Carl Paladino’s Eight Days as Mr. Establishment

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Here’s something (almost) nobody expected a week ago: Carl Paladino talking to CNN in Central Park.

The commercial real estate developer from Buffalo was asked by Soledad O’Brien to comment about the Islamic cultural center and mosque slated to open in Lower Manhattan. Mr. Paladino, who seemed for a while unable to moderate his over-the-top rhetoric, said the “mosque” was a “side issue” and had “nothing to do with the day to day life of the people in the state of New York.”

Was Mr. Paladino, the insurgent who won the Republican gubernatorial nomination eight days earlier, already becoming main stream?

Technically, yes.

After dispatching former Rep. Rick Lazio of Long Island in a 24-point landslide, Mr. Paladino has been hoisted onto the New York State Republican Party as their standard bearer.

And the media has come knocking. Two cameramen from CNN were filming Mr. Paladino and Ms. O’Brien chatting away. A reporter and photographer from the New York Post waited for their turn to talk to Mr. Paladino. He was on a tight schedule, having his second radio interview of the day in about an hour.

And Mr. Paladino’s campaign manager, Michael Caputo, was muttering commentary to a New York Times reporter. Mr. Caputo is indeed worth his own profile. He’s run campaigns in Russia, survived a plane crash near Sibera, lived on a boat in Key West, and before this campaign, hadn’t worn shoes in four years, nor a suit in five years.

Mr. Caputo took a swig of mouthwash from a mini bottle, painfully rinsed then spit it out on a patch of grass.

“I have a big hole in my mouth,” he explained. “I crushed a tooth when we were out on the campaign trail and they pulled over and dropped me off an at oral surgeon. They took it out in 22 pieces and then I got on a plane to catch up with Carl.”

The campaign, he says, is keeping him too busy to have it fixed properly.

“Because it was such a difficult surgery, they gave me really powerful pills which knock me out. And I can’t be knocked out,” he said. “So, I just got to work through it. I walk around for a week now, I had blood in my mouth, which just sucks. Carl thinks it’s funny.”

Then, Mr. Caputo imitated Mr. Paladino: “That’s great…My man has got blood in his mouth!”

On Tuesday, Mr. Paladino wasn’t so blood-thirsty.

He sat on a wooden green bench in Central Park, basking in his role as the gubernatorial nominee of the New York State Republican Party, something few thought was possible before last week.

“Chairman Cox called me right after the primary and congratulated me,” Mr. Paladino said. He recalled Mr. Cox saying, “we’re with you one hundred percent. And you got the whole party establishment behind you.”

In an August interview with WNYC, Mr. Paladino had said the Republican Party had become ” “a shell” of what it used to be.

Was that party apparatus worth anything?

“Sure it is,” he said. “Yeah, I won.” He went on to say “The political establishment is learning how to move into the 21st century. The Tea Party movement is teaching them,” he said. “There might be a changing of the guard in some places, okay, but a majority of them have accepted that.”

If Mr. Paladino was softening his razor-sharp tongue, it wasn’t to the benefit of his Democratic rival, State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Mr. Paladino’s campaign has called into questioned Mr. Cuomo’s “manhood” and wondered whether he he has the “cajones” to govern New York.

An image of Mr. Cuomo’s face was super-imposed above a topless man in the shower, covered with mud, courtesy of Mr. Paladino’s campaign.

Mr. Cuomo is now faced with a few unpleasant options. Engage a candidate with no known restraints on congeniality. Or, ignore him, feeding into Mr. Paladino’s criticism that Mr. Cuomo, as the son of a former governor, is expecting inherit the keys to the govenror’s mansion, rather than earn it from voters.

Ignoring Mr. Paladino’s antics – he’s also sent workers dressed in chicken and duck outfits to taunt Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Lazio into noticing him and sent foul-smelling mail to voters – proved fatal during the Republican primary.

Engaging him may, in some people’s eyes, elevate the outrageous fringe candidacy into some sort of legitimacy.

Mr. Cuomo is, for now, allowing surrogates to attack Mr. Paladino head-on while he, and his campaign, take the high ground.

“I’m not going to run a campiagn that engages in guttter politics,” Mr. Cuomo said Tuesday morning in an interview on Talk1300. The interview came hours after a Daily News story said Mr. Cuomo was asking campiagn advisors “If a guy says you have no cojones, how do you punch him back, call him an a–hole?”

While Mr. Paladino made the rounds of national media – since wining the primary last week, he’s appeared on New York 1 News, CNN with Anderson Cooper, Fox News with Neal Caputo, and held interviews with nearly every reporter who’s asked.

Mr. Cuomo held one press conference in his capacity as Attorney General, where he let reporters pelt him with questions about Mr. Paladino, but offered no direct commentary on his rival.

On Tuesday, both took to the airwaves.

Mr. Cuomo subjected himself to an interview on Talk1300 with the New York Post State Editor Fred Dicker – who has known Mr. Cuomo for years and interviewed him on his show numerous times.

There, Mr. Cuomo used the word “denigrate” numerous times to describe what Mr. Paladino was doing to the political discourse.

Two hours earlier though, Mr. Paladino had appeared on WOR with John Gambling for what the host billed as a “Town Hall” meeting.

Callers were encouraged to call and ask Mr. Paladino questions.

At the start of the Town Hall, Mr. Palaidno reveled in having caused some headaches for Mr. Cuomo’s campaign team. “At a boy Andy,” Mr. Paladino chuckled. “Keep coming Andy.”

But the Town Hall quickly took a more serious, if not wonky turn, with Mr. Paladino announcing a four-member team to help flesh out his tax-cutting strategy.

(Members would include Ned Regan, the former state comptroller and current Baruch College professor; Larry Kudlow, the pin-striped financial analyst on MSNBC who adviced President Reagan and Governor Pataki; David Malpass, the former economic advisor to Presidents Bush and Reagan; and Chris Collins, the Erie County Executive who abandoned a run for governor earlier this year.)

Mr. Paladino sought to contrast himself with Mr. Cuomo, without, for once, any name-calling.

“You’ve heard Andrew, he’s talking about capping a percentage increase in taxes,” Mr. Paladino said. “In other words, allowing a gradual growth in taxes. We’re talking clearly about a continuous effort to cut taxes. We will cut taxes every year.”

Back in Central Park, Mr. Paladino said becoming the Republican gubernatorial nominee hasn’t affected core DNA.

“No, I haven’t changed,” he chuckled. “If you’re question is am I changing my message or anything like that, no.”