By Michael Gormley
ALBANY — Firebrand Republican Carl Paladino is back in New York politics and vows to undercut the Republican Party if it doesn't move to the right against Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
"New York state is looking for real leadership," Paladino said in an interview Monday, days after the Republican Party scored some important suburban wins in last week's elections to strengthen their hand for the 2014 elections.
"If it's me, fine. But I will give everyone else a chance," he said.
If no one shows true fiscally conservative colors as a Republican, Paladino said he will run as a Conservative Party nominee. Relying partly on "Reagan Democrats," he said he would try to gain more votes than the Republican candidate, which would bump the GOP from the important second spot on ballots for the next four years.
The millionaire developer said he could support another Republican candidate for governor if he or she has sufficient fiscally conservative values grounded in improving the upstate economy.
Potential GOP candidates include Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and state Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin of Rensselaer County.
The Republican nominee will face Cuomo, who remains popular statewide and has a massive $30 million campaign fund.
Paladino said he won't make abortion — which he personally opposes but said he wouldn't try to change — and gay rights, which he supports, part of his test of a Republican candidate.
He says the Republican legislative leaders — Sen. Dean Skelos and Assemblyman Brian Kolb — must also be replaced to combat what he calls the "petri dish of incestuous relationships" in Albany run by New York City Democrats with compliant Republicans.
Although he lost 2-to-1 to Cuomo in 2010, Paladino casts a large shadow among Conservatives, Republicans and in upstate politics. He has led pockets of upstate revolt over Cuomo's gun control measure this year and has criticized the Democrat for doing too little to turn around the upstate economy.
Although Democrats hold a nearly 2-to-1 registration advantage statewide, Cuomo has struggled this year with his once high support upstate. In a recent Siena College poll, 52 percent of voters upstate preferred "someone else."
"I assume Paladino would bring significant money to the table and he has some name recognition from his previous run," said Lee Miringoff of the Marist College poll. "And he now has the experience with the media ... so what is a campaign that is typically unpredictable has become even more so."
Mike Long, chairman of the Conservative Party, said that he has had a conversation with Paladino and would consider him if he decides to run.
Cuomo's campaign and the state Republican Party had no comment
Republicans also showed some renewed strength in the critical suburbs in last Tuesday's off-year elections. The reinvigorated party seeks to expand beyond its only hold on state power, a majority coalition with independent Democrats that runs the Senate.
"The local elections showed that the state Republican Party still has a pulse and has taken the first steps — as they did 20 years ago — to rebuilding the party into one that might be competitive again," said Lawrence Levy, political commentator and executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.
He referred to the early 1990s when the GOP nearly lost its ballot slot to Conservatives after heavy losses to Democrats, then focused on building its ranks of potential statewide candidates by winning local elections. On Nov. 5, Republicans won some key races from Erie County to Long Island.
"This is something they can build on for 2014," Levy said.