Harry Wilson, Republican candidate for Governor of New York discusses Little Falls with Martin Babinec during a tour of the City and Rock City Centre last Thursday night.
by Dave Warner
Harry Wilson, a Republican candidate for Governor of New York visited Little Falls last week for a brief visit, tour of Rock City Centre, and interview.
Wilson said that his grandfather arrived in the Johnstown area in 1910, through Ellis Island. The grandfather was an entrepreneur who had an ice business before refrigeration, a meat market before supermarkets, and five children, one of them Harry Wilson’s dad.
“My dad went to Johnstown High School and served in World War II in the Asia Pacific Theater. He came back and worked for his dad and my uncle who started the Rainbow Restaurant in Johnstown. My dad was a bartender there and met my mom in Greece while visiting family,” he said.
Wilson loved growing up in Johnstown and said that he had amazing friends, teachers, and family that supported him. “I had incredible teachers and coaches and it was just a wonderful community. Growing up there really defines who I am and what my values are.”
While at Johnstown High School he was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar in 1989. “It’s the highest academic honor in the country – one boy and one girl in every state.”
After high school, he went to Harvard Business School, and then into business, landing at Goldman Sachs. “At Goldman, in my second year there, they went through a restructuring in 1994. All the senior guys drafted six younger people to do the work on the plan and I was one of the six.”
Wilson said he loved the work and the process, figuring out what the problem was and how to solve it, and at the same time, serve the customers and clients of the business.
He was so interested in it, that he changed jobs and moved to a turn-around company focused on businesses that needed help.
“We would buy companies that had problems and I would have to go in and fix them,” he said.
The financial crisis hit in 2008 and 2009 and by that time, he’d already spent 15 years working with companies that needed help. “I personally led the restructuring of General Motors on behalf of the US Treasury. GM was losing four billion dollars a month in March of 2009 and by the end of the summer, it was profitable through the work that we did,” Wilson stated. “They’ve had record profits ever since.”
When Wilson came back from GM, a lot of Republicans approached him about running for office in New York. “I said, I’ve got four young kids and have no interest in running for office.”
They eventually came to him and asked him about running for state comptroller and convinced him that his skills would make a huge difference in the state. “That got my attention.”
Wilson did a ton of research on the position and concluded that he could save taxpayers billions of dollars by highlighting problems with spending. “I thought it would be a game-changer for the state,” he said.
He announced he was running for the position and said that nobody really knew or cared at first, so he did a hundred pages of white papers detailing how he would change the office and defend taxpayers. Reporters started paying attention and he began getting interviews where he could answer questions and his opponent could not.
“By the time we got to the week before the election, we were the only competitive statewide race, even though I’d never run for office before or worked for a campaign,” he said.
Wilson lost by four points in the 2010 race even though he was on the ballot with Carl Paladino, running for the Governor’s job, who lost by thirty. “That’s never happened in New York State politics before. It’s still the closest Republican showing statewide in the last 20 years.”
The takeaway that Wilson got from that election was that voters care about someone who could make a difference for them. After the loss, he went back into the private sector.
Running for Governor
He said that because of that close showing, the Republican party has been trying to get him to run for Governor for the past five years.
“I thought about it seriously in 2017 for the 2018 cycle, explored it, went around the state, and did some speeches, but my wife and I concluded it just wasn’t the right time for our family,” Wilson remarked.
“Fast forward to early 2021 and the state party came back to me and asked me if I would run this year.”
Initially, he said no, and other candidates got into the Republican primary race – Rob Astorino, Andrew Giuliani, and Lee Zeldin. But by Thanksgiving of last year, some Republicans came to him and said, you’re the right Republican, you, can win, you ought to reconsider.
“At first I said no, and then I started thinking about it. Really over Chrismas week is when I started thinking about it more seriously. I basically concluded that the other guys couldn’t win and that I thought there was a path where I could win, even though I was starting much later than them,” Wilson said.
Wilson says that he feels like he is in the lead in Upstate New York, but has not started advertising downstate, so he is not as well known. “That’s a deliberate strategy. I consider myself an upstater and the majority of Republican primary voters live upstate, so we wanted to build here.”
He says that he’s closed the gap where they are advertising and that they are going to begin the downstate campaign now. “There are lots of undecided and we want to be surgical about where we want to be in the New York City market.”
Editor’s Note: In Part II of the interview on Tuesday, we go into Harry Wilson’s specific policy initiatives.