SARANAC LAKE - The leading Republican candidate for Governor of New York made a trip to the North Country last week to meet with supporters in the area and hopefully lock up his bid for GOP endorsement.
Gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio stopped in Saranac Lake April 22 to meet with constituents and discuss the upcoming gubernatorial elections.
The former Long Island Congressman munched on pancakes at the Blue Moon Caf while addressing the problems he said are forcing New Yorkers to leave the state they love.
"People say they're embarrassed to be from New York - I'm not embarrassed to say I'm from New York," Lazio said. "I often say this: I think we've got the most entrepreneurial, hardest working, most dedicated, the greatest, most candid and toughest people in America, and the worst state government in the country."
Lazio's platform focuses on addressing what he views as the state's two biggest problems - its economic situation and corruption in Albany.
According to Lazio, New York is hemorrhaging jobs and leads the country when it comes to residents moving out-of-state. And, he adds, increasing taxes make the problem worse, not better.
And when it comes to addressing corruption and unethical behavior in Albany, Lazio says the solution is simple.
"I am for term limits," he said. "I believed in them when I was in congress; I believe in them now."
Following a question and answer period with guests, Lazio told the press he'll work hard to dispel the notion that Albany has turned its back on northern New York.
"You'll see me up here all the time," he said. "We're going to have people from upstate communities serving in senior levels of state government, and we're going to be focused on issues that 'upstaters' really care about. In the park area, we're going to be talking about finding a better balance between economic development, job creation and the preservation of the park mission."
Lazio also said he would support a moratorium on state land purchases - something that current Governor David Paterson has called for in his executive budget.
Lazio also made a stop at the Deer's Head Inn in Elizabethtown April 20 where he met with a group of 22 Republican officials and several GOP committee members.
There, Lazio promised to cap property tax increases at 2.5 percent annually and put a stop to many unfunded mandates for local governments. He said he would put the line-item veto to more frequent use as a necessary measure to reduce spending.
"Medicaid costs the state $1 billion per week and has a rising number of beneficiaries," said Lazio. "We need to fix that."
Lazio also said he expects a lot of strong opposition to his proposals as governor.
"I'm used to it, I'm ready for it," Lazio said. "If that mean's I'm a one-termer, I'm fine with that because I can pass on to my successor a better New York."
Lazio faces primary challenges from Democrat-turned-Republican Steve Levy, a celebrated Suffolk County executive, and millionaire Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, who has indicated he may run as a third party candidate if he fails to garner GOP support. Lazio claims he already has enough support from party members to prevent a primary election in September.
State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is the likely Democratic candidate, although he has not yet officially declared his candidacy.
Levy made his first appearance in the North Country the week before last when he spoke at a rally of the Upstate New York TEA Party in Plattsburgh April 15.
The Essex County Republican Committee has already given its endorsement to Lazio, as have State Assemblywomen Teresa Sayward and Janet Duprey.
Ron Jackson, chair of the committee, said he could not be prouder of Lazio.
"Rick Lazio is a man who not only talks the talk but has walked the walk," said Jackson. When he was in Congress, he voted conservatively before it was popular. He is the best man to bring order to the chaos that is Albany."
Valley News Editor Matt Bosley contributed to this report.