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Paladino wields brashness, baggage in New York bid

By Ed Hornick, CNN
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New York gubernatorial candidate 'mad as hell'
  • Carl Paladino is the New York GOP gubernatorial candidate
  • He faces off against Democratic Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in November
  • Friend says Paladino is driven by his love for Buffalo, New York
  • Analyst says Paladino's controversial comments hamper his prospects

(CNN) -- Carl Paladino is a lot of things -- a multimillionaire businessman, lawyer, family man, devout Catholic and a blunt guy.

And on Tuesday, he became the New York state Republican Party's gubernatorial candidate, stunning the party establishment by beating their candidate, Rick Lazio.

But there is one facet of his life that comes out loud and clear when it comes to politics: his hometown of Buffalo, New York.

"He's committed to the city of Buffalo ... Everybody in Buffalo knows him," said friend and campaign manager Michael Caputo.

Caputo just moved back home to Buffalo after 30 years away to work on the campaign, and told CNN that it's "like working for Paul McCartney in Liverpool."

"A vast majority of them adore him. He's been fighting city hall here for 40 years," he said. "He's very vocal in support of Buffalo."

Video: Apology for offensive e-mails

Caputo's connection to Paladino, a one-time Democrat who switched his party affiliation in 2005, stems back to when he was just a kid in the 1970s, playing in a building managed by the man now running to lead New York state.

"I got caught trying to steal a change box from the guy behind the counter. ... And who comes down the winding staircase but my dad's landlord -- Paladino," he said. "Carl grabbed me by the ear and ran me out the door. He kicked me in the backside about six times, not hard. He was saying, 'Don't you ever come back.' That's how I met Carl Paladino. I never saw him again for 35 years."

Paladino, a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and Syracuse University School of Law, has built a real estate business worth millions and remains active in his law practice.

Welcome to politics

Now, Paladino, 64, has entered the political spotlight -- and is being heavily criticized for controversial comments he has made and public policy positions put forth.

He reportedly called former New York Republican Gov. George Pataki a "degenerate idiot" and lashed out at the Republican establishment during the campaign against Lazio.

He promised to "take a baseball bat to Albany" -- the state capital; is outspoken against plans to build an Islamic community center near ground zero in lower Manhattan -- even suggesting that the state take control of the area through eminent domain; and is steadfastly anti-abortion, even in cases of incest and rape.

Paladino recently told CNN's Rick Sanchez that he is not politically correct and "never will be."

[His comments] go directly from the back of his neck to his mouth without passing through his cerebral cortex.
--Doug Muzzio, professor of public policy, Baruch College

"I'm not a person looking for money. I have no political ambitions whatsoever. I don't seek power. I don't seek any kind of praise. I have no ego to fulfill."

What he does want to fulfill, Caputo said, is something his 29-year-old son Patrick asked him to do: run for office.

Patrick did not get the chance to see his dad take on Lazio or now Democratic nominee Andrew Cuomo. He was killed in a car accident last year.

"He won't tell you if you ask him, but I just know -- because I know him real well now -- that Patrick's death has driven Carl to making an impact on the state," Caputo added.

Paladino is also far from conventional. His campaign recently mailed out garbage-scented fliers declaring "Something Stinks in Albany" and featuring photos of seven New York Democrats whose political careers were marred by scandal.

"It's basically a folder, and then when you open it, when the oxygen hits the card the stink starts," Paladino told CNN's "AC360" on Thursday. "The longer you keep it open the worse the stink gets. That's our analogy of Albany."


But making that impact comes with heavy scrutiny. Specifically, Paladino comes with a lot of baggage, observers note: He has acknowledged having a child outside of his marriage; is one of the biggest renters of property to the state; and was caught sending pornographic and racist e-mails, among other things.

As for those e-mails, Paladino told Cooper that they were "offensive" and apologized to those who were offended.

But he quickly shifted the conversation back to politics:

"We've got all kinds of nonsense like that on a daily basis," he said. "The real obscenity, though, was Albany. The real obscenity is the high crimes and misdemeanors that we've allowed our political class to take, and feeding at the public trough."

And then there's his support and fundraising for state Democrats, including then-Sen. Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer. But it's something he is not ashamed of.

"He's always went to anybody who has said they would do anything for Buffalo, including Chuck Schumer, including Hillary Clinton," Caputo said. "He's not ashamed of it."

In fact, Paladino supported Clinton's 2008 presidential bid -- even though the two have vastly different policy positions. For him, supporting Buffalo trumps ideology.

"When he endorsed Hillary, she had made a commitment to help develop the city of Buffalo -- and she made good on it," Caputo added.

A friend and one-time colleague, J.B. Walsh, told the Buffalo News that Paladino has "put his money where his mouth is, investing in Buffalo when nobody else would."

The road ahead

Paladino has a rough road ahead in his race against Cuomo, a popular politician in the state.

In a Quinnipiac Poll released before the state's GOP primary, Cuomo led Paladino by 60-23 percent. Independent voters backed Cuomo over Paladino 54-21 percent.

While Paladino has the money -- he is estimated to be worth $150 million -- his willingness to say whatever is on his mind will hurt him, according to a political analyst following the race.

I'm not a person looking for money. I have no political ambitions whatsoever. I don't seek power. I don't seek any kind of praise. I have no ego to fulfill.
--Carl Paladino
Video: Paladino calls out Cuomo

"[His comments] go directly from the back of his neck to his mouth without passing through his cerebral cortex," said Doug Muzzio, a professor of public policy at Baruch College in New York. "The question becomes -- what is Carl going to say today? There is real entertainment value in this."

Muzzio says that if Lazio had won the nomination and faced off against Cuomo, "you could have put the campaign at the sleep aid section of the local pharmacy."

The reason? Lazio was "a nobody running as a somebody ... he wasn't raising money; he was dull; he had no organization."

Muzzio also credits low voter turnout overall and heavy support for Paladino in upstate New York for his win.

But winning the general election requires amassing a large percent of the vote downstate -- and among Democratic voters.

"This is not going to be a close partisan primary," Muzzio said. "This is going to be a general election where the Democrats hold a 5-to-3 registration advantage where 20 percent of the electorate are independents."

Muzzio's advice for Cuomo: Repeatedly debate Paladino.

"Usually that person with that much of a lead would avoid debates with the person who is that far behind," Muzzio said. "Given Paladino's mouth and lack of control over it, maybe you have a debate per week with Paladino to show people what a lunatic he is."

While many believe he is a longshot to win, his campaign manager is hopeful that Republicans will rally around their candidate and send him to Albany.

"The rank-and-file of the Republican Party gave Carl Paladino a mandate [in the primary] to lead the Republican Party in 2010," Caputo said. "And that's what he's doing today."

CNN's Cheryl Robinson contributed to this report.