The Goods On Golisano


The more voters become disenchanted with the Democrats and Republicans in this year of political turmoil, the better Thomas Golisano likes it. The Rochester millionaire, who founded the state’s Independence Party chapter in 1994, draws his core support from those who are fed up with the status quo. Golisano won about 217,000 votes in his ’94 bid for governor, and enrollment in the party is on the rise, growing 13 percent last year in New York City.

“He is tapping into anti-incumbency across the state,” said pollster Julie Weprin. “People are turned off by the [Clinton] scandal and the negative commercials.” Golisano, 57, founder and CEO of Paychex Inc., a payroll and human services company in Rochester, wants to run the state like a corporation — with an eye toward the bottom line. His main issues are the state’s growing debt and the need for stronger campaign reform to remove career politicians from office. But he also seems intent on ending the state’s involvement as a monitoring and regulating body and a guarantor of fairness.

In an interview, Golisano said he opposed the bias-crime bill that has been stalled in the state Legislature for more than a decade. The measure would increase the penalties for crimes motivated by hate.

“I’m not sure you can make a clear distinction between these crimes [and other crimes],” he said. “I think it puts us into a whole dilemma.”

Golisano also supported a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s involvement in kosher-food enforcement. “This is too finite an item for the state to be involved on a monitoring basis,” said Golisano. “It’s more of a buyer-beware situation.”

Golisano also would abolish the state’s rent control laws.Recent polls indicate that Golisano could receive up to 10 percent of the vote in November. But a Democratic political consultant, Cynthia Darrison, said it was unlikely public sentiment against the major parties would substantially boost his campaign. “If people are fed up with both Democrats and Republicans, they are going to stay home, not vote for an independent candidate,” she said.

Turnabout was air play this week as Democrats rebroadcast downstate the now-infamous Republican “shark attack” ad aimed at upstaters. The Democrats will also air Ed Koch’s schmaltzy “mensch” endorsement of Sen. Al D’Amato in largely gentile upstate.

Quietly the Dems have raised the specter of anti-Semitism regarding the ad depicting Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver as a money-hungry shark. But after reviewing the commercial, Adam Segall, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, raised no protest.

“It may be an appeal to divisive politics, but not on the basis of ethnicity,” he said.Koch, who has become the most ardent Democratic advocate of D’Amato and Gov. George Pataki, said the Democrats’ protests were “outrageous.” He said it was his own idea to call D’Amato a mensch in the commercial.“

I thought it was a good word, used by both gentiles and Jews,” he said.

City Comptroller Alan Hevesi said the ads’ suggestion that New York City is siphoning tax dollars from upstate is unfounded. “If you look at the economic boom, almost all the growth in economic activity comes from New York City,” he said.

Now that Brooklyn Councilman Anthony Weiner has won the Democratic nomination for the 9th Congressional District, the scramble for his Council seat has begun.

A Council race without an incumbent is rare. But this one is particularly attractive since the winner of a special election may complete three years of Weiner’s term, plus two full terms before city term limits kick in. That makes 11 years in the Council, when most new members will be forced out after eight.

“Whoever wins this seat will become the speaker,” joked Weiner, who is reserving his endorsement.

A special election must be called by the mayor within 45 days of the vacancy. Expected to enter the race are powerful Democratic district leader Mike Geller, who has close ties with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and Orthodox Midwood schoolteacher Jody Reznik, whose husband, Jeff, ran against Weiner in 1997. Dan Feldman, who gave up his Sheepshead Bay Assembly seat to run against Weiner for Congress, is also a possibility.

Reznik’s strategy is to model her campaign after that of the recent surprise winner of Feldman’s Assembly seat, Lena Cymbrowitz. “We share many aspirations and goals in the areas of senior services and education,” said Reznik.

Queens Assembly member Melinda Katz, who conceded to Weiner in the race to succeed Charles Schumer last week, will likely be replaced by bus dispatcher Michael Cohen, who ran against Katz in 1994. Cohen was nominated by the Queens County Democratic organization to fill the seat and faced no primary challenger.

Sources close to Katz say she will practice law a few years before running for Forest Hills Council member Karen Koslowitz’s seat in 2001.