ALBANY – Billionaire developer Donald Trump on Friday said he will run for governor this year if the state Republican Party can show it can rally behind him.
“If we could have a unified party with everybody backing properly, I would do it and I think I’d win,” Trump said in an interview with The Buffalo News.
Trump did not define the meaning of a unified party, though he suggested party leaders would have to show a willing embrace of his possible campaign.
Trump made his comments after meeting for two hours in his office with more than three dozen Republican elected officials and county party leaders, a session that followed a December gathering when Trump said he first began thinking seriously about a challenge to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“I am giving it very, very serious consideration, and if everything falls into place I would do it,” he said, adding that Cuomo is politically vulnerable.
Trump said Cuomo is vulnerable on everything from tax policy to a massive bridge construction project downstate that Trump, a longtime real estate developer, says is vastly bloated in terms of price.
“We have the highest taxes in the nation, almost the world. We have the biggest exodus in the nation of people,” said Trump, who also criticized the closing of state mental health facilities and the SAFE Act, the gun-control measure Cuomo pushed into law last year following the Sandy Hook school shootings.
As Trump spoke with The News, Republicans he met with were still huddled in a conference room in Trump Tower discussing the session. The interview with The News ended when rocker Neil Young stopped by to see Trump.
Trump said Cuomo has the advantage of running in a state where registered Democrats considerably outnumber Republicans.
“But I think he is absolutely vulnerable on so many issues,” Trump said.
Many Republicans and Democrats believe that Trump has no intention of running and that his flirtation with GOP leaders and lawmakers is more about publicity. Trump said he enjoys his professional life – building things, hosting TV shows and making money – but that his children are now old enough and experienced enough to run his business operations.
“They assume maybe I won’t want to do this,” Trump said of disbelievers. “At the same time, I love this state, and I see where it’s going. We’re going to be another Detroit.”
Trump said he would give “massive” tax cuts to New Yorkers if elected.
“Wouldn’t the people love to see massive tax cuts?” he said.
Trump, who said he’d have no problem financing his own campaign, said he will decide by the end of January or beginning of February whether to run.
“But I don’t want to see a divided party because it’s a tough enough race already,” he said.
Not all are on board with a Trump candidacy.
State GOP Chairman Ed Cox was texting county GOP chairmen during the meeting with Trump, inviting them to meet with him after the session in the University Club of New York, located just up the street from the developer’s office tower.
Cox has been promoting the candidacy of Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who is considering a run.
Cox was meeting with local GOP leaders and was not available to comment, but his spokesman confirmed the meeting was taking place.
Astorino backers believe he could mount a legitimate challenge to Cuomo, though raising money will be among his top obstacles. Cuomo has more than $30 million in his campaign account.
Astorino backers also do not believe Trump is serious about running for governor.
But Trump promoters say the developer’s name recognition and money should be attracting the interest of Cox and other GOP leaders.
“Anybody who thinks Donald Trump isn’t seriously considering a run for governor is sadly mistaken” said Michael Caputo, a GOP consultant from Erie County who was Carl Paladino’s campaign manager during the Buffalo developer’s 2010 run against Cuomo. Caputo was among those who met with Trump on Friday.
Sources said only 13 of the GOP’s 62 county chairmen attended the meeting, below the claims of organizers that GOP leaders present would represent 50 percent of the weighted convention vote needed to nominate a candidate. But Trump backers said GOP officials Thursday night called several county leaders and asked them not to attend, though one person at the meeting said a few of those county bosses dispatched deputies instead. In all, organizers said about 50 people – including members of the Assembly, Senate and county organizations – attended the meeting with the developer and his advisers in a 25th-floor conference room of Trump Tower.
Nicholas Langworthy, chairman of the Erie County Republican Party, said Trump was engaging and told them he is strongly considering a campaign. “He was more serious about it than I thought when I agreed to make the trip,’’ Langworthy said.
Langworthy’s attendance and his subsequent comments are important in GOP circles because Erie is an important county for the party and because Langworthy has been publicly urging Astorino, the Westchester County executive, to look at running against Cuomo.
Friday, Langworthy said Trump could bring much to a campaign.
“If he were to take the candidacy to the next level, he could be very serious,’’ Langworthy said.
Paladino, who has been threatening to run this year as the Conservative Party candidate if the GOP backs a left-leaning nominee, was upbeat Friday about the prospects of Trump running on the Republican line against Cuomo with Astorino as his lieutenant governor running mate.
“I believe he would be an awesome candidate, and that as part of his legacy he would trump Cuomo and the Albany establishment. I think he would definitely have the mandate of the people to clean up Albany,” Paladino said.