Up close, Paladino seems an awful lot like Spitzer

Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer attends a

Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer attends a forum on the future of New York at the New York Public Library in Manhattan. (Sept. 16, 2010) (Credit: Getty Images, 2010)

Could Carl Paladino, in some curious way, be Western New York's answer to Manhattanite Eliot Spitzer?

Sure, the differences are plain. Spitzer was an Ivy League-educated Democrat with backing from unions and liberal groups, who glided into the governorship in 2006 after eight years as a Wall Street-whacking attorney general.

Paladino - a former Democrat who at one time even contributed to Spitzer - has fashioned his image as tea-party populist against big government. He trails in polls.

Yet there seems to be a kind of cosmic connection between the two.

Both have been around the commercial real-estate business and - who knows - may have absorbed some of its special culture.

Spitzer's dad became superwealthy from commercial development and plowed lots of money into the son's campaign. After his downfall as governor, Spitzer was back at the real-estate office, at least for a while.

In the other corner of the state, Paladino, self-made, has real-estate money going for him, too - and there are published accounts of how he lobbied for fat tax breaks he felt he should have, and won.

Compare, too, their modes of civic aggression. Both public men have belonged to the scorched-earth school of rhetoric against the Legislature - Paladino as campaigner, Spitzer as incumbent.

First, let's make clear: Nobody mistakenly sees Democratic nominee Andrew Cuomo as the return of Mohandas Gandhi.

No, our current attorney general didn't publicly call former Gov. George Pataki a "degenerate idiot," as Paladino did. But in 2002 Cuomo did famously say during a primary to oppose him that Pataki was Mayor Rudy Giuliani's "coat-holder" in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Cuomo has to be itching to respond in kind to Paladino's taunts about manhood and so forth. A poster has surfaced of Paladino portrayed as a cartoon pig feeding at the trough. Conventional Cuomo critics see the Democratic nominee as the more Spitzer-like, of course.

All that said, consider that Spitzer, the Democrat elected by a stunning 69 percent in 2006, threatened the following year to unseat lawmakers who voted to put colleague Tom DiNapoli in the comptroller's post. And at the time, he was looking to bulldoze Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) - you know, the same guy Paladino has famously called an anti-Christ or a Hitler.

Another cosmic link: Both Paladino and Spitzer have had consultant Roger Stone in their political lives - albeit from opposite sides of the mud-throwing.

Stone, who for years has openly claimed an honest-to-goodness historic role as having once been a Nixon trickster, was working with Spitzer nemesis Joseph Bruno, the former GOP majority leader. He had been, that is, until the day the story broke that Stone left a weird and threatening voice message for Spitzer's father.

More recently, Stone has been conspicuously advising former Spitzer hooker-booker Kristin Davis in her novelty "anti-prohibition" candidacy for governor. But Stone stepped into the light as a Paladino man when the Buffalonian pulled off his stunning GOP primary upset last week.

Paladino vowed to clear out Albany with a baseball bat and claims he'd cut spending like nobody ever could or did before. Spitzer called himself a steamroller who'd done more in a few weeks than any previous governor in a lifetime.

In the end it probably doesn't matter whether you consider Paladino the anti-Spitzer, the Spitzer of the right, or absolutely neither of the above. Maybe he's best considered just a drama king of a different kind. He promises over-the-top political theater in the next few weeks, and that's what the former governor provided right up to the day he quit.

Governance? That's a different discussion.

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