Eccentric Republican political consultant Roger Stone, who’s been advising rough-hewn Buffalo real-estate developer Carl Paladino while managing the New York gubernatorial protest campaign of alleged Eliot Spitzer madam Kristin Davis, sounds just about ready to give up on the GOP nominee.
“It’s astounding,” a distressed Stone told me Monday as the 64-year-old Paladino was making the morning-show rounds trying to clean up after his widely criticized homophobic speech Sunday to Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn. “Based on his anti-gay rant, any advice that I’m giving this guy is no longer having any effect.”
The 58-year-old Stone, a self-described “libertarian Republican” who sports a very large tattoo of his idol Richard Nixon on his back, spoke admiringly of Paladino’s Democratic opponent, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and his front-running campaign organization—which issued a statement calling Paladino’s remarks “bizarre.”
“When Cuomo first ran for governor [in 2002], I think he figured out that the more people see him, the less they like him,” Stone said. “He was viewed as too pushy, too aggressive, too out there. And this time he has developed a huge amount of political discipline, where he’s running on his name and picking his shots. He surfaces now and then for high-level press things, says what he wants to say and gets out. He doesn’t do interviews as a general rule and he limits access. I will also add an observation from Richard Nixon: The media always want more of what they can’t get.”
Stone was at a loss to explain Paladino’s anti-gay remarks. “I wasn’t a party to it, and I don’t agree with it,” said Stone, who is perhaps best known for his claim—denied by Spitzer—that the then-governor wore black socks while trysting with call girls.
Stone persuaded the blond, busty Davis—who had millions of dollars confiscated by the government and spent four months of hard time on Rikers Island after pleading guilty to a felony prostitution charge—to run for governor on the Anti-Prohibition Party ticket. Her platform includes legalizing prostitution, casino gambling, marijuana, and same-sex marriage. Davis, the longest of long shots, doesn’t expect to win, but if she receives at least 50,000 votes on November 2, her political party will be legally established on state and local ballots for the next four years.
I asked Stone if he and Davis are in a romantic relationship. “No,” he answered. “I wish.”
Stone said Paladino attempted to hire him in March, but he was already committed to running Davis’ campaign, and the former “Manhattan Madam” gave her blessing to Stone’s giving informal advice to the multimillionaire from Buffalo—who won the Republican primary against Rick Lazio in a landslide.
“Carl ran a superior primary campaign, and he spent $4.5 million; Lazio ran a boring campaign, and spent $600,000,” Stone told me in a wide-ranging conversation that covered local and national politics. “But the scrutiny in a general election is much, much greater than the scrutiny in a primary… I don’t think Carl recognized that the scrutiny level is very different, and every single word you utter will now be covered.”
“Based on his anti-gay rant, any advice that I’m giving this guy is no longer having any effect,” Stone says.
Paladino is hardly silver-tongued. Trying to demonstrate empathy for a gay nephew on Good Morning America on Monday, he told host George Stephanopoulos, “I sensitize with it totally.” That’s a level of eloquence somewhat below the standard one expects from a major-party statewide nominee.
“Very strange speech patterns,” Stone said. “He talks like a street guy from Buffalo. When he says to Fred Dicker [Albany bureau chief of the New York Post], ‘I will take you out,’ he uses that expression all the time. ‘I will take Shelly Silver out.’ ‘I will take the Legislature out.’ It’s an idiomatic expression that unfortunately makes him sound like a mobster. But in New York state, probably more people talk like him than talk like us.”
Before this latest flap, Paladino was forced to apologize for tasteless, racist emails he apparently received and forwarded—including one depicting a sex act between a woman and a horse. “There’s a substantial chance that not all the emails are real,” Stone said, conceding that at least some—released by a Democratic loyalist—were authentic. “That’s why the campaign decided not to nitpick. But Carl really doesn’t recall any email of a woman having sex with a horse. And that’s the kind of thing you might remember.”
Stone told me he’s still mystified about Paladino’s gay gaffe, even after seeking clarification from both the candidate and his campaign manager, Stone’s old friend Michael Caputo. “It doesn’t even seem to be consistent with his ‘live and let live’ philosophy. When I asked what happened, the answer was no answer: ‘Yeah, it was a fuckup.’ ”
In his speech to the Brooklyn Hasidim, the candidate slammed Democratic frontrunner Andrew Cuomo—whom he will face in a televised debate next Monday along with four other candidates, including Davis—for bringing his daughters to a gay-pride march. Paladino warned that children should not be “brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option—it isn’t.” And, in a line that Paladino didn’t utter but appears in the speech text that was handed out to the press, asserted: “There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual.”
Shockingly, Stone said Paladino’s basic speech was provided not by his campaign staff but by a group of Hasidic rabbis. The candidate and his manager found themselves furiously revising the speech in the car on the way to the event. “The rabbis provided the campaign with an uncorrected text,” Stone said. “He takes their text, he crosses a lot of it out, he uses some of it in his actual remarks, and they handed out the full text as if he said it. But that aside, the stuff he did say, many people will find that offensive. Why you would give remarks suggested by the rabbis, for any reason, I don’t understand… Obviously a candidate has to be held responsible for the words that come out of his mouth, regardless of where they came from.”
Casting his gimlet eye on national politics, Stone predicted the Republicans will take the House and pick up seats in the Senate, but not enough to win a majority. He said President Obama is damaged goods politically, but a credible Republican opponent has yet to make an appearance.
“What the party needs is their own Barack Obama,” Stone said. “They need somebody who’s new and fresh, who appeals to the party base without being too extreme. Someone like [South Dakota Sen.] John Thune, who on paper is very interesting and, I think, charismatic.” He also likes the whip-smart Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour—who, admittedly, is not as dashing as the model-handsome Thune, and likes to offer witticisms such as “Don’t sweat much for a fat boy.”
What about Sarah Palin? “I like her a lot. I think she’s nominatable. I do not, unfortunately, think she’s electable.”
Mitt Romney? “He’s totally phony. You can’t wake up one day and say ‘I’m for gay marriage,’ and wake up the next day and say ‘I’m against it.’ Wake up one day and say, ‘I’m pro-choice,’ and the next day wake up and say, ‘I’m pro-life.’ There’s no credibility threre. Plus the Massachusetts health-care system—which was his—is an unmitigated disaster. And if the guy says, ‘Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan,’ one more time, I’m gonna puke.”
As for his nemesis Eliot Spitzer’s new CNN show, Stone was withering. “It’s about as interesting as dyeing your Easter eggs white. I think Spitzer should put a black sock on it.”