New York Republican gubernatorial nominee Carl Paladino alleged Tuesday that Democrat Andrew Cuomo was unfaithful to his ex-wife years ago, a stunning accusation that validated his earlier prediction that the race would be getting nastier.
Paladino offered no proof of his claim, despite requests for substantiation, and he made it minutes after angrily declaring his 10-year-old daughter—a child from his own affair 10 years ago—off limits to the press. The tea party-backed Republican had publicly revealed her existence when he declared his candidacy earlier this year.
“Has anybody asked Andrew Cuomo about his paramours?” Paladino said, as campaign manager Michael Caputo chimed in, “when he was married.”
Paladino continued, “When he was married - or asked him why his wife left him or threw him out of the house? Has anybody ever done that?” he demanded. “What are they doing intruding on my life?”
The blunt and unvarnished nature of Paladino’s allegations marked a jarring departure from statewide campaign norms, where charges of a highly sensitive or personal nature are rarely leveled by candidates themselves and are instead typically disseminated behind-the-scenes by operatives.
“No buffer, no aides, no filter, nothing. This never happens,” said one Republican strategist of Paladino’s remarks.
Cuomo’s split from Robert Kennedy’s daughter Kerry, with whom he has three children, was extensively covered when it took place in 2003. She was widely reported to have left the marriage, and to have had an affair with socialite Bruce Colley, with whom she later split. There has never been a public allegation or evidence that Cuomo had an affair, and Kennedy recently said she would be backing her former spouse for governor.
"We have not and will not descend into the gutter with Paladino, Caputo and [GOP operative Roger] Stone,” said Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto. “We’re not going to start now because the people of New York deserve a better dialogue from their candidates and journalists."
The flap served as a vivid reminder of the shoot-from-the-hip style of Paladino—who surged to a lopsided primary win over Rick Lazio, the GOP establishment pick—and its drawbacks.
While he has had success combining tea party anger with upstate resentment of New York City, his campaign had to apologize after the revelation that he forwarded racist and sexually explicit emails to dozens of associates. Paladino, who has promised to take a baseball bat to Albany, also raised eyebrows Tuesday by asking an Asian-American TV reporter if he was born in this country during a discussion on immigration and by comparing Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to the anti-Christ.
And he’s made clear his goal is to get under Cuomo’s skin.
Paladino made the comments to POLITICO after some of his aides had made similar intimations for days, though none so direct.
He spoke Tuesday mid-afternoon from a hotel where he was staying near Midtown Manhattan, in a wide-ranging interview that touched on his reaction to the coverage of his daughter. Paladino, who was married with three kids at the time of her birth, had had an affair with her mother.
Paladino, a developer, himself discussed his daughter with the Buffalo News when he declared his candidacy before the summer, and the campaign made his wife, Cathy, available for a string of interviews in the past week in which she was asked about the young girl.
Asked about the coverage, Paladino said grew visibly angry and said, “My daughter is off limits.”
He protested reporters trying to interview the girl’s mother, and their presence at her home with cameras.
“She’s an innocent,” he said, adding that his relationship with her mom was long over. “That was ten years ago. What do you think this is, Peyton Place on television? For Christ sake!”
He added, “I’m surprised they’re going and intruding in peoples’ lives like that. They’re innocents. “
He blamed Cuomo for the coverage, as did Caputo, and insisted that the attorney general’s team was behind the coverage though he did not offer any proof.
"I think he's the one that's setting the level of discourse," said Paladino.