By Mike McPhate
Faso—The Lone Ranger Who Wants To Be Governor
John Faso sees himself as a lone warrior fighting for good in a lazy and unethical world.
In his 16 years in the state assembly, the Republican candidate for governor often fought alone. He once cast the only vote against a seemingly unassailable bill which proponents said would ensure men and women equal pay for equal work. The problem, said Faso, was no one bothered to read beyond the title.
“That proposal would have had the state interposing itself into the private marketplace to try to tell private employers how much they should pay,” he told the Resident. “It was roundly debunked by economists on both the left and the right.”
The 54-year-old Faso, with courtly manners and a round face and thick, parted hair, is once again fighting a lonely campaign, this time against what seems a shoe-in opponent, prosecutor Eliot Spitzer. Faso is trying to portray him as glory-seeking sell-out to special interests. But Spitzer still leads by 42 percentage points, according to a recent poll.
As a Catholic who opposes abortion and gay marriage, Faso poses an unlikely option for an increasingly Democratic state. His conservative values were shaped in his hometown Massapequa, Long Island, where he was the second oldest among five children in his Irish-Italian household. His father John ran a TV repair shop and later worked as a janitor, while his mother Frances tended the home.
Faso graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport, where he read his favorite novel, Dostoyevsky’s Brother’s Karamazov, three times. He worked as a janitor, landscaper, roofer, and air freight truck driver at JFK airport. Later he got a law degree from Georgetown University, where he met his wife, Mary Frances.
Faso says he’s not discouraged by the polls, a recent one showing that 73 percent of voters don’t even know enough about him to form an opinion. He’s banking on voters to apply the same scrutiny to his candidacy that he once applied to legislation in the assembly.
“Look,” he said, “if polls are all that matter why don’t we just cancel the election? Obviously, we don’t do that…I’m hopeful that people will actually read something about the positions of the candidates and make up their minds on the basis of more than just 30-second ads.”
Eliot Spitzer—Crusader Against The Powerful
Eliot Spitzer sometimes seems unstoppable in his quest for governor.
The 47-year-old attorney general, who gained national fame with his high-profile Wall Street prosecutions, has sailed largely carefree through his campaign. Polls put him far ahead of his little-known Republican rival John Faso.
“What Eliot Spitzer is selling right now is what New Yorkers want,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant. “They had 12 years of stale; they want 8 years, minimally, of action. They want change, they want dynamism, they want integrity,” he said, referring to the Republicans long hold on power in Albany.
Spitzer was born to power. He grew up in the affluent Riverdale section of the Bronx, the son of a multimillionaire real estate developer who helped bankroll his political ambitions. He charted an elite academic path: graduating from the prestigious Horace Mann School then Princeton and Harvard Law, where he met his wife Silda. Later he worked for the Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.
As a prosecutor he adopted the tenor of a crusader against the powerful. In a speech last year, Spitzer told a story about the CEO of Pfizer telling him that 99 percent of his employees are good people. “I said, ‘Hank, thank you very much for that reminder. I know that’s true, but I’m not worried about the 99 percent – I’m worried about the 1 percent. Who are they?’”
Spitzer’s critics accuse him of seeking glory above results. As a prosector, they say, he has sought high-profile targets that would get his name in the paper.
Sheinkopf rejected the attacks. “Prosecutors always get accused of being overzealous,” he said. “When you can’t attack somebody, you create a smear that’s supposed to lay over them like a fog. If the best they can do is say he’s overzealous, it means they have nothing to criticize.”
Spitzer refers often to “day one,” when he takes the governor’s office and everything changes. “On day one, [running mate] David Paterson and I will begin giving New Yorkers a government that's open, accountable and ready to get taxes and spending under control,” he said in a statement. “People are tired of watching their hard-earned lifestyle slip away as their property taxes rise.”
If his critics worry that he’ll be too brash for buttoned-downed Albany, Spitzer says they should be glad he hasn’t followed in the footsteps of his predecessor the famous dueler Aaron Burr, who once served as New York’s Attorney General. “I have never challenged anyone to duel,” said Spitzer, adding, “Not yet, anyway.”