ALBANY - Republican Rick Lazio officially announced his bid for governor Tuesday, calling for a one-house Legislature, property tax cap and greater autonomy for the big SUNY campuses such as Stony Brook University.
The former four-term congressman from Brightwaters vowed to remain in the race, regardless of whether former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, also a Republican, enters the fray. Nine years ago, Lazio became the party's standard-bearer for U.S. Senate against Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, after Giuliani bowed out because he had cancer.
"I am not only in this race but in it until the end," Lazio, 51, told reporters. "And if elected, I promise that I'm going to bring about fundamental, sweeping and profound change here in state government. I'm not going to be a candidate of business as usual."
A Siena Research Institute poll, released Tuesday, showed Lazio losing narrowly to Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson, 35 percent to 39 percent, in a general-election match. However, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) would trounce Lazio, by 64 percent to 18 percent.
Siena also found Giuliani beating Paterson, 52-35, but losing to Cuomo, 39-52. The poll of 792 registered voters, conducted Sept. 13-17, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Giuliani has said he will decide this fall whether to make a bid for the executive mansion.
Speaking to about 45 supporters in a ballroom near the Capitol, Lazio criticized state leaders of both parties for instituting spending increases during the recession, passing one-house bills and condoning unethical behavior.
Lazio pledged to push for a constitutional convention to replace the State Senate and Assembly with one house. He also called for tougher disclosure rules on lawmakers' personal finances and other conflicts of interest.
"We all know New York is in serious trouble," Lazio said. "The problem is the government of New York ... it's a disgrace. It's an embarrassment."
Sounding a familiar refrain, Lazio blamed Albany for the exodus of jobs and people from New York. He said he would reduce state spending, though offered no details, and scale back requirements on local governments. He said the budget deficit over the next few years could total $38 billion.
"We need to put an end to our State's reckless spending habit," Lazio said. "We need meaningful tax reform. Let's begin with a property tax cap - a hard cap where tax increases could not exceed the rate of inflation."
He was expected to make campaign appearances in Utica and Syracuse Tuesday, and in Rochester and Buffalo on Wednesday. The tour will end Thursday at 6 p.m. in Melville with a "grassroots rally" at the Huntington Hilton.
Since retiring from Congress in 2000, Lazio has been an executive vice president at JPMorgan Chase & Co.