Johnstown native Harry Wilson received the support of Republican Party leaders in Albany, Saratoga, Schenectady and Montgomery counties earlier this week in his bid to become state comptroller.
Wilson had already received GOP endorsements from Westchester, Rockland and Fulton counties. He’s the only Republican candidate in the race so far.
Wilson, who now lives in Westchester County, said he can help restore “checks and balances” to New York state’s government in ways incumbent Comptroller Democrat Thomas DiNapoli has not.
“Unfortunately, no one believes that someone who owes their job to the same folks who created our spending problems can be sufficiently independent in attacking their proposals when necessary,” he said. DiNapoli, a former Democratic assemblyman, was appointed comptroller by the state Legislature on Feb. 7, 2007, over the objections of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who supported other candidates with prior experience as lower-level comptrollers. DiNapoli was appointed to replace Democrat Alan Hevesi, who was re-elected in November 2006 only to resign a few months later after pleading guilty to using state workers to drive and run errands for his wife.
Wilson, 39, has never been elected to public office, but his affinity for politics goes back to his childhood growing up in Johnstown. His father worked as a bartender at the Rainbow Restaurant, owned by his uncle and godfather, Pete Wilson. The Rainbow Restaurant was at that time deeply connected to the Fulton County Republican establishment, and Wilson grew up watching it.
“My family has been active in Republican politics at the Fulton County level for a long time,” he said. “I remember going to Lincoln Day dinners [at the Rainbow] as a kid and hearing some great speakers, state Sen. Hugh Farley, Assemblyman Glen Harris, and that really helped spark my early interest in politics.”
Pete Wilson said he’s extremely proud of his nephew. He said he isn’t surprised he would chose to run for one of the state’s top jobs.
“He was always very aggressive,” Pete Wilson said.
Harry Wilson excelled at academics and politics at Johnstown High School, where he was valedictorian and president of the class of 1989.
Johnstown 3rd Ward Councilman Brett Preston said he was a classmate of Wilson’s and still stays in touch with him through e-mail. He said Wilson possessed a rare combination of intelligence and social skills.
“He was extremely intelligent and talented but he was also so popular and well-liked. You don’t always see both of those things together like that,” Preston said. “We all knew he was destined for great things. The talk back then was always that he’d run for president one day.”
Wilson graduated from Harvard University and then earned a master’s in business administration from Harvard Business School. Following that he went to work on Wall Street at three financial firms: Goldman Sachs, Clayton, Dubilier & Rice and the Blackstone Group.
He described himself as an investor with experience in a wide range of businesses and economic sectors. His last job as an investor was working as a partner at Silver Point Capital, which he said had a hedge fund structure and dealt with many different kinds of investments from private equity to common stocks.
Wilson, who is married with children, said he was successful enough to retire in his mid-30s. He then volunteered to serve as the only Republican on President Barack Obama’s Auto Task Force. This was his first job working for the government.
Wilson said he viewed it as his role to provide investment advice to the U.S. Treasury Department, almost in the same way he would provide advice in a private equity deal. He said after analyzing the two businesses he supported the government’s bailout of General Motors but cautioned against the bailout of Chrysler because he thought the company had a low probability of turning the corner, making it a poor investment of taxpayer dollars.
He said he if he’s elected comptroller he would use the office to advocate for spending reform at the state level. He said he would use the comptroller’s power to author “program bills,” which are legislation introduced by either the governor, comptroller or attorney general to try to aggressively influence the Legislature to tackle spending issues.
“I think the comptroller’s role can fundamentally have a significant impact on spending in Albany. The problems are there, but there is no point in wasting time in my life doing this if I don’t think I can have a huge impact,” he said. “I feel the comptroller’s role has been traditionally handled by politicians who aren’t really looking to upset the apple cart and fundamentally aren’t trying to change anything.”