PERTH — Republican gubernatorial candidates participating in a forum organized by the Fulton County Republican Committee shared a unified message that they are each out to unseat Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Announced candidates for state governor U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Andrew Giuliani, and Derrick Gibson participated in the candidates forum Wednesday at Perthshire.
Previously announced candidate Michael O’Reilly was also present, but shared his decision not to seek office. Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro and Lewis County Sheriff Mike Carpinelli were expected at the event, but were unable to attend.
Still more than a year out from the gubernatorial election in November 2022, each of the Republican candidates said the party must organize in the months ahead in order to have a chance of taking control of the governorship in the Democratic-majority state.
“The right way for us to approach this is thinking we only have 17 months to go before we have this opportunity Nov. 8, 2022 to fire Andrew Cuomo and save this state. We’re all in this together,” Zeldin said.
The candidates were critical of Cuomo’s performance throughout the evening and each voiced their willingness to support the nominee who is ultimately selected to represent the Republican party in the election.
The four contenders for the nomination shared their disdain for the New York SAFE Act, pledging to do what they can to repeal the law that expanded the definition of banned assault weapons, extended background checks and established a license renewal requirement for handgun ownership.
With both houses of the state Legislature controlled by Democrats, Giuliani declared that he would refuse to act on legislation until lawmakers agreed to repeal the law if elected, while Astorino stated he would pull funding related to the law to remove the teeth on which it stands until it could be repealed.
Support for the police and calls for repealing or revising bail reform legislation were similarly common refrains from the candidates. Giuliani claimed bail reform has contributed to increased crime rates in the state in arguing bail reform should be repealed.
Gibson agreed crime rates are up and went a step further saying he would order the New York Guard, the state’s military reserve, to assist police to drive crime rates down.
Both Zeldin and Giuliani pledged to back school choice in the form of charter schools and to end the teaching of “critical race theory” in schools across the state.
Opponents to charter schools frequently argue they drain resources from public schools.
Zeldin said the shift away from charter schools “in the name of equity” has detracted from providing challenging coursework to advanced students.
“Our students who go to higher ed. should not be getting indoctrinated and brainwashed, we need to improve the quality of education in our schools,” Zeldin said.
Some differences among the candidates’ platforms were ultimately revealed during the forum.
Zeldin argued there should be term-limits for state governor and vowed not to seek more than two-terms in office if elected. Aside from stating that people feel Cuomo has been in office for too long, Zeldin did not go into specifics over his interest in setting term-limits.
“I don’t care how good you are, how bad you are, it is a bad idea for a governor of New York to be running for a third-term,” Zeldin said.
Praising his former boss, Giuliani said he would take a page from the playbook of former President Donald Trump if elected and “cut through the red tape” by performing comprehensive regulatory reform.
He stated a one-by-one review of existing state regulations would be performed to determine which regulations should get the axe. Giuliani did not identify any regulations he already has his sights set on slashing, but said the step would be essential to reduce barriers to business to encourage growth among existing businesses and attract new businesses to the state.
In one of the few mentions of pandemic related policy during the in-person event, Gibson said that as governor he would not support any coronavirus vaccine mandates and disclosed that he is unvaccinated. The forum was attended by around 80 individuals who all went without face coverings, including Gibson.
While fielding a question from an audience member over whether he supports “father and family rights,” Gibson said fathers do not receive enough credit and claimed that children are often taken from fathers without cause by Child Protective Services. Gibson stated that he would fight to dissolve CPS, which he said is unneeded.
Although each candidate connected with those in attendance at the forum over commonly held GOP positions, Susan DeRocker, a trustee in the village of Broadalbin, pointed out that all four frequently referenced large cities and counties throughout the eventwithout addressing the issues of small rural communities like Fulton County.
“We have a lot of issues for infrastructure,” DeRocker said. “We have been begging for three years to get our water tower replaced, to get funding so we don’t have to raise taxpayer dollars. There is no industry, we are a bedroom community. Our industries have closed. We need help.”
The point came late in the forum when just Gibson and Giuliani remained on-hand. Gibson suggested local infrastructure issues could be addressed through the federal Opportunity Zone program.
The program encourages private investment in low-income communities. The state has recommended over 500 census tracts receive designations under the program to participate. Gibson said Giuliani could better explain the program that was created through the Tax Cuts and Job Acts that was signed into law by Trump in 2017.
Giuliani on the other hand talked about a desire to weaken the state government structure based in Albany and the need to support local governments without addressing the question of how communities can cover expenses related to aging infrastructure. Cutting the state budget to “drain the Albany swamp” would be a focus for the candidate to prevent funds from heading to “special interest groups.”
He also stated that laws should not be drafted with broad strokes, pointing to obvious differences between heavily populated areas like New York City compared to the rural spaces found in Fulton County.
“As governor I would make sure that I worked with all of my local governments … so that way you are empowered to be able to make the decisions that are right for you,” Giuliani said.