NNY 360: Wilson, Republican candidate for governor, wants to restructure Albany

Via NNY 360

WATERTOWN — A former businessman with experience restructuring failing businesses wants to bring his skills to the governor’s office and rebuild the state.

Harry J. Wilson, a Johnstown, Fulton County, native who worked for the Treasury under President Barack Obama, Goldman Sachs and was on the Yahoo! board of directors, said he has a plan to address what he termed corruption and overspending in Albany.

“We have the highest taxes in the country, highest cost of living in the country, skyrocketing crime, rampant corruption in Albany,” the Republican gubernatorial candidate said in an interview at the Times office Friday. “All those are outgrowths of a broken system.”

Mr. Wilson said he believes those issues stem from career politicians, something he is not.

“They’re more interested in getting reelected than solving problems, more interested in attacking the other side and kowtowing to special interests who reward them with campaign contributions,” he said.

Mr. Wilson, raised by a bartender and a factory worker in Johnstown, graduated from Harvard University in 1993 and went on to work in the business sector for over 30 years. Mr. Wilson was appointed to the Obama administration’s Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry in 2009, tasked with repairing the heavily damaged American automotive manufacturing sector after the 2008 recession. He also served as a senior adviser to the U.S. Treasury Department during the Obama administration.

Mr. Wilson said, if elected, he would use the governor’s power in the budget process to force the state government to pare down its multi-billion dollar spending plan, which he said is massively outsized compared to the size of New York state.

In campaign ads, Mr. Wilson has promised to withhold payment for state legislators until they approve his budget proposal, which would cut billions from Medicaid, emergency COVID-19 funds and economic development initiatives. Mr. Wilson said that’s an easy tool to employ under state law.

“The way the process works, if the legislature doesn’t pass a budget by March 31, they don’t get paid until they pass it,” he said. “There’s no way they’re going to say yes to my budget.”

He promised to deliver a budget with the largest tax cut in state history, and while he said he would negotiate that in good faith, he pledged to be uncompromising on cutting state spending.

To avoid shutting down the government, Mr. Wilson said he would employ continuing resolutions, carrying over departmental budgets for the agencies that need to keep running during budget debates.

“I do not want to let services suffer, or people to suffer, but we have to have a budget that works,” he said.

Mr. Wilson said he would take a start-from-zero approach, as he has done with the companies he has restructured over the years, to work out the best ways to finance the programs New Yorkers need, and remove the ones they don’t.

Mr. Wilson has a wider plan for addressing the partisanship in Albany as well. He said he is hopeful the redistricting process, currently being led by a court-appointed special master, will lead to less gerrymandering in the legislature, and hopefully more competitive races between Democrats and Republicans.

He also believes that New York should move to an open primary system, in which voters can participate in either party’s primary election based on their preferences that year.

“Right now, there are more independents than there are Republicans in this state, and they don’t have a voice about who the ultimate candidates are going to be,” he said. “I think that’s anti-democratic.”

Mr. Wilson said there are many points to his plan, which includes reforming the Joint Committee on Public Ethics to separate it from the politicians who currently appoint its membership, and lowering the barriers for candidates to appear on the ballot in New York in the first place.

Mr. Wilson also has a plan to address crime in New York, which he said has been skyrocketing in cities and towns statewide for years.

Firstly, his plan calls for an end to cashless bail as passed by the state legislature in 2019. He said he thinks judges in the state’s legal system should be given the discretion, based on a standard of dangerousness and flight risk, to remand a criminal defendant to jail when necessary, something he said is impossible under the current laws.

“I think the right policy should be to combine the flight risk assessment with judicial discretion around dangerousness, and broader judicial discretion to ensure that people who are actual risks to the community are kept off the street when they’re awaiting trial,” he said.

Mr. Wilson acknowledged that the state’s bail system before 2019 was imperfect, but disagreed with the position that it needed almost complete dismantling.

“The answer shouldn’t be to throw the whole system out over one tragedy,” he said. “Because the answer should be to fix the system so those tragedies don’t occur again, and to learn from them.”

Mr. Wilson said he supports the individual right to own guns under the Second Amendment, and said gun violence needs to be tackled with a light touch, ensuring individual rights are not infringed while addressing the violence.

He said reforming the bail system will have an impact on gun violence, as well as bringing back more plainclothes police units. He said the state’s existing red flag and mental hygiene laws already provide mechanisms to prevent mentally ill or hateful domestic terrorists from gaining access to weapons. They just need to be used properly.

“I think a real crime plan that is targeted and focused on people who commit crimes with illegal guns, or weapons of any kind, that will reduce the demand for illegal guns,” he said.

Mr. Wilson said the state’s Domestic Terrorism Task Force, which was formed last year but has not met or produced any of its mandated reports, needs to be actively supported and employed.

He said anti-terrorism and anti-hate crime training needs to be baked into police departments across the state, and eschewed the idea of forming a special anti-terrorism police unit, which he said would only lead to more of a disconnect between on-the-ground law enforcement and the state’s departments.

Mr. Wilson said he believes he is a real-world candidate, with a true understanding of how New York is operating and what it needs to succeed.

“We have natural resources, we have lots of land, we have physical beauty,” he said. “These are assets you cannot recreate, and yet we squander them because we have done nothing to build upon them. I will change that.”

Mr. Wilson is one of a number of Republican candidates running for governor against Congressman Lee Zeldin, R-Long Island, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and Andrew Giuliani, the son of former President Donald J. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. On June 28, Republican voters statewide will have the chance to select their candidate, and the winner will go on to face the Democratic nominee in November.