Conservative Party leaders on Wednesday made brash political novice Carl Paladino their candidate for governor, joining Republicans who also put the millionaire developer at the top of their ticket after spending months trying to tear him down.
After an interview with Conservative leaders, Paladino was nominated in a public vote to take on Democratic front-runner Andrew Cuomo, giving him a crucial second line in the hopes of attracting disaffected Democrats and independents. Conservative Party nominee Rick Lazio withdrew from the race Monday.
"Andrew Cuomo better get ready," Paladino said after accepting the nomination. "This is going to be one year when the people are going to speak."
"Those in Albany can hear the rumblings down the road," he said. "We're going to clean house... and bring common sense back to government."
Before embracing Paladino, Republicans and Conservatives alike wanted nothing to do with him. The GOP wouldn't let him speak at its convention, leaving Paladino to nominate himself.
"I think his train went off the track probably long before this campaign," Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long said a week before the Sept. 14 GOP primary.
"Certainly, he's not a serious player to govern the state of New York," he said in the interview with NY1 television.
Long, the longest tenured state party chairman, now needs Paladino on his party line for the best chance to get the 50,000 votes required to maintain a spot on the ballot and keep its influence in state politics.
Also Wednesday, Cuomo picked up the endorsement of a prominent women's group while warning against Paladino's "extremist" views. The abortion rights group NARAL offered Cuomo, the state attorney general, its backing on Wednesday. NARAL is already running television ads against Paladino in the state.
Republican Chairman Ed Cox said the tumult surrounding Paladino is just part of the "open process" of the Republican Party, which allows someone to build support that can trump the leaders' choices.
"I was looking for a good strong candidate to take on Andrew Cuomo and in Carl Paladino we have found one," Cox said Tuesday.
Many Republican candidates, however, are distancing themselves from Paladino. Democrats accuse him of racism and sexism for forwarding off-color e-mails to friends. He also holds conservative positions rare for a New York politician: He opposes all abortions and wants to cut Medicaid and limit welfare. Cox, however, said county organizations that get out the vote are behind Paladino and that unity with Conservatives will worry Cuomo despite his lead in the polls and in fundraising.
"You can see his impact on Andrew Cuomo's Rose Garden strategy," said Cox, son-in-law of former President Richard Nixon, referring to a political tactic of ducking an opponent.
Cox called Cuomo, the son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, the incumbent, even though the Democrat has served a term as attorney general, not governor.
"He positioned himself in the wrong place for a candidate like Carl Paladino, who has really connected in his gut with the anger and the frustration of the people of New York state," Cox said.
Cox announced a statewide bus tour and a two-week advertising run on statewide television titled "Take Back New York," through which the party hopes to build on what polls show is growing enthusiasm for Paladino's campaign and the tea party movement that he supports. Paladino's name isn't mentioned in the GOP press release.
The state Democratic Party immediately derided the GOP effort as "Taking New York Backwards." The Democratic statement quotes Long saying Paladino is a dangerous candidate and Cox calling Paladino disturbing.
In March, Cox referred to Paladino as a name-caller who wasn't up to the job of governing. On the night of the Sept. 14 primary, when it looked like Lazio was slipping, Cox began praising Paladino for clawing his way back, saying such competitiveness is a quality in a good governor.
"Certainly, American politics is funny," said state Sen. Thomas Libous, a veteran Broome County Republican long endorsed by the Conservative Party. "One day you are fighting to beat someone at the polls and the next day you join hands to be friends."
"Carl Paladino is just as capable of singing 'Kumbaya' as anyone else," said Paladino spokesman Michael Caputo, referring to the candidate's ability to work with others in state government. "What New York needs is a united ticket to defeat Andrew Cuomo and Carl sees that as much bigger."
Paladino was scheduled to speak Wednesday night at the state Business Council's annual meeting, a traditional forum for statewide candidates of both parties for years.
Cuomo was invited weeks ago but hasn't committed to attending, the council said.