Though no candidate for governor has officially announced, and the last round of politics is hardly in the books, you could make the case that Election 2014 recorded its first skirmish Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo.
Inside the downtown hotel, more than 400 supporters of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo paid at least $1,000 a head for a major fundraiser aiming to stuff more than $400,000 into his already bulging campaign treasury of more than $28 million.
“The governor has paid more time and attention to the problems associated with upstate New York than any other governor in the recent past,” Chris Dirr, of Buffalo, remarked as he arrived Tuesday evening with his wife and two daughters. “So we are here to thank him for that commitment and to let him know that it’s appreciated.”
But outside, a crowd of about 100 Cuomo detractors – many of them summoned by the 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate, Buffalo businessman Carl P. Paladino – chanted and taunted the governor for his strict new gun-control law and his delay in deciding on whether to allow hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” for natural gas in New York State.
Large “Carl Country” placards hung from the front of the police barricade along Pearl Street outside the Hyatt, where about three-quarters of the protesters, some dressed in hunting gear, demonstrated their displeasure with the gun law.
“Repeal NY’s SAFE Act. Honor the 2nd Amendment,” several of their signs read, referring to the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act. Some wore fluorescent green T-shirts proclaiming, “Cuomo’s Gotta Go.” They confronted guests arriving for the fundraiser and yelled, “Run, rat, run.”
The other quarter of the demonstration was about fracking. Not pro-fracking, like Paladino, but against it. The demonstrators waved signs with messages such as “Communities Need the Truth, Not Gas Corp. Lies” and raised a steady stream of chants including “Clean Water Is a Right, Fight, Fight, Fight” and “This Is What Democracy Looks Like.”
“Actually, they’re pretty friendly,” Kevin Swanson said about the gun rights group as he passed out anti-fracking fliers. “Something about being a protester, you know. Clearly, there’s a large group of people that’s not happy with his leadership,” he said, referring to the governor.
A member of Cuomo’s staff surveyed the protesters and expressed surprise that the protest was not as large as the ones he has seen in other cities.
“Despite ads run by Paladino all day, only about 50 or 60 protesters showed up to support his agenda,” the governor’s press secretary, Matt Wing, said later. “The rest were opposed to hydraulic fracturing, which Paladino strongly supports.”
Paladino shook hands with the gun rights supporters and answered questions from reporters about fracking (“He’s depriving us of an opportunity, all for the vanity of one man, one man who wants to be to the left of Obama”) and Cuomo’s commanding lead over him and other possible opponents in the latest polls (“It’s a year away. Nobody’s thinking about it”).
A Siena Research Institute poll this week shows Cuomo with an upstate lead over Paladino of 57 to 34 percent.
As Paladino continues to suggest that he wants another crack at Cuomo – this time on the Conservative Party line – it is increasingly clear that the Buffalo real estate developer would attack his old foe at least as ferociously in the upcoming election as he did in the last.
That’s why he bought radio ads Tuesday to distract from the Hyatt event on a night that supporters planned as a major triumph for the governor.
G. Steven Pigeon, former Erie County Democratic chairman and current political point man for the governor locally, said Cuomo’s fundraiser was a major success, despite the ruckus.
“It looks like a smashing success,” he said. “There are a number of sponsors and co-hosts who gave $5,000 or $10,000 and the $1,000 party, too. I’m sure it will bring in $300,000 or $400,000.”
Pigeon described the attendees as a “who’s who of both Republican and Democratic businesspeople.”
Paladino’s plans for 2014 have continued to attract scrutiny. In recent weeks, he has threatened to seek the Conservative nomination if the Republican Party fails to find a candidate with name recognition, resources and a commitment to conservative philosophy. While Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin of suburban Troy and even state GOP Chairman Edward F. Cox have been mentioned as potential candidates, Paladino reiterated that they must prove themselves to him and the rest of the GOP as viable against an opponent as formidable as Cuomo.
“I do like Rob Astorino, Steve McLaughlin and Ed Cox, but this is not going to be a candidate chosen by the RINO boys and the establishment boys,” he said, referring to the catchphrase Republicans In Name Only. “They have to go out and get vetted by Republicans – the tea party and all parts of the party.”
Paladino made clear his requirement that the party disavow GOP Leaders Dean G. Skelos, of Rockville Centre, in the State Senate and Brian M. Kolb, of Canandaigua, in the Assembly as a condition of his support.
For Cuomo, his deep-pocket fundraiser in one of America’s poorest cities occurs after he has become almost a Western New York resident this year, sometimes making a couple of trips a week to make an assortment of economic-development announcements. He was at the Buffalo Bills game Sunday and is due back in Buffalo on Thursday for another such announcement.
But with at least $28 million in the campaign treasury – as of the last public report in July – and a number of major fundraisers since then, some critics ask a simple question: When does Cuomo have enough money for 2014? They note that the fundraising intensity comes from a governor who at the same time wants to create a taxpayer-financed campaign system for New York politicians.
“It spoils you because you think you have all this ammunition that you are invulnerable,” Cox said of Cuomo. “But if the voters don’t approve of the job you are doing, you haven’t done something over the three-year period,” Cox added, noting polls that show Cuomo with sour job-approval ratings.
Cox said Cuomo’s fundraiser in Western New York is being held in a region where Republicans did well in recent local elections. He brushed aside suggestions by Cuomo allies that he wouldn’t be raising so much money from Western New York interests if people didn’t like the job he is doing.
“You can always raise money if you spend a lot of time doing it,” Cox said, criticizing Cuomo for not approving fracking and not doing more to turn around the state’s economy.