campaigning, Republican Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro officially launched his gubernatorial bid to unseat Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Molinaro had declined to run in January, but a grass-roots social media campaign started by lawmakers looking for an alternative to erstwhile front-runner state Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, prompted him to reconsider. Republican power brokers were reportedly attracted to Molinaro’s youth, physical appearance of a politician out of central casting and relative distance from Albany. Molinaro informed Republican state leaders in March that he would run, and spent the rest of the month racking up endorsements from county leaders. At his campaign launch on Monday, the 42-year-old politician portrayed himself as the ideological and temperamental opposite of Cuomo, a relatively moderate Republican willing to reach across the aisle and upend the political status quo. As the gubernatorial race heats up, here are five things to know about the Justin Trudeau of Dutchess County.
He’s a career politician
Molinaro was born in Yonkers, but his family moved to Beacon and then to Tivoli, a Dutchess County town of around 1,000 people overlooking the Catskill Mountains, while he was growing up. He was first elected at age 18, when he became a member of Tivoli’s Board of Trustees. In 1995, at age 19, he was elected mayor of Tivoli, becoming the youngest mayor in the country and setting unrealistic standards for 19-year-olds everywhere. The citizens of Tivoli apparently thought their teenage mayor experiment worked out, as Molinaro was re-elected five times. He then served three terms in the Dutchess County Legislature, and was elected to the Assembly in 2006. In 2011, he was elected Dutchess County executive at age 36, making this chronic overachiever the youngest executive in county history.
He is distancing himself from Trump
Geoff Berman, the state Democratic Party executive director, said in a statement that the state GOP was promoting “a candidate that has the same positions as (President Donald) Trump with a different hair color.” Au contraire, Molinaro seemed to suggest in his campaign launch, perhaps recognizing the perils of tying himself to a deeply unpopular president in a blue state. Molinaro said he did not vote for Trump in 2016, but wrote in the name of former Rep. Chris Gibson, who himself was considered a potential 2018 gubernatorial candidate. After Cuomo called him a “Trump mini-me” on Monday, Molinaro echoed former first lady Michelle Obama, saying “when he goes low, I’ll go high.”
Molinaro, who as an assemblyman voted against same-sex marriage in 2011, also said that his views had “evolved” on the subject, “like Andrew Cuomo, like Hillary Clinton, like Barack Obama.”
He is a political insider running an outsider’s campaign
In his campaign launch, Molinaro targeted the culture in Albany, and specifically of the governor’s office, after former Cuomo aide Joe Percoco was recently found guilty on corruption charges. He criticized the “angry and divisive” leadership coming from the governor, and said that “one-upmanship, scapegoating, yelling louder and tweeting meaner has replaced cooperation, quiet conversation and compromise.” He also said that he would end the practice of “four men in a room” when negotiating the state budget. This platform in some ways seems similar to that of Cynthia Nixon, the actress and liberal activist challenging Cuomo in the Democratic primary. Although he has been in politics for decades, Molinaro seems to be launching an outsider’s campaign with reformist goals. “Don’t Stop Believin’” played at the Tivoli launch, and participants held signs that read “Believe Again.” “I’m asking New Yorkers to believe again,” Molinaro said Monday. It’s difficult not to sense a theme.
He has emphasized addressing the needs of people with disabilities
Molinaro, who has an autistic daughter, launched an initiative in Dutchess County in 2015 called Think Differently to empower people with disabilities, and ensure equal access and service for these residents. He also appointed Dutchess County’s deputy commissioner of special needs in 2016, the first position of its kind in the state. The county has also offered crisis intervention training for law enforcement. He mentioned addressing the needs of residents with disabilities as a priority in his campaign launch.
He’s got an uphill battle
As of April 1, there are 5,621,811 active registered Democratic voters in New York, compared to 2,632,341 active Republicans. More daunting, however, is Molinaro’s fundraising disadvantage. Cuomo has $30 million in his campaign coffers, primarily from large donors. Molinaro, on the other hand, had $100 in his gubernatorial campaign account as of January, and more than $35,000 in his county executive campaign account. Meanwhile, DeFrancisco had just under $800,000 in his state Senate campaign account as of January.