There is something about a political rally that gets my heart beating rapidly, puts a big bounce in my step, and makes me want to yell out for no reasonable reason, "Hell no, we won't go!" Or something like that.
Even the weather cooperated Friday for Republican Rob Astorino as he visited Hornell, campaigning to become the next governor of New York state. The calendar says it's August, with more than a month of summer still to come, but it felt an awful lot like fall on Friday — a little overcast, cool, a touch of wind — perfect conditions for a fired up candidate and a modest-sized, but enthusiastic crowd of supporters.
Everyone at the newspaper office was excited. We had no less than four staffers at Friday's event. And there was a back-up reporter from Wellsville waiting in the Tribune newsroom in case one of us went down.
Chris Moss was in Hornell as well. The Republican candidate for lieutenant governor told me he is enjoying the statewide race, but he admitted this campaign is a much different experience than running for sheriff of Chemung County.
Maybe I'm weird, but I think about history when the stakes are big, and I am afforded the opportunity to see a candidate stump for high office in person. Rob Astorino is one election win away — if he can some how do it — from assuming an office that has been held by American political giants. Being governor of New York is not like being mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Or even governor of Alaska, thank goodness.
New York governors are like a roll call of American statesmen. John Jay, William H. Seward (Lincoln's secretary of state), Grover Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt for gosh sakes, Al Smith, FDR, Thomas Dewey, W. Averell Harriman, Nelson Rockefeller. That's three presidents, a vice president and an almost president in one short list.
A man or woman elected governor of New York state, automatically, without doing one other thing, is thought of as a possible future president.
I have attended my share of political rallies, and I have seen some big political stars up close. I always enjoy it. When I was at Canisius, Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, campaigning for the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination, held an event on campus. I was frisked by a Secret Service agent on my way into the gym.
Mario Cuomo visited the region frequently when he was governor. I never saw him during a campaign, but I attended several events where he spoke, and sat across the table from him at a media question and answer session at Alfred University.
"Why do you think you are so unpopular in the Southern Tier?" I asked the governor.
I can't remember what his answer was.
I covered state Sen. George Pataki's campaign rally in Belmont in 1994, and then interviewed the soon-to-become governor on a bus ride from Belmont to his next stop of the day in Olean.
Every time a candidate says something, there is an opportunity to make a mistake. One blunder can set a campaign back for days. With Pataki, like most high-profile office seekers, aides will eavesdrop on interviews. Most importantly, they have their own tape recorders going when the candidate talks to a reporter. That's what happened with Pataki. If I had written something stupid and false, like he hates football and hoped the Buffalo Bills would move to L.A., his people would have the tape to prove he never said any such thing.
I guess they didn't have a problem with what I produced. I wrote my story and never heard a word about it.
I have never met a president, but there's still time. In 2000, I covered Hillary Clinton, again in Alfred, as she transitioned from first lady to United States senator from New York. We shook hands during a brief meeting, but she did not take any questions. And there was no bus trip together either.
Astorino seems like a nice guy. He had his young son with him in Hornell Friday. Having family close by has to make the grind of a long campaign easier. He answered every question asked by reporters, and I think he would have stood there even longer, if we would have kept firing questions. But he had a dinner to make in Mt. Morris.
"Thank you, sir," I said, ending the interview.
Then he was driven away, where presumably, another excited group of supporters and anxious, gleeful reporters, were waiting for his arrival.
Neal Simon is the city editor of the Evening Tribune.