Giambra thinks New Yorkers are tired of the two major parties

Former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra, a Republican, is planning to run for governor on the Reform Party line. In a Q&A with City & State, he talked about his plans to fix infrastructure, legalize recreational marijuana, reform campaign finance and more.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is facing a handful of opponents as he seeks his third term in office. On the left, Cynthia Nixon has thrown her hat into the ring. On the right, the governor is challenged by John DeFrancisco and Marcus Molinaro, both seeking the Republican Party nomination. But Cuomo also has challengers outside of the two major parties. Joel Giambra is one of them, who had originally announced he would run as a Republican, but is now planning to run on the Reform Party line.

Giambra said he views himself as a moderate Republican, but thinks both parties are broken. While he admits running as a third-party candidate presents a challenge, he thinks New Yorkers crave someone who is not beholden to the either the Democratic or Republican parties. In a conversation with City & State’s Grace Segers, Giambra talked about his plans to fix infrastructure, legalize recreational marijuana, reform campaign finance and more.

C&S: How’s your campaign going so far?

JG: Actually, it's excellent. I haven’t had so much fun running for office in 20 or 30 years. Last time I ran was in 2003. And I’ve ran 13 races and won 11. This race is very exciting because being governor is something I have always had a desire to do. And running as a Reform candidate, if you will, an independent, it allows me a feeling of liberation, not having to worry about what I say or what I do that may upset somebody in the party, or something like that.

C&S: And are you seeking the Reform Party line?

JG: Correct.

C&S: Are you facing an uphill battle since you’re not on one of the main party lines?

JG: I’m convinced that most of New York state, like nationally, have had it with both major parties, the Democratic and Republican parties. So I think there’s a path to victory by going up the middle of both parties because that’s about where I am philosophically. And I consider myself, right now I’m a registered Republican, but I’m a moderate Republican.

C&S: In what ways are you a moderate Republican?

JG: Historically, I’ve been extremely fiscally conservative, but on the social issues, I do not have an issue with marriage equality, I’m for legalizing marijuana, ending prohibition of marijuana, which are not traditional Republican issues.

C&S: You want to use the tax revenue from legalized marijuana to fund the MTA.

JG: We have released a plan whereby we think we can sell $12 billion worth of bonds over a seven-year period, and that has a two times multiplier effect. So we would be putting $24 billion worth of infrastructure improvements into the state economy, and that generates the equivalent of 240,000-plus jobs over a seven-year period. No, that money would go towards fixing our roads and bridges upstate, and of course some of that would be dedicated to the MTA to try to deal with the crisis that exists there with the transit system of New York City.

C&S: Are you hearing much support for this plan on the ground?

JG: Great support, letters, emails. I would have one of the labor unions in New York state sit with me at the announcement and endorse the project. And we’re starting to get inquiries and seeing support coming from the trade unions from around the state, who understand the need for infrastructure improvements and the opportunity to almost offer full employment with this project.

C&S: What do you think about congestion pricing?

JG: I think it makes absolutely no sense at this point. We have a revenue stream that doesn’t require having to raise taxes or cut services to deal with the funding crisis. Taxing people who come into Manhattan makes no sense. I’ve been very outspoken about the transit system. I have asked for the United States Attorney in the Southern District to launch an investigation because I believe that the transit system is full of corruption, very inside baseball. And it would appear to have become a very inefficient, ineffective bureaucracy. I’ve also asked the governor in this campaign so far to remove all of his appointees and show the same level of urgency that he’s been showing with NYCHA, with public housing. You don’t see the same amount of urgency coming from the governor or the state Legislature when it comes to the MTA crisis, which is pretty important when it comes to moving people around New York City and the financial markets. So the MTA would be a top priority of mine.

C&S: Are there any issues with the state budget that you’re looking at?

JG: Yeah, the continuing raising of taxes and fees on New York state. Right now, the state has been raising taxes and fees for the longest time. We need to start talking about reducing the size and cost of government. I have a history of promoting consolidation and regionalism. And again, looking to a situation where government can work better, smarter, cheaper with a whole lot less people, a whole lot less bureaucracy. One of the initiatives we put forward was looking at the possibility of merging the state DOT and the Thruway Authority. Why do we have two separate entities controlling the same activities? The economic development programs of this administration have been a huge failure.

C&S: Why do you think you’re the best candidate of all the ones challenging Cuomo?

JG: Because I’m looking to become governor to spend four years attempting to try to fix the problems. I’m not interested in running for re-election. I’m not interested in having a career in politics. I’ve already had a very good career in politics. The reason I decided to come off the sidelines and come back to the playing field after 10 years is that it’s sheer disgust and anger. New York state has lost almost a million people over the last 10 years. Upstate New York is in crisis. And again, the governor’s attempt to provide corporate welfare was a huge failure. So I think we’ve got to, again, I think the marijuana program is a way of creating jobs, you go in and fix the excess number of school districts in New York state, we’ll be coming out with a plan to deal with school funding and school issues. Campaign finance reform is going to be a very large part of our campaign, trying to figure out how we can get the special interests, large money out of the equation. That’s where government gets bogged down. And people find a way to take the big money contributions out of the equation, I think you will have a much more effective government and more effective governance. It’s not just one party, it’s both parties. And that’s why I’m so excited about running not as a Democrat or a Republican, because both parties, I think, have been responsible for the economic conditions of New York state and the problems we face today.

C&S: What do you think of Cynthia Nixon jumping into the race?

JG: I think it's good. I think competition is healthy, I believe in that. And I think it’s going to provide a real challenge to the governor. I don’t know what the outcome’s going to be, but I think that’s going to require the governor to have to spend a lot of his resources, and again, one of the reasons why I’m so adamant about campaign finance reform is, for the governor to have been able to raise $30 million, that doesn’t happen by accident. That takes a well-orchestrated, well-choreographed pay-to-play operation. And the Republicans are no different. What happens now in Albany, and around the country, is it’s all about who can raise the most amount of money. And if you raise more money than the other guy, then there’s a chance you may not even have an election. I call it the “incumbent protection plan.” Raise as much money as possible, scare people away from running, discourage people from voting and you can maintain and protect the status quo that way.