TRANSCRIPT: Rick Lazio on The Brian Lehrer Show

Rick Lazio called into The Brian Lehrer Show while Brian and WNYC's Azi Paybarah were dropping his run for Conservative Party run for governor.

Brian Lehrer: Mr. Lazio, we very much appreciate you calling in on this day after you left the race. We’re here with WNYC political reporter Azi Paybarah as well. Hi Rick.

Rick Lazio: Hi Brian, hi Azi.

Azi Paybarah: Hi.

BL: So here we are, and you don’t really want them to elect you judge in the Bronx, do you?

RL: Desperately no, I said if elected I’ll resign.

AP: The most honest judge in New York perhaps.

BL: Well we can come back to that in a little while.

RL: Famously I think Buckley said when he ran for mayor, “If elected, the first thing I’ll do is call for a recount.”

BL: That’s how you get off the ballot in New York State, once you’re nominated. You either have to die, leave the state, or be nominated for something else. So the Conservative party nominated you for judgeship from the Bronx. Is this legal if you’re not a resident of the Bronx?

RL: First of all I don’t think the Conservative Party has done that, and I think they’re in the process of working out the legal procedure, so I’m just not able to comment on it.


RL: But my understanding is that for Supreme Court judges, you do not need to live in that judicial district. That’s my understanding.

BL: So when you dropped out yesterday, you declined to endorse Mr. Paladino, certainly you didn’t endorse the Democrat, Mr. Cuomo. Why didn’t you endorse Paladino?

RL: Well, I believe that these two candidates have a lot to be desired in terms of the specificity and the platform, and I believe the people really deserve and need to hold the candidates’ feet to the fire. Holding them accountable after the election is too late. We need to know how these two candidates propose to grow our state again, create private sector jobs, and balance the budgets, not in terms of platitudes and certainly trading insults doesn’t create a single new job for any New Yorker, doesn’t solve any problem. I think the people, as I said, need and deserve more than what they’re getting, and the only way I know how to do that is to continue to push both the public as voters and the candidates to do a better job of explaining how they’ll govern.

BL: Do you think that it’s acceptable for mainstream Republicans to elect somebody who’s got Paladino’s history with the racist and sexist emails? I realize that’s not the main concern of the state right now, obviously jobs and the economy are the main concerns of the state right now, but I am wondering if there’s been a diminishment of standards. I think in any normal year, people who are mainstream in the party would look at the kind of emails that were sent, portraying the President of the United States as a pimp, and his wife, the First Lady, as a whore, et cetera, and say this actually disqualifies this man. But not this year for some reason. What’s your own view on this?

RL: The emails are completely offensive. Unacceptable. Have never been part of the party that I belong to or associate with. I believe the Republican Party has a lot of soul searching to do here. By the way, I think the Democratic Party does too, but maybe for different reasons.  I think the Republican Party needs to decide who they are, what they want to be, where they want to take the people of the state or the nation, depending on what you’re talking about. And it’s one of the reasons why yesterday, number one, I didn’t endorse. Number two, I raised questions about public character, I think on the part of both of the candidates. And I think these issues are very important. They go to the heart of who the person is. You know, every time I’ve run for office, I’ve always had people come up to me and say, “I don’t really agree with you on every issue, but I trust you, I know you grapple with things and you’re serious about things and you’ll come to the conclusion for the right reasons.” And that’s what people deserve to have. We’ve got a very toxic political environment. By the way, all of us as voters, I put my hand up among them, we’re partly responsible too because we keep re-electing a lot of people. Ninety-nine percent reelection rate in the state legislature that in my view often violate their commitments and their trust. This is not a healthy functioning system, when you have a ninety-nine percent reelection rate, when you have a system rigged from a reapportionment standpoint so the legislature creates its own boundaries to confirm or guarantee that the incumbents get reelected. In my view, rolling over huge amounts of money from one election to the next helps again guarantee or perpetuate the system. I don’t think candidates should be able to automatically roll over any amounts unspent from one election to the next election. So I think there’s a lot of work to be done. And obviously when you’re talking about character, this is something that bothers me. The emails bother me, and that’s something I think the people of NY fairly have to gauge.

BL: Azi Paybarah you have a question for Mr. Lazio.

AP: Yes, Mr. Lazio, I was wondering if you could tell us what impact you think the Tea Party has had on New York politics and specifically the Republican party?

RL: You know it’s hard to tell yet Azi. I looked at the school board elections where there was a lot of noise by the Tea Party that they were going to vote down all the school board votes, and in fact they passed overwhelmingly over ninety percent of the school board votes. In the context of the conservative primary, which I won, I’d say there were probably Tea Party activists on both sides. On the Republican side it did seem like the Tea Party folks got to the voting polls. But I think two things are important to know. One is that this was very much in my view an upstate-downstate thing. A lot of resentment from the folks upstate about their lot, their situation, the economy--which is really a basket case--lack of jobs, and they do tend to look at downstate people and government as being out of touch with their problems and ineffective in solving them. If you looked at the Republican election, on primary day I won Westchester, all five boroughs of New York City, and Long Island, Nassau and Suffolk, by two-to-one margins. So, Carl Paladino’s margin was all upstate, and the closer you got to the Buffalo area where the economy is arguably the worst, the better he did.

BL: He got 80 percent in Buffalo and Erie County I believe.

RL: Yeah, it’s staggering actually, in terms of that , but you know that I think the Tea Party got to the polls, and they had an effect on the Republican primary. I think a lot of these people in the Tea Party are ordinary citizens. They want to express their point of view, and they feel disenfranchised by the system or by the parties. It’s a good thing for people to get involved and be part of the debate. You just don’t want to veer off to the point where it becomes destructive. I think it’s very important for the people to be focused on not just what we tear down, but on what we build up, what we create, what do we replace something that we don’t like with. And that’s where again I think the candidates in terms of vision have been very limited. Both Andrew Cuomo and Carl Paladino, I couldn’t tell you if someone asked me, “What do you think their vision of where New York should be in twenty years is?” I’d really struggle to be able to tell you that. Anger is an interesting motivator, but it’s not a solution and it’s not a platform.

BL: Mr. Lazio, on the economics of the upstate-downstate thing, from what I’ve read, Mr. Paladino built his reputation to some degree in the Buffalo area through a resentment of high taxes as taking from the people upstate to fund the people in New York City. Even that to me has racial overtones, maybe you’ll disagree, but aren’t the economics the opposite at this point? Isn’t New York City and downstate in general the economic engine that more subsidizes the struggling upstate New York at this point?

RL: You have a hard time selling that upstate, but I have seen analytical work that would confirm that, just in terms of where the tax revenues are derived from and where they’re spent. But I think the people upstate would argue stop taxing us so much and give us the ability to grow our economy and create jobs. The spending that takes place by downstate forces seems to many of them as wasteful and inefficient, and in effect whatever is taken from them is not spent well.

BL: Wouldn’t a reduction in statewide income taxes, lets say, wind up leaving more money in the pockets of downstate and taking more money out of the projects spent on upstate?

RL: You know, it just depends on how you structure that. I think a lot of people around the state, not just upstate, think that the private economy is a more efficient allocator of money and is a much more viable engine for growth, and that our future depends not on creating a massive public sector employment but in creating private sector jobs. To do that you have to have healthier businesses and you’ve got to be able to compete with other states, which we’re not doing effectively. You know we’ve led the nation for ten years in net outflow—more people, jobs and businesses leaving New York for other states than any other state in the country. So this is where the frustration lies, and a lot of people look at Albany and they say there are interest groups that cut their deals because they’re in Albany, they have their campaign contributions, they have their army of political operatives, and they perpetuate a system which forces New York to be uncompetitive and creates a massive wealth transfer from the private sector to the public sector.

BL: So you’re saying it’s not just a zero-sum game between upstate and downstate, we have to look at the rest of the big picture. Azi, you have one more question for Mr. Lazio?

AP: Yes, just to go back to your comment about the Republican Party and soul-searching, I’m just wondering if you could just define in your words what the Republican Party is and what you think it may turn into as a result of a Paladino nomination?

RL: There are hundreds of Republican candidates that are running this cycle, so you can’t just look at one candidate. Look at Dan Donovan as District Attorney of Staten Island running for Attorney General, Harry Wilson running for comptroller, neither one of them have endorsed Carl Paladino by the way, so there are all kinds of candidates. I am more drawn to what I would call a Jack Kemp wing of the party, what used to the Jack wing part of the party. Choice and empowerment were important principles, it wasn’t about saying that the poor or new immigrants were to be scapegoated and that they were the reasons why we have problems. Rather, that every person that was poor today, if we did our job right, would be tomorrow’s employer and job creator. We wanted a system where people could move up the economic ladder and we had a very dynamic economy. That’s the Republican Party that I more identify with, a party that needs to do a better job of reaching out to new immigrants and to other minorities and to women, and a party that believes in economic dynamism, it believes in a strong private sector, it believes in balanced budgets and having discipline in the decision-making. But it also has a conscience and has a view on the environment and on healthcare and on other important issues, on housing, which I was very involved in, of course, in my public career, you know, public housing and housing for the homeless.

BL: You sound like somebody who was primed to run a statewide campaign

RL: We could’ve done that!

BL: And I’m sorry for you that it didn’t turn out that way. Just tell us, is there any scenario in which you could see yourself endorsing either Cuomo, or Paladino, between now and Election Day?

RL: I may end up with some judicial restrictions as a candidate, I don’t have them yet but I may at some point which would constrain my ability to do a formal endorsement. But I will say that even if that was not the case,  I would probably take a fair amount of time to push these candidates and use whatever modest leverage I have to really encourage the media and the public not to give either candidate a free ride, to not accept empty, false promises and slogans as a substitute for serious ideas and policy. We have got enormous problems. Dick Ravitch, the Lieutenant Governor rolled out a pretty important study on Medicaid which is a huge program. We’ve got the largest Medicaid program in the nation here.

BL: We’ve just got a minute left, we have Paul Krugman standing by.

RL: My only point is, let’s get the candidates left in this race to have some substantive answers and give people some confidence that they know what they’re electing and what they will do once they get elected.

BL: Rick Lazio, now out of the governor’s race, we really appreciate you calling us today.