DEPEW — Real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump provided a preview Friday of what a Trump-for-governor campaign might look like.
At an upstate New York fundraiser, he called New York's new gun control laws a disaster, criticized Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's tax policies for businesses, and supported fracking for natural gas.
Trump was the featured speaker at the $100-per-person event held by the Erie County Republican Party that drew more than 600 people, a record crowd for the county party.
But he came no closer to committing to challenge Cuomo, repeating his oft-told condition that he'll only run if the state's Republican Party rallies behind him and he faces no challengers for the nomination.
"You can't have people going in, knocking the hell out of each other in a primary, spending millions of dollars and then someone comes out wounded and limping," he said.
Rob Astorino, an official in suburban Westchester County, is favored by some in the GOP establishment and has been traveling around the state talking to potential supporters.
"If they can't unify, I have other things to do," Trump told reporters after his address.
For many in the crowd, the well-known Trump represents the Republicans' best chance at defeating Cuomo.
The fundraiser dinner was a veritable who's who of Erie County Republicans with a healthy smattering of Niagara County GOP members added in, including City of Lockport GOP Chairman Pete Robinson. Also at the event were former Niagara County Republican Chairmen Henry Wojtaszek and Mike Norris and current chairman Scott Kiedrowski.
“To be honest with you, I’m really excited to see that he’s taken an interest in this part of New York State," Robinson said before Trump's speech.
Trump suggested once again that he's interested in running for governor against Andrew Cuomo. He also said he could win, provided the stars align correctly.
“You have to have people that know how to win," Trump said. "And I know how to win.”
But still, will he run?
“I think that’s up to Mr. Trump to decide," Robinson said. “If we give him a positive outlook, this is something he might go forward with.”
“I’m very excited to have him here," concurred Congressman Chris Collins, R-Clarence. "He would make a great governor and we’ll have to see later if he announces.”
Trump scored points with gun-owners and other opponents of New York's new gun law, calling the SAFE Act the "Un-safe act" and saying he is licensed to carry a pistol.
The law governing ownership of assault-style semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines was passed last January in the aftermath of the school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
"If Gov. Cuomo's elected, he's going to take away your guns. I mean the SAFE Act is just the beginning," Trump said to applause. "The SAFE Act is a disaster."
Trump was greeted outside the restaurant by a couple of dozen opponents of the law, including Tommy Thompson, of Attica, who wore a Revolutionary War-style tri-cornered hat.
"I'd vote for Goofy if he ran against Cuomo," Thompson said.
Trump called the governor's plan to exempt new businesses from taxes "stupid."
"What about all the people that are up here with businesses that are being killed?" he said.
Under Cuomo's "tax-free" program for businesses, companies such as startups spun from university research and development could apply to stay in New York or come to the state to locate on or near college campuses.
Neither the company nor its employees would pay state taxes, including personal income taxes, for 10 years. Cuomo has said he expects businesses will be rooted in the state by then and wouldn't leave. As a result, they would start paying taxes, although the companies couldn't be bound to stay in New York longer.
Trump also said that hydraulic fracturing, which is currently banned in New York, would solve the state's debt.
"I believe that if I ran and if I won, we would become one of the great energy capitals of this world," he said.
Outside the restaurant, Brian Krawczyk, a SAFE act opponent, said he opposed Cuomo but had reservations about seeing Trump run for governor.
"It could," he said, "turn into a bit of a circus."
Lockport Union Sun and Journal editor Scott Leffler contributed to this report.