The Paladino Meltdown: Not Deadly, Just A Waste of Precious Time

Avi Zenilman | October 1st, 2010

So that’s why they call Andrew Cuomo the Prince of Darkness. It probably over-estimates the political prowess of the Attorney General—and underplays the wackiness of Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino—to give him credit for the events of the past week, but it once again shows that effectively corralling the support of the establishment has real political benefits.

Let’s recap. Ever since Paladino rendered the Republican establishment ineffectual and State Senator Eric Schneiderman knocked out Cuomo’s preferred candidates in the Democratic primary election for Attorney General, Cuomo has looked weaker than expected, unable to hold down his left flank or rouse up enthusiastic support. Polls were even showing Paladino within less than ten points, about twenty points higher than expected.

Then came the deluge. The Post reminded everyone that Paladino had a daughter out-of-wedlock (she’s now ten), hurting him even more with women voters. The Times pulled public records on Paladino’s aides, and the results weren’t pretty, with personal baggage strewn all over the news pages. Then it all culminated with Paladino picking a fight with Post Albany bureau chief on tape and implying that Cuomo had affairs of his own.

Part of this new scrutiny is par for the course—Paladino is untested, new, and a guy who is running as the guy who is “mad as hell.” But there’s another element, and it points to why the Post is going hard on Paladino, a fellow conservative. Cuomo knows how to work the political press, and the tabloid press, like no one else—not in terms of public speaking, but in terms of taking down an opponent or preserving political capital. It goes back a while—one nice example of this is that, in famed New York political columnist Jack Newfield’s memoir, Andrew Cuomo appears only twice, and never as a political adversary. In one case, he’s the guy who was tasked with (successfully) keeping a David Dinkins affair out of the tabloids in the days leading up the 1989 Mayoral election. In the second case, he’s the guy whose close connections with the neoconservative Post editorial page editor Eric Breindel got Newfield a writing gig. It’s a backroom game he’s played a while.

The only issue with this kind of power is that, in the year of the Tea Party, the year of rampant unemployment, the year of populist anger, it takes more than a couple well-delivered shots to take down an opponent. Cuomo only needs to run down the clock to election day, but Paladino may stay a nuisance longer than anyone would have predicted two weeks ago.