At a time when people have lost faith in elected officials who focus on serving themselves over the people they were elected to represent and have become disheartened over a system of politics overcome by corruption and greed, Marc Molinaro says he’s the man voters are looking for.
Molinaro was first elected to public office at the age of 18 in 1994, serving on the Village of Tivoli Board of Trustees. In 1995, he became the youngest mayor in America at age 19. He was re-elected mayor five times and elected four times to the Dutchess County Legislature. In 2006, he brought his passion for public service to Albany when he was elected to represent the 103rd district in the New York State Assembly. In November of 2011, Molinaro was elected as Dutchess County’s 7th County Executive. At 36, he took office as the youngest County Executive in county history.
Molinaro resides in Red Hook with his wife Corinne and their children, Abigail, Jack, and Elias.
The Republican is running in the upcoming election to be the next governor of New York, seeking to unseat Democrat incumbent Andrew Cuomo, who has held the seat since 2011.
On Monday evening, the Yated caught up with Molinaro.
Let’s start with the plan you’ve announced to cut property taxes in New York State by 30%. Is that just a campaign promise or do you have a real way of doing that?
We do. If you’d like to be bored to tears, we have a 24-page policy paper on our website. The reason that it is so lengthy is because we wanted to be able to prove that it is possible.
So yes, we can reduce property taxes statewide by 30% over five years.
It begins by the state taking responsibility for certain expenses that it forces down on the local property taxpayers, but it also requires New York State to live within its means, and we have a way for that to happen. But again, as we either cut costs or take costs back from local municipalities, we would require them to lower their tax levy and that’s how we achieve the property tax relief.
But 30% over five years is achievable.
Won’t you experience pushback from the municipalities?
No, because we’re taking costs back. New York does something that no other state in the country does. It forces more of its state spending onto local municipalities that then have to levy a property tax to pay for it. So our plan takes back Medicaid costs and some other state expenditures, and then when we take back that cost, we require them to lower their levy. So there’s no additional burden to the municipalities, and in the end the taxpayer gets the relief.
What other major changes can New York expect with you as governor?
Well, making New York affordable and competitive is necessary. The rest of the country is seeing much stronger economic growth, and New York is at the bottom when it comes to economic prosperity. So by lowering taxes and making it easier on small businesses and families, we’ll make New York more competitive, which ultimately will grow new job opportunities.
But second to that, we’ve got to address the issue of corruption in Albany. Admittedly, it has infected both parties and it’s infected everyone in both houses of the state legislature, and certainly we’ve seen it corrupt the governor’s office.
We have to end that corruption, and we have a very detailed plan to do that, including term limits for statewide office holders and state legislators.
You’ve said that Andrew Cuomo is illegally running his campaign from government offices. What do you mean?
From the smallest thing, like the fact that he participated in a parade in New York City and had New York State-paid Department of Transportation employees handing out campaign literature, to the bigger things, such as trading access to taxpayer support for campaign contributions, Cuomo has done this time and again.
Quite frankly, he’s even leveraged the Department of Finance to go after his political enemies, including the Trump Foundation. Whether or not you believe that they should be investigated, it is not the governor’s right to direct that agency’s investigation, nor should he have knowledge of what are very confidential investigations of people’s tax statuses.
So Cuomo’s leveraged really all aspects of state government in ways that benefit him politically.
You’ve been upset about Cuomo’s unwillingness to debate you, though he finally agreed to debate you on Tuesday night. Can you comment?
I think that the desire not to debate is both out of fear and arrogance, and without being rude about it, I think he believes that he does not need to subject himself to a rigorous debate, and frankly just wants just win reelection and run for national office.
I also don’t think he wants to spend much time defending what are some real instances of corruption and incompetence.
But I think he relented because New Yorkers spoke up. They spoke up through the media, while we fought for an open and public debate, and the New York Post put him on their front page in a chicken outfit, which I think made an impact as well!
Can a Republican win a gubernatorial election in New York? Why do you think New York leans so much to the left?
Firstly, people in Massachusetts, Delaware and Vermont probably asked the same question: Can a Republican win? And they all have Republican governors, in part because, I think, those governors focus on solving problems and not engaging in nasty politics. Frankly, the New York governor has engaged in personal politics for too long.
Now why is it difficult? Because, if you think about, we’re really three separate states: New York City, Long Island, and the rest of New York.
Breaking through and sending a message in New York City is difficult and expensive, but New York State government, and unlike any other in the country, really protects the incumbent through partisan redistricting and a great deal of access to state-sponsored resources and taxpayer funds. So once you’re in, the system protects the powerful.
And let’s face it: This governor was born to a governor. He came to this with a lot of advantages that not many other people have.
You say that for those who have lost faith in elected officials, you should be their choice. What makes you different than others running for office? What makes you unlike the typical politician?
Well, firstly, I wasn’t born into a political family and I’m nobody famous. I grew up on food stamps, my family worked very hard, and I’ve worked very hard to earn my place in public service. But additionally, I care very deeply about doing the job for the right reasons, and as corny as that may sound in 2018, I think that we’d be better off with elected officials who truly care about helping people solve problems.
So think about it as a breath of fresh air. We will have more transparency, we will have town hall meetings, and we will invest in really communicating with residents in a very open way to help confront some serious challenges facing the people of New York.
At the age of 19, you were elected as the youngest mayor in the United States in Tivoli, New York. What have you learned from your years in politics, and looking back, are you happy with your decision, as a teenager, to enter uncharted territory and serve in a political position at that age?
As Ronald Reagan would say, I’ll answer the second question first, and by the time I’m done, you might not remember the first question!
Jokes aside, looking back, I am so grateful that I’ve been given the honor of serving. I believe in public service and I believe in making a difference for my community and the lives of the people who live here. It has been so gratifying to be able to work with people to solve problems, and I don’t regret a second of that.
I learned as a young mayor how important it is to be honest with the people you serve, and how our decisions have real impacts on real people, and you need to be sensitive to that. You can’t ignore the fact that decisions made by government and government officials can both help and hurt people. Being sensitive to it, empathetic to it, and understanding of it, you have a much better appreciation of the decisions you make.
Starting at a young age in a small community, I got to see that firsthand. I saw firsthand the impact of my decisions and how important it is to be upfront, forthright and honest with the people you serve.
In January 2011, it was actually Governor Andrew Cuomo who appointed you to serve on the Governor’s Mandate Relief Redesign Team. Is it now awkward to be running against him?
I was appointed by him, but I was actually selected by Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb to represent the Assembly Republicans on that task force.
I worked with the governor when he was attorney general on a few issues and I had a good relationship with his staff. I had the greatest amount of hope that he was coming into office to sweep in a new day. Instead, eight years later, we have an entrenched new normal, where corruption seems to be the norm and the governor is unwilling to address the issues facing ordinary New Yorkers. So I’ve become disenfranchised over these last several years and unhappy with the direction of the State of New York.
But you know, I’ve learned from my grandparents, and particularly my grandfathers, who both served in the United States Army, that when you’re called into action, you do your job and you do it well. So I was called into action to serve in that regard and did my job well. Unfortunately, the governor didn’t follow through with any of the suggestions that the task force had presented, but we were earnest and honest in our work.
How do you feel Donald Trump has done as president?
I’m very happy with the economic recovery we’ve seen in the rest of the country. The problem is that New York’s policies have kept us from enjoying those benefits. We don’t have the job growth, we don’t have the economic competiveness, and we don’t have the tax relief that the president and Congress have been fighting for. I think from that regard that we need a governor who will ensure that New York State benefits from America now being the most competitive economy in the world. We just don’t have that now. Instead, the governor has made politics very personal, and I think that in his effort to run for president in the future, he’s diminished our ability to work with and get support from the federal government. That will change when I am governor
Following the Kavanaugh saga, what did you think of how he was treated, and, more generally, can you comment on how partisan politics has divided this country?
You’ve kind of answered your first question with the second. Sadly, the personal nature of partisan politics has led us to rush to judgment instead of seeking truth. We saw that play out in the Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings. Instead of honestly and earnestly attempting to find the truth of what happened to that individual, there was a partisan desire to make this very political and in the process damage what should have been a very sensitive criminal investigation. It made a mockery of what is supposed to be one of the more serious considerations of the United States State, the confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice. It is that nasty angry politics that is eroding our ability to work together and truly address the problems facing this country.
What relief can you commit to private school parents who are collapsing under the burden of tuition costs?
I am committed to finding that relief. I know the cost and the burden when you include taxation for public schools and then the tuition for parochial or private schools.
You know that there is still a question as to the constitutionality of vouchers. That has to be settled by the Supreme Court.
But several states have moved to allow educational savings accounts, which are tax-free saving programs that will help people put aside money to direct toward tuition or other expenditures, and I’d like to see us at least expand on that and really make a commitment to make it easier for those who use parochial, private or religious institutions. I am committed to that. It is very, very important.
What is your approach to problem-solving and governing?
I want people to know that I’m a collaborator. I like to bring people together from different opinions and different backgrounds to solve problems. And I think that is important in the political environment in which we live.
As I mentioned before, we grew up pretty poor. My mom was single for a number of years and food stamps put food on our table. We had to work hard and my mom taught us to respect each other and to respect others.
Fast forward to now, and I’m a proud husband and father of three children, with a fourth on his way at the end of November. My daughter was born with a disability – she’s now 14 – so we know the challenges that many face raising children with developmental disabilities and the challenges that those with disabilities face in our society. I also have a nine-year-old son, whose soccer team I still coach, and a 22-month-old son, Eli.
Who have been your personal and political heroes?
My family today is what motivates me – my wife, my children, my mother. They are my heroes. They motivate me to do my job and stay honest and focused. They are my best supporters and my toughest critics, and that’s important. And I listen to them!
My grandfather, my mother’s father, who served in the US Army during World War II, was an inspiration to me. He would say that he wasn’t anyone remarkable, but he went to war for a cause and for a reason and for a purpose, and he really instilled in us a desire to serve the public.
My three political heroes are: 1) Teddy Roosevelt – I try to emulate his drive in breaking down corruption. 2) Harry Truman, because he was an ordinary American who was given extraordinary power, and I think for your readers’ sake, I would also say that he was pushed but ultimately did the right thing in recognizing the State of Israel, with the remarkable history of that and the story of how he finally came to that conclusion. Roosevelt was an ordinary man who never went to college and yet became president in the shadow of perhaps one of our nation’s greatest leaders. 3) And finally, the first president I can remember as a child, Ronald Reagan, who continues to inspire.
Great speaking to you. Wishing you much success going forward.
Thank you. I appreciate it.