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Third GOP candidate declares race against Cuomo

Sen. John DeFrancisco's campaign

A third Republican candidate has announced his intention to run for governor against Democrat Andrew Cuomo. Syracuse-area Sen. John DeFrancisco said he thinks it’s time for a change.

DeFrancisco, who is currently the deputy majority leader, said eight years of Andrew Cuomo is a long time, and someone new needs to take over.

“My real feeling is that enough is enough,” DeFrancisco said. “I’ve got the fire in my belly and I’m going to go for it.”

DeFrancisco spoke in a busy hall of the Capitol outside the Senate chamber as he prepared to leave for his district to make his formal announcement. DeFrancisco, 71, who is known for his frank, outspoken nature, has held his seat in the Senate for 25 years.

He’s a trial lawyer and a Syracuse University graduate, and is a moderate to conservative-leaning Republican. He voted against New York’s gun control laws, known as the SAFE Act, and allowing medical marijuana. He’s been an ally of former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat, and voted for the current state budget, which phased in a $15 minimum wage for parts of the state and enacted partial paid family leave.

DeFrancisco said when Cuomo first came into office in 2011, he supported Cuomo’s efforts to hold the line on spending and enact a property tax cap, but he said the governor has changed. He said young people are leaving the state, and those left behind are struggling financially and have become dependent on social services for survival.

“One-third of the people in the state are on Medicaid,” he said. “And you’ve to get the economy going.”

He said Cuomo’s recent budget proposal, which calls for more than $1 billion in “revenue enhancers,” is not going to jump-start the economy.

“In case you don’t have the Cuomo index or glossary, revenue enhancers are taxes and fees,” DeFrancisco said. “That’s the opposite way to go.” 

DeFrancisco, if he wins his party’s nomination, would be the underdog in the race. He’s from upstate, which is much less populated than New York City and its surrounding suburbs. He’s a Republican in a blue state with little name recognition outside his district. And the $1.5 million in his campaign accounts is dwarfed by Cuomo’s $31 million war chest.

But DeFrancisco said money isn’t everything.

“I’m not the type of person that says, ‘Look, he can’t be beaten, he’s not vulnerable, let’s give him a life term, let’s make him the monarch of the state of New York,’ ” DeFrancisco said. 

DeFrancisco said Cuomo’s money could be a “negative.”

“Even though he’s got a ton of money, that may be damaging in a certain way,” he said. “The question is, why does he have so many followers? Why does he have so much money in the treasury?”

The governor has not been accused of any impropriety regarding his campaign donations. But his former top aide is now on trial in federal court on charges he engineered bribery schemes involving companies that were major Cuomo donors and also heavily involved in the governor’s economic development programs.

Cuomo has not yet formally announced a candidacy but has said repeatedly that he intends to run for a third term.

Geoff Berman, the leader of the state’s Democratic Party who was chosen by Cuomo, issued a statement on DeFrancisco’s candidacy. Berman painted the senator as “deep red” politically and tied to President Donald Trump, who is unpopular in New York.

Berman said “the moderate Republican Party is dead in New York” and has been taken over by “extreme conservatives.” Berman called DeFrancisco and another Republican candidate for governor, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, “Trump Mini-Mes” who are “anti-New York.”

There is a third GOP candidate for governor; former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra also is in the race. Cuomo so far does not have a Democratic primary challenger.

The chairman of the state’s Republican Party, Ed Cox, called 2018 an “anybody but Cuomo” year.

“While Andrew Cuomo is steeped in a massive corruption trial of his pay-to-play administration, the New York Republican Party is putting forth candidates with the experience and vision to fix our state,” Cox said in a statement.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.