George Maragoss immediate answer to the question of why north country Republicans should vote for him Tuesday has a lot to do with what brought him to Watertown on a Saturday before the election in the first place.
Ive been the one whos spent the most time in the north country, Mr. Maragos said in a half-hour interview at the Watertown Daily Times, where he stopped on his way back from a campaign event in Rochester.
Thats hard to argue. The Nassau County comptroller has been in the race for about a year, and Republican activists say hes been at local county fairs and GOP cookouts far more often than his two opponents, Manhattan attorney Wendy E. Long and Rep. Bob Turner of New York City. Ms. Long made one public appearance in Watertown, on Friday, while Mr. Turner has yet to make a public appearance here.
And yet, Mr. Maragos lags his two opponents in opinion polls, which suggest none of the Republicans stands much of a chance of defeating U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
Mr. Maragos said hes undaunted by the challenge. Hes running as a fiscal and social conservative in a blue state, while also tailoring some of his message to north country issues.
For example, on the farm bill, Mr. Maragos said the H2A visa program should be expanded to year-round workers so dairy farms can take advantage of migrant labor. As a practical matter, only seasonal farms such as apple growers can use the program, which makes the workers leave once every few months.
And while he said the federal budget should be balanced within three to five years an arresting clip some economists warn would require dramatic cuts to programs farming programs arent one of his major targets.
We need to support our farmers, he said.
Despite his many visits to the north country, Mr. Maragos said no one had brought up to him the Bv7 water level plan. He hadnt heard of the proposal from the International Joint Commission that would allow water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to fluctuate more. Environmental advocates in Jefferson County and elsewhere tout the benefits to animal species and coastal wetlands, but lakeshore property owners, such as those near Rochester, are concerned about property damage.
Mr. Maragos said he would study the issue; Ms. Long said Friday that she was familiar with the issue but hadnt taken a position on it.
Like Ms. Long, Mr. Maragos chided Mrs. Gillibrand for seeking to reverse $4.5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly referred to as food stamps. Mrs. Gillibrands amendment to the farm bill failed last week.
I think its unwise, Mr. Maragos said. Its consistent with everything shes done.
Mr. Maragos called Ms. Long and Mr. Turner closet liberals; for example, he doesnt think Ms. Long adequately denounced New Yorks decision in 2011 to ban gay marriage.
He came to the United States from Greece when he was 9 years old and became independently wealthy. He has financed much of his own campaign, though a recent decision to pay back most of a personal loan left some questioning whether he was still in it to win it. Mr. Maragos described it as simple cash management.
He said he doesnt think his background as an immigrant has hurt him with voters; many New Yorkers have parents or grandparents who were immigrants, Mr. Maragos noted.
My personal story is going to resonate, he said.
And his story proves hes a self-made man in every way, he said. The Conservative and Republican parties in the state were not pushing him to run, he said, as was the case for Ms. Long and Mr. Turner, respectively.
I havent risen through the party organizations, said Mr. Maragos, who speaks with a slight hint of the country he came from many years ago a country whose financial future he warns could be ours if we dont drastically reduce spending and taxes. I think I have the smarts and the resources, having achieved the American dream.