3:41 pm Mar. 13, 20121
It seems to be the fate of George Maragos, the Nassau County comptroller who is running for U.S. Senate, to be overlooked.
First, he watched as internet entrepreneur Marc Cenedella quasi-announced, then abandoned, a bid for the Republican nomination this year to challenge Democratic incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand. Then he watched Manhattan attorney and judicial activist Wendy Long declare her candidacy, with help from some veteran G.O.P. operatives, as if he didn't exist. And today, Representative Bob Turner, who became a national Republican hero last year by winning Anthony Weiner's old seat in a special election, announced that he's joining the race too.
On Friday, the candidates will address party leaders in Rochester in a bid for their support.
When I sat down with Maragos on Monday, the day before Turner's announcement, and shortly after Brooklyn party chairman Craig Eaton sent out an email to his fellow chairs floating Turner's name, he said, "As you can see, it's very volatile, it changes daily, and I think it's going to continue to change daily until the end of the week. I kind of expect the volatility and we just have to weather it through."
Maragos, 62, declared his candidacy last year, when his current opponents weren't even thinking of running, as far as anyone knows. (Coincidentally, Maragos entered the race at almost the exact moment Anthony Weiner resigned from his congressional seat, which Turner would eventually win in a special election.)
His hope is that the extra time spent criss-crossing the state, meeting with party leaders and county chairs at chicken dinners and cocktail receptions, will prove sufficient to convince the convention to choose him over his late-arriving rivals, a group that also includes Rye Town Supervisor Joe Carvin.
Long and Carvin have already hired a couple of accomplished Albany hands—David Catalfamo and Bill O'Reilly, respectively—to help facilitate their introduction to party leaders, in the hopes of pushing them past the 25 percent threshold of convention support they'll need to automatically qualify for the primary ballot. (In an email, O'Reilly, who worked for Turner's House race, said he would continue working for Carvin, and that Jessica Proud, who works in O'Reilly's office, would handle Turner.)
Maragos hasn't bothered with any of that yet; his press releases still lack the campaign logos of the other candidates, his last campaign finance filings were filled out by hand, and his campaign website, with a rotation of colorful slogans and pastoral clip art, harks back to the days of Geocities.
Maragos said he's in talks to hire some more experienced staff, and has a preliminary finance team in place to start raising money once he's officialy on the ballot. But for now, he's going with the "core team" of "unsung heroes" that helped get him elected in Nassau in 2009, and clearly banking on his own $5 million commitment to the race, along with the old adage about success being the product mostly of showing up.
Maragos called himself "the steady hand" in the race.
Whether the steady strategy has worked is a matter of some interpretation. Maragos, who was a newcomer to politics when he ran for comptroller, has only secured 29 percent of the weighted convention vote, based on the chairmen who have pledged to support him. But, with more than half of the chairmen currently uncommitted, that number makes him the only candidate with enough pledged support to automatically qualify for the primary ballot.
"I've gone around the state, I'm new to politics, trying to appeal to people, get people to get to know me," he said. "I think I've been successful in building that name recognition. I'm not a big name, I've never been a big name. People like to have a big name, but I think I've built very good relationships with a lot of the chairs and a number of them have come through."
Long, who has garnered considerable support from the Conservative Party and the more right-leaning Republican chairs, has 12 percent and Carvin, with just his home county endorsement, is at 5 percent, according to the latest numbers from the Albany Times-Union.
Maragos said a two-person primary could be an opportunity to build name recognition, but that a three-person race would be less than ideal. And he disputed the pitch from Carvin—who has, like Maragos, cast himself as a businessman first, and politician second—that he would be the most electable candidate in a left-leaning state.
"I disagree with the premise he is more electable," Maragos said. "He simply has a part-time office as a supervisor of a small town, where most people don't even know where it is. On the other hand, I have demonstrated that I can win a major race, against a two-term, popular Democratic incumbent, in the biggest county outside of New York City."
Maragos is hoping to sell that victory as scalable to the entire state, accusing Gillibrand of having "betrayed" her upstate constituents by tacking to the left after representing a moderate district in Congress.
He said his record of balancing the budget in Nassau County—despite the intervention of a state oversight board in 2011—would contrast with her record in the Senate, which he called "appalling."
But Maragos isn't running as a Tea Party candidate, stressing instead that he was willing to work for compromise, and depart with Republican orthodoxy on a few issues.
He said there was a need for federal immigration reform, but not one that focused on those who had already immigrated illegally.
"I don't think that should be a priority," he said. "I think they've been here. I think we have laws that deal with illegal immigrants, and I think we should enforce those laws, but at the same time we need to rationalize our immigration policy and make it more fair and equitable."
Asked about capital gains and carried interest tax, he stressed the need for an overhaul of the tax code and an end to some subsidies that Republicans in Congress have worked to protect.
"Income should be treated as income no matter how it's earned," he said. "We should be focused on providing incentives to creating jobs and growing our economy, as opposed to trying to differentiate the types of income. Let's stimulate investment, and take away maybe the incentives and the grants, such as to the oil companies. They don't need incentives when oil is over $100 a barrel to find more oil."
He said he opposed the budget plan offered by Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, which at one time was considered a central plank of the party's platform, and he chided Gillibrand for voting against the debt ceiling deal that was anathema to many conservatives.
"I think it's almost criminal and radical of her to vote against raising the debt limit, even though it was a fair compromise," he said, raising the specter that seniors might not have received their Social Security checks if the government had shut down.
But, when asked how he planned to win over the independents and fence-sitting Democrats he would need to win in a left-leaning state, Maragos came back to effort.
"I'm going to make an extraordinary effort, a supernatural effort to reach out and meet as many people as possible," he said. "I'm told I have that good, positive effect. People when they look you in the eye and shake your hand, I leave a positive impact. When they look at my qualifications and what I've done, I think they'll be impressed."