Marcus Molinaro was in town last week to make his case for why he should be the next governor of New York. During his town hall-style event at Kingston’s Best Western hotel on Wednesday, Aug. 23, Molinaro, the endorsee for both the Republican and Conservative parties, spoke before a packed room at length about his motivations and plans should he score an upset victory over incumbent Andrew Cuomo.
“This is a bit unusual for people running for statewide office, but it’s something I’ve done every day of my life and something that we’re going to do more when I’m governor — getting out from behind the podium and spending time talking to the people we actually serve,” said Molinaro. “I want to be too available.”
Molinaro was exposed to small-town government at a tender age, serving as a 19-year-old mayor of the northern Dutchess village of Tivoli in 1995. He was re-elected five times for the position and then four times to the Dutchess County Legislature.
“You can’t really hide from 13,000 people,” said Molinaro of his time as a county legislator. “If you tell one person one thing, you’d better tell the other 12,999 people the same thing.”
In 2006, Molinaro was elected to the 103rd district of the state Assembly, where he says “good ideas go to die.” (Eternally in the minority, Republican Assembly members don’t have a lot of influence over what actually goes on in that house of the state legislature.)
Molinaro stressed the virtues of bipartisanship. “You learn early on that when the roof leaks, it leaks on both Republicans and Democrats. Our job is simply to fix the roof. We see too many people in Washington and Albany who try to blame someone for the leak. When you serve on the state Assembly in the minority, it’s frustrating. When you’re in the minority, you have to learn: let someone else be the one who gets to stand and cut the ribbon — that’s OK. Humility in public service is a good thing.”
Molinaro’s ideas about service to his constituents is, he said, doubly reflected through his service in office. During his tenure as Dutchess County executive, which began in 2012, he said his policies transformed a $40 million budget gap into a $20 million budget surplus. Even as the youngest executive in county history, Molinaro said his strong efforts to consolidate government spending, such as instituting an early retirement program to reduce workforce expenses, have been shown to pay off on the bottom line. “We did all that in the context of uncertainty in Albany and problems in Washington,” he said.
In his campaign for governor, Molinaro has consistently said the culture of state government needs to change radically. “I’m embarrassed of my governor who will do or say anything to get elected,” he said. “I am embarrassed by my state government… For over seven years [we have been] the highest taxed people in America. At the same time, we’ve led the nation in out-migration — we’ve lost more New Yorkers than any other state. We’re the least friendly place to own and operate a business and we’re the least friendly place to retire.”
Molinaro said every dollar cut from the state’s budget should go back to the taxpayer in the form of property tax relief. Citing the statistic that Upstate New York has the highest per-capita concentration of students in the nation, Molinaro also touted the importance of creating job opportunities for recent graduates to retain the state’s innovators and entrepreneurs.
In speaking about his goals for the future, one of the largest themes for Molinaro is the reduction of corruption and negligence in government office. Many of his campaign platforms revolve around reducing the amount to which poor governance impacts many aspects of our daily life and the lives of those around us.
When asked about marijuana policy in the state, Molinaro said that medically, it should be more available for a wider range of ailments. However, in regards to wider legalization, Molinaro said that we “shouldn’t jump the gun” and make a decision based on possible tax revenue. Molinaro said he wants to wait for studies about the effects of second-hand marijuana smoke to come from states which have already legalized the herb.
Molinaro said he is a strong proponent of the Second Amendment, but feels that gun presence in schools should be determined by individual districts: “You don’t want the governor shoving his political views down [districts’] throats.” He is determined to stick up for the constitutionally protected right for same-sex couples to marry, wants to form an independent ethics committee and referred to himself as “the Teddy Roosevelt of corruption,” citing the 23 pages of pay-to-play reform on his platform website.
Touching on a wide range of subjects from freedom of speech to gun control, marijuana decriminalization to healthcare, same-sex marriage to job creation, and reformation of the criminal justice system, Molinaro’s most strident stance seems to be that widespread corruption at the highest levels of government is something that we cannot, and should not, need to live with.
In service of this, Molinaro champions a more open, rigorous form of political debate among candidates, as well as pushing hard for the implementation and enforcement of term limits for public officials. “There’s a reason that governors only serve eight years,” Molinaro said. (Currently there’s no term limits in state government; Andrew Cuomo’s father, Mario, served three terms as governor before losing to George Pataki in 1994.) “You can think that you’re really important. The minute you think you’re really important, that is when you need to stop being an elected official. Eight years is enough.”
Molinaro credits his son Jack with his decision to run after pulling out prematurely from the last gubernatorial race. Ex-Westchester County exec Rob Astorino got the GOP nod and ended up losing to Andrew Cuomo in 2014.
Upon posing the possibility of running for governor again, Molinaro said his son told him, “Dad, you coach our soccer team. Sometimes when we don’t think we’re going to win you say: go out there and play hard! Don’t you think you should take your own advice?”
Also on hand to speak in support of Molinaro were former congressman Chris Gibson, Ulster County Legislature Chairman Ken Ronk and Ulster GOP Chair Roger Rascoe.