Armed with a promise to reduce crime and support police, Republican candidate for governor Harry Wilson spoke to a sparse crowd Friday morning at Fayette Park in Syracuse.
The appearance was part of Wilson’s statewide tour to introduce his “Keeping New York Safe” plan.
“I’m running as as part of a turnaround plan to address the problems created by career politicians who have neglected the core needs of New Yorkers,” said Wilson. “There’s nothing that embodies that problem more than the spiking crime across the state.”
The businessman and Johnstown native entered the gubernatorial race earlier this year, self-funding his campaign and declaring himself an “outsider” to Albany corruption. He previously worked for Goldman Sachs and founded a White Plains advisory firm, and also served as a U.S. Treasury department advisor under President Barack Obama.
Any Republican candidate faces an uphill battle in New York, where registered Democrats outnumber GOP voters by more than 2 to 1. New York hasn’t elected a Republican governor since former Gov. George Pataki in 2002.
Within the Republican field, dominated by endorsements for U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, Wilson is also a long shot: polling commissioned by Unite NY has him in the single digits among likely Republican primary voters. However, Wilson came within 4 points of Thomas P. DiNapoli when he ran for New York comptroller in 2010, which he said was a Republican’s best showing in a race for a statewide office in years.
“I almost beat the popular incumbent Tom DiNapoli in 2010 in my first and only campaign,” Wilson said. “I believe I’m the only Republican who can win statewide and actually deliver the changes we’re talking about.”
Wilson pointed to rising crime statistics as a failure of the Cuomo and now Hochul administrations, which he said “passed bad policies, failed to enforce the law, and refused to support the police.”
According to the New York State Crime Report Wilson cited online, crime did go up in New York State from 2019 to 2020 by 1.7%, with murder up 46.7%. However, in 2020, New York State ranks 34th in homicide mortality according to the CDC. Crime is down 23.7% since 2011, and murder is only up 8.6% over the same time period. The study had nothing to say about 2021 or 2022.
“Just right here in Syracuse, we have a murder rate that is three times the national average,” Wilson said, “We have assaults and robberies that are twice the national average.”
Syracuse.com has previously reported that the city saw a 73% increase in murder rates from 2019 to 2020, according to FBI data. The Syracuse Police Department’s latest numbers from 2021 and 2022 suggests violent crime has gone up 9% over the past five years.
One of his other stances — a promise to fire district attorneys who won’t enforce the law — puts him at odds with his former classmate at Harvard, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
In January, Bragg announced that his Manhattan office would not prosecute low-level offenses, preferring to dismiss them or offer a non-detention program. Such low-level offenses include marijuana possession, resisting arrest for non-violent offenses, and prostitution. He has clarified that offenses that rise to misdemeanors or felonies could be prosecuted, along with community-reported trespass.
While Wilson said he appreciates discretion, which for him means giving judges the ability to set cash bail, he doesn’t support Bragg’s policy.
“When the DA is categorically saying they will not prosecute certain crimes, that is effectively saying ‘Now we’re not going to use discretion,’” he said. “We’re just not going to do anything about those crimes.”
Wilson cited Article 13 of the New York State Constitution, which reads that any district attorney “who shall fail faithfully to prosecute a person charged” can be removed by the governor’s office “after due notice and an opportunity of being heard in his or her defense.” The last time this happened was in 1932, when FDR removed a New York county sheriff in relation to Tammany Hall.
“It should be a high standard. And it’s not something I would do flippantly,” Wilson said when asked how he would use Article 13. “I think that is inconsistent with their sworn oath. And I would sit down with any district attorney who took that position and lay out the facts.”
Current Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick wrote an op-ed commending Gov. Kathy Hochul on plans she released to reverse reforms passed under Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“While some changes were necessary, those thirsting for change have created a nightmare despite their best intentions,” Fitzpatrick wrote.
Wilson struck a similar tone, calling for a balance of interests between judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, but said he would not hesitate to remove district attorneys who “are failing our citizens.”
“They were elected to enforce the law and are an essential part of our public safety efforts, so they must live up to the requirements of their office,” he wrote in his “Making New York Safe” platform. “Prosecutors who refuse to prosecute crimes are failing to do their job.”