“I saw you in the Daily News!” a construction worker told Carl Paladino on the sidewalk of West 47th Street on Monday morning.
“Yeah, ‘Crazy Carl,'” said Mr. Paladino in a soft voice, reciting the cover headline of Thursday’s tabloid, which fronted a full-page shot of him, pointing up from the newsstand, with his grinning face and hang-dog eyes.
“I read that article!” said another man in a hard hat.
The two workers had just finished showing off some of their construction equipment to the longtime Buffalo developer, who, last week, became the very unlikely Republican nominee for governor, when he trounced former congressman Rick Lazio in the party’s primary.
“We’re in it now, and we’re gonna win,” Mr. Paladino said.
“God bless, good luck,” said one of the men, who asked for a photograph with the would-be governor.
“I’ll take it,” volunteered Mr. Paladino’s campaign manager, Michael Caputo. “Ready? Say ‘Cuomo!'”
Mr. Paladino was in Manhattan to begin the second act of his long-shot bid to hijack a governor’s race that, until last week, was thought to be little more than a coronation of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
The proudly unpolished candidate was squeezing in breakfast at the Evergreen Diner after an appearance on Fox and Friends, where he had held up the “Crazy Carl” cover on his iPad. The host wondered if it bothered him. “I think they’re having a lot of fun. We’re having a lot of fun,” he said.
Any notions that Mr. Paladino might alter his strategy and tone down his sense of fun–which has so far included landfill-scented mailers, a doctored photo of Andrew Cuomo in a muddy shower and cracks about Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver being beaten up on the way to Attica, on top of racist and pornographic emails sent before he was a candidate–were clearly misplaced.
As they ate, Mr. Caputo showed off a vituperative letter sent that morning, accusing Mr. Cuomo of lacking “cojones” for not yet debating Mr. Paladino. (Last week, Mr. Cuomo said he would, in fact, debate.)
And the press was anxious to see what Mr. Paladino would say next.
He was due shortly at WCBS, and was being shadowed by a reporter for The Times. The calls kept coming–NPR, local news, another Times reporter.
At one point, Mr. Paladino stepped out–leaving a bite of sausage speared on his fork–to do an impromptu phone interview with the local Fox morning show, Good Day New York, in which Mr. Paladino very nearly yelled at the chipper hosts when they suggested he might be labeled an unserious candidate on account of his antics. Mr. Paladino said it was Mr. Cuomo who was attacking him, through surrogates, and that he had sent all of Mr. Cuomo’s “bird dogs” back “bloodied.”
“They kept digging as to whether I’m going to keep up the rhetoric,” he said when Mr. Caputo asked him how it went.
“The message rang pretty well, didn’t it?” he said. “Why would I change?”
CARL PALADINO HAS got the celebrity part of being a candidate down, in the way that some reality-TV stars, and not others, take gracefully to their overnight fame. What he’s still figuring out is how to fill in the blanks about what he’d actually like to do as governor, beyond his promise to do violence to Albany’s functionally corrupt firmament, and about what he believes the job actually entails.
Mr. Paladino seems to realize that the second act will require giving a general-election audience something at least slightly more nuanced than promises of legislating with a baseball bat.
“Our message, as much as we did advertise it, we didn’t send out a complete message,” Mr. Paladino said of his primary victory. “People wanted to hear specifics. And so that’s what we’ll be doing this time on our media. We’re going to be giving a lot more specifics than we did before.”
Whether Mr. Paladino can successfully pivot from “Crazy Carl” to a more policy-focused position remains to be seen–particularly on issues far removed from western New York.
As the group hailed a cab on Sixth Avenue, Mr. Paladino jumped in the front seat.
“People are fed up in every part of this state,” he said. “There are just some different issues here in New York City. You look at the M.T.A. and such a corrupt operation, such an incompetent operation, and driving costs up of transportation,” he said, reciting an issue from the primary campaign, when he promised to exempt Staten Island residents from the $11 dollar toll on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
Asked how he would close the agency’s massive budget gap while eliminating sources of revenue like tolls, he came back again to corruption.
“First you put somebody in to manage it and get it down to size. And take the corruption out of it,” he said. “Right now, it’s one big fat operation.”
Mr. Paladino’s thoughts did not get much more specific than that. Asked what he thought of Jay Walder–the transportation guru who was appointed by Governor Paterson after modernizing London’s mass transit–Mr. Paladino didn’t seem to know.
“We’re preparing a position paper now, so I’ve got some research going on, and then we’ll be able to speak to it in greater depth,” he said.
Later, I asked him for some quick thoughts about other downstate politicians.
Senator Chuck Schumer? “He had his good days,” said Mr. Paladino who once donated to the Democratic senator. “But he’s evolved into a Reid-Pelosi surrogate. And he’s wrong. He’s wrong to have supported Obama-care. And he’s brought tremendous burdens on the State of New York, and he’s going to have to pay for that.”
Congressman Anthony Weiner? “I don’t know anything about him except that I saw him yelling on TV one day. I really don’t know much about him.”
Congressman Jerrold Nadler?
“You know Nadler, right?” asked Mr. Caputo.
“Nadler doesn’t like me. He told a friend of mine that,” said Mr. Paladino, who has proposed turning the ground zero site in Mr. Nadler’s district into a war memorial, in order to prevent the construction of a mosque and community center–a plan Mr. Nadler opposes.
Chris Ward? “Don’t know him. Who is he?” he asked. “Oh, yeah, I know who you mean,” he said, when told Mr. Ward is the executive director of the Port Authority. “I think all those authorities should have professional managements. They should not be politicals. That goes for the M.T.A., the Port Authority, all of ’em.”