Democrats Caught Saying Tax Cuts Are Not a Priority
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ALBANY – Democrats trying to attack the Republican candidate for governor, John Faso, are finding themselves on the defensive after the state Democratic Party’s chairman suggested that cutting taxes and spending wasn’t a top priority.
The chairman, Herman “Denny” Farrell, Jr., an assemblyman from New York City, quickly retracted his comments, but not before Democratic candidate Eliot Spitzer’s political opponents pounced on them as evidence that the attorney general would raise taxes if elected.
Caught by surprise, the Spitzer campaign sought to downplay the remarks by insisting that they don’t represent the views of the attorney general, who was campaigning in Buffalo.
At a press conference that Mr. Farrell organized to draw attention to Mr. Faso’s conservative voting record and political views, Mr. Farrell was asked by a reporter whether cutting taxes and spending were among the top three priorities for Democrats. Mr. Farrell said those issues didn’t rank in the top three, arguing instead that it was far more critical to create jobs.
“Jobs is the most important thing,” Mr. Farrell said. “Once you get the income, then you can afford to look at tax cuts.” He argued that improving SUNY, the state university system, by hiring more full-time professors would better educate New Yorkers and ultimately help add jobs.
He added that he is not opposed to tax cuts but that they should be targeted at low-income New Yorkers.
Mr. Farrell’s remarks seemed to play right into a key strategy of both Mr. Faso and Democratic candidate Thomas Suozzi, of portraying Mr. Spitzer as a tax-and-spend liberal Democrat in the mold of Governor Cuomo.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Faso’s campaign, Susan Del Percio, said Mr. Farrell’s comments showed that the “sad fact is that Eliot Spitzer will raise taxes to fund the billions in new spending and borrowing he has promised to the special interests supporting his campaign.” Mr. Faso himself was unavailable for comment.
Mr. Suozzi’s campaign fired off a statement: “Eliot Spitzer and the status quo Democrats in Albany just don’t care that your property taxes are the highest in the nation, that they are strangling our economic growth and killing jobs, and that they are driving people to leave our state in droves.”
In the afternoon, Mr. Farrell, who is chairman of the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, issued a retraction. “I misspoke this morning,” he said. “I should have expanded my comment to say that making the economy more robust in general is our top priority – and that includes cutting taxes, as well as bringing jobs to New York.”
Mr. Farrell’s remarks put Mr. Spitzer in the awkward position of having to distance himself from the head of the state party and one of Democratic Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver’s closest allies.
“Denny Farrell does not speak for him and he has repeatedly said that his priority on day one will be revitalizing the state’s economy, which involves immediate property tax relief for struggling New York families,” a spokesman for Mr. Spitzer’s campaign, Christine Anderson, said. Mr. Spitzer, however, has refused to promise that he won’t raise taxes.
Mr. Spitzer, who has the backing of virtually the entire Democratic establishment and is a favorite to win the election, has gotten along – at least publicly – fairly well with Mr. Farrell and Mr. Silver during the campaign.
Yesterday’s episode appeared to hint of an emerging strain in the relationship. Mr. Silver and Mr. Farrell have presented Mr. Spitzer as a like-minded Democrat who shares their views on economic issues. The attorney general has been more reticent about specific policies, but his efforts to disassociate himself from Mr. Farrell’s comments could signal a larger policy rift.
Republicans, meanwhile, sought to exploit Mr. Farrell’s gaffe by pinning it on Mr. Spitzer.
“Once again, liberal Democrats have shown how out of step they are with average New Yorkers. Denny Farrell and Eliot Spitzer may be the only two people in New York who think that tax cuts are a bad thing,” the chairman of the Republican state committee, Stephen Minarik, said in a statement.