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Political Pros and Their Foes

By Avi Zenilman
Friday, October 8th, 2010
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Rep. Eric Schneiderman

The Democratic candidates for the three big statewide positions in New York are professional politicians, in the most formal sense of the word. Would-be Governor Andrew Cuomo has been running all sorts of campaigns since he engineered his father’s rise three decades ago; would-be Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was the architect of the successful push in recent election years to take control of the State Senate; and, the incumbent Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli served as an Assemblyman for more than two decades.

This basic fact is part of the reason why Carl Paladino has told voters, “I’m a builder, not a politician.” (He said this in the middle of a rambling three-minute video where he also made a strange reference to Andrew Cuomo’s “prowess.”)

There’s a fine line between proving your amateur bona fides, and coming across as amateurish, and New York Republicans have had trouble walking it, despite statewide dissatisfaction with the economy and the Democratic Party.

Harry Wilson, the Republican candidate for comptroller, says that “fortunately, I’m not a politician; I’m a fiscal expert, I fix broken companies.”  He comes across better than Paladino — but he’s a hedge fund manager who worked for both Blackstone and Goldman Sachs, and also worked on the White House Auto Task Force (read: bailouts).

Then, there’s Dan Donovan, the rather dry Republican D.A. from Staten Island who kicked off his web campaign with an odd, long video that had two political pros in shock — shock! — that Donovan had pledged to delay any run for higher office if he won the race to be Attorney General. They did not understand how he could use the office “as a stepping stone for governor when you’re taking yourself out of the race for governor.” (The anti-politician persona has been helped by Mayor Bloomberg’s endorsement.)

It’s another clear, obvious tack — Eliot Spitzer and Cuomo have turned the A.G. spot into a waystation on the track to the Governor’s mansion, and Donovan wants to show he’s something different. But with all three major Republican candidates down in the polls by at least ten points, it’s pretty clear that four years from now they won’t be attacked for being “Albany insiders,” because they’ll still be on the outside, looking in.