Carl Paladino, the Buffalo developer and first-time candidate who vows to clean up Albany with a baseball bat, last night dealt a stunning primary defeat to Rick Lazio, the former Brightwaters congressman and choice of the state Republican committee who had struggled to raise money since entering the race.
"We are mad as hell," Paladino said last night as he declared victory. "New Yorkers are fed up!"
Lazio said, "I wish we had a different outcome, but we're proud of the quality of this campaign." Paladino, he said, "ran a strong race and excited a lot of people."
With 97.5 percent of the statewide vote tallied this morning, Paladino had 272,898 votes for 62 percent of the total, with Lazio registering 166,656 votes for 38 percent.
In Nassau, with 97 percent of precincts reporting, Lazio took 28,293 votes for 65 percent, and Paladino had 15,036, or 35 percent.
Yesterday's contest wasn't quite a knockout punch: Lazio led his opponent, Ralph Lorigo, on the Conservative line. Paladino, who vows to spend $10 million on the election, also has a sure spot on the November ballot on the Taxpayers line he launched this summer.
"Whoever comes out of the chute here will be a winner on Nov. 2," state Republican chairman Edward Cox told party faithful at election-night headquarters in Manhattan earlier last night. Cox this spring backed a failed bid by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy for the nomination, arguing Levy had a better chance to beat Cuomo than Lazio did.
"People want the same thing that our candidates are - fiscal conservatives," Cox said last night.
Paladino, 63, who amassed part of his fortune as a landlord for state government, had little support outside Erie County at the state GOP convention this spring, and had to petition his way onto the ballot. But Paladino backers joined Nassau Republican chairman Joseph Mondello and others in Lazio's camp to block giving Levy a spot on the ballot.
Many leading Republicans were cold to Lazio, opening their wallets instead for Cuomo this year. Lazio studiously ignored Paladino throughout the race, instead seeking traction with voters by repeated calls for a probe into the mosque proposed near Ground Zero. But the tightening primary set off alarm bells at papers such as the Albany Times Union, which endorsed Lazio last week with a warning that the GOP, which hasn't won a statewide race since 2002, faces "fringe status" with Paladino atop its ticket.
Paladino has come under fire for a series of pornographic and racist e-mails he had forwarded to friends, and more recently over a proposal to turn state prisons into dormitories where welfare recipients could get state-sponsored jobs and lessons in "personal hygiene."
Lazio, 52, served four terms in Congress before losing a U.S. Senate race to Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2000. His campaign fund held $502,298.32 this month - and he was barraged with criticism for his work as a lobbyist for J.P. Morgan Chase and his acceptance of a $1.3-million bonus in 2008, the same year that the federal government bailed out Wall Street with taxpayer money.
With Thomas Maier