"Dirty Politics" and New York's Campaign for Governor

By Gabe Pressman
|  Friday, Sep 17, 2010  |  Updated 7:03 AM EDT
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"Dirty Politics" and New York's Campaign for Governor

AP

Republican candidate for New York governor Carl Paladino visits the Altamont Fair in Altamont, N.Y., on Friday, Aug. 20, 2010. Paladino greeted fairgoers during a one-hour visit.

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Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for Governor, seems to be trying to set a record for outrageous statements in the New York campaign. To be charitable, he’s been running off at the mouth.

He has called Sheldon Silver, the Speaker of the State Assembly, a “petty dictator and master manipulator.”  Paladino says, if elected governor, “I’m going to have to put some people in prison” and he adds: “Silver belongs in Attica.” He also compared Silver to Hitler, and called him the "Antichrist."

Paladino, a Buffalo businessman, is setting a new standard for political etiquette. He calls Governor Paterson “a wimp… really he’s pathetic.” As for the former governor, Republican George Pataki, he’s a “degenerate idiot."

In interviews with the Daily News, he denounced the Legislature, saying: “They don’t have a brain in their heads. Their idea is to play pinochle, get sloshed at the bar, rub elbows with lobbyists, then leave town by Wednesday afternoon to go home and play golf.”

He has promised to take a baseball bat to Albany and also said that Manhattan is not his favorite place -- that it is “home to smug, self-important, pampered liberal elitists.”

Throughout American history candidates have been bad-mouthing each other. One historian, Joseph Cummins, says: “Elections are not getting dirtier. They’re just as dirty as they have always been.”

Back in the beginning of the republic, Thomas Jefferson called John Adams “a repulsive pedant.”  Martin Van Buren was accused of wearing women’s corsets. Teddy Roosevelt denounced William Howard Taft as “a rat in a corner.”  And, in another rodent analogy, FDR called his 1936 opponent, Alf Landon, “the White Mouse who wants to live in the White House.”       

Carl Paladino has admitted forwarding racist and dirty e-mails to people on his contact list. “I’m not politically correct and never have been,” he said. “I’m not perfect. But if the worst I ever did was send out some non-politically correct e-mails, my God.”

Will all these rants hurt Paladino as a candidate for governor? One seasoned political analyst, Hank Sheinkopf, doesn’t think so. He told me that Paladino was a populist who is “the receptacle of blue collar, Catholic anger and he should not be under-estimated. “

Could Paladino defeat Andrew Cuomo? Sheinkopf thinks it’s possible. But what about the nasty stuff he’s been saying?  “It may hurt him with some groups,” he said, “but not among the angry people out there who are, in Paladino’s words, mad as hell and don’t want to take it any more.”

The Cuomo-Paladino battle will not be tame. The Buffalo businessman is tough and aggressive. He’s ready to spend millions of dollars of his own money on the campaign.

Andrew Cuomo is not a wimp. If Paladino’s rough tactics seem to be working with many voters, Cuomo may give as good as he gets.

The campaign of 2010 will be angry, passionate, perhaps dirty. Before it’s over, we may find truth in historian Cummins’ words. The New York campaign may turn out to be as dirty as campaigns have always been.

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