Wednesday, I took a phone call from the campaign of Republican gubernatorial hopeful Rick Lazio. The campaign employee asked if we would be interested in interviewing Lazio live on our CNY Central TV stations at the State Fair. He would be there opening day. This is not an unusual request for a politician. The Fair, with its tens of thousands of visitors, is a Mecca for office-seekers.
But the call made me chuckle. It seems even politicians can learn from their mistakes.
It was the summer of 2000. That Great New York State Fair was underway, and making his way through the fair was a young Long Island politician named Enrico "Rick" Lazio. Lazio was the GOP TMs stand-in for the man they had hoped to be their candidate for United States Senate from New York, feisty New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. But Giuliani had backed out, leaving the Republicans scrambling for a candidate.
Now, Lazio, a virtually unknown Congressman, was running against then-First Lady and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton. Love her or hate her, Hillary Clinton was one of the best know people in the world and could raise a fortune in campaign contributions. You would think the Lazio campaign would be anxious to get all the media coverage they could.
I approached some local Republican operatives I knew and asked if Lazio could appear on our broadcast from the fair that evening. We were turned down. One GOP veteran I knew was flabbergasted by the decision. In less than a half hour Lazio could have appeared live on channels 3, 5, 9, and WSYR radio in succession. We were all literally within a hundred yards of each other
But that was a relatively minor misstep during his visit to the Fair. Lazio, you may recall, turned down an offer to eat a famous State Fair sausage sandwich. The decision caused him more heartburn than if had had eaten three - with extra peppers and onions. The New York City newspapers picked up the story and had a field day with it.
The following week, Then-President Bill Clinton and his candidate wife made their way around the Fairgrounds. They were not going to miss this chance. The cameras were allowed to get behind the counter at Gianelli TMs Sausage to get the head on shot of the Clintons as they approached. Then, as only Bill Clinton could, he pounded his fists on the counter and said, I want my sausage sandwich! Then he and Mrs. Clinton slowly dined on their sausage, while the tapes rolled, the cameras flashed, and the well wishers smiled.
Ten years later, the Lazio campaign is asking us if they can get on TV. They want to spread the message about their candidate in the face of his tough race against fellow Republican Carl Paladino and Democratic front-runner Andrew Cuomo. In fact, Lazio will appear Thursday afternoon on both NBC3 and CBS5 for an interview during our evening newscasts. The campaign has also promised to send a detailed schedule of his day at the Fair, including precisely when and where he will eat his sausage sandwich.
As of publication of this article, CNY Central has not received word from the Cuomo or Paladino campaigns as to when or if their candidates will attend the Fair - or what their dining plans will be.
So what is your favorite food at the Fair? Is there any one item that you just HAVE to get every year? Leave a comment below and tell your story!
Editor's note: Lou Gulino is the assignment manager for CNY Central, and has spent nearly three decades in the local news business. He is also the president of the Syracuse Press Club.