Upstate New Yorker Harry Wilson thinks his middle-class roots and career path as a businessman in the financial industry make him the candidate who will resonate most with voters when they head to the polls Tuesday.
Wilson grew up in Johnstown and is the son and grandson of Greek immigrants. While Wilson now lives in Westchester County, he still visits Johnstown where he announced his run for governor five months ago.
The 50-year-old faces three other candidates in the primary, including Long Island state Sen. Lee Zeldin, who supports former President Donald J. Trump and was endorsed by the state Republican Party Committee. Wilson’s other two opponents are Rob Astorino, the former Westchester County Executive and 2014 GOP gubernatorial nomineem, and Andrew Giuliani, who served in the Trump administration and is the son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Wilson made a name for himself during the 2010 race for state Comptroller, losing to incumbent Thomas DiNapoli by four points, and has since been asked at least twice by the state GOP to run for governor. He declined both times.
“I believe this year represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix our state,” Wilson said. “I think we have the most broken state government in the country, and I’m the only candidate in the race who spent 30 years at the highest levels of American business fixing broken organizations. I think that’s a skillset we desperately need.”
Wilson earned an MBA from Harvard University, which led to a lucrative career as a hedge fund manager. As chairman and founder of the Maeva Group, he has devoted much of his professional life to turning around financially-strapped companies. Last year, Wilson served as CEO of Genesis HealthCare and has also been an adviser in the U.S. Department of the Treasury during President Barack Obama’s administration. Wilson was part of a team that oversaw the restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler after the government bailed out both companies. He plans to use his experience in the financial industry to help New Yorkers through the inflationary crisis hitting the country and decrease the state budget while providing quality services. His plan is based around three pillars– cutting income taxes by 20% and property taxes by 20%, reforming regulations that drive up costs and “repealing soft on crime policies” like bail reform.
Wilson said he wants to find ways to ease the inflation people are feeling.
“Certain parts of inflation are driven by bad policies out of Washington,” he said. “I can’t fix those. But what I can do is make other changes that offset the cost of those.”
The example he used was eliminating the gasoline tax while gas is more than $4 a gallon. He also said he’d get rid of corporate welfare, in which “politically favored companies get handouts from the state.”
Currently, both state houses are held by the Democrats, which will be needed to pass any budget Wilson puts forward if the majority stays the same. Wilson said he’s willing to work with lawmakers but will not forgo his main ideas.
“I’ve negotiated hundreds of deals that are far more complicated than the state budget with lots of stakeholders and I’ve always succeeded in creating win-win solutions,” he said. “So, I’ll negotiate in good faith, but I’m not going to back down from the core principles which are the three things I’ve been articulating ever since I entered the race.”
If Wilson becomes governor he plans to repeal bail reform laws in the state.
“I think it’s very clear from the data that the spiking crime of the last two or three years has been driven in large part by the soft-on-crime policies passed by the Legislature and governors [Andrew] Cuomo and [Kathy] Hochul,” he said.
Wilson would like judges to have more discretion in setting bail and he wants to focus on what he calls core problems –criminals, those with mental illnesses that have violent tendencies, and purveyors of hate.
Wilson, a gun owner, also does not support the various recent gun measures passed by the state.
“I don’t think that banning classes of firearms for law-abiding citizens who go through background checks, are subject to red flag laws, is actually going to make a difference,” he said.
He also said he’s against raising the age to buy a gun.
One aspect that sets Wilson apart from his opponents is his stance on women’s reproductive rights. Wilson is pro-choice.
“The reason I am pro-choice, I believe in limited government across the board,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he would not look to appeal current state laws regarding reproductive rights and abortions. On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
“Part of that reason is because I really want to focus on things I think will matter the most to New Yorkers, which are crime, taxes and cost of living.”
Wilson also said heading into Tuesday he doesn’t believe the ongoing Jan. 6 Committee hearings will factor into people’s voting decisions.
While Wilson has been gaining traction with voters since March – growing 14 points – he and Astorino, who is tied with Wilson for second place, still face a tough battle against Zeldin, said Camille Mumford, the director of communications for Emerson College Polling.
“Wilson’s support is strongest among rural Republican New York voters, but he still trails Zeldin by five points among those voters,” Mumford said. “This poll was taken before the GOP debate[s], so if any of the candidate’s performances had a significant impact on Republican voters, it does not account for that.”
Wilson said he’s been hitting the airwaves in Upstate New York to get his message across to voters because he believes he’s the full package and the Republican primaries tend to break late in the last week or two.
“So I think we are peaking at the exact right time and I think more people understand what we can do for them to make the state a much better place to live and work,” he said.