The Conservative Pianist Running for New York State Senate

And why his supporters love him

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So you've heard about the Oxford witch candidate, the Nazi reenactor candidate, and other assorted oddities. Here's a new twist: have you heard about the candidate who is a professional pianist? The New York Times featured Andrew Russo, challenging Democratic incumbent David Valesky for State Senate, in a story last week, mentioning his performance at a fundraising event:

"I can do that," he said, sweeping one hand toward the piano, "and I can also lower your property taxes." ... He is a Juilliard-trained concert pianist and Grammy Award nominee who turned to politics in central New York, where he grew up and still lives, because he felt that Albany was "dysfunctional, corrupt and tax happy." ... He presents himself as such a reformer, and some election watchers say Mr. Russo’s campaign could figure in the Republicans' drive to retake the State Senate, where they held a majority from 1966 until two years ago.

So how is he doing? Unsurprisingly, Russo has his supporters and detractors like any candidate, even the non-Juilliard-trained ones. Here's what they're saying.

  • 'A Tremendous Work Ethic'  In a letter to the Madison County Courier, Christopher Kendall comes out for Russo. "I have never seen a candidate for office work as hard as he has to visit potential voters and spend the many hours to seek out and listen carefully to people who know the issues of our seniors, our businesspeople and our workers in the district," he writes. He says, too, that he "was skeptical of Andy" until meeting him. But current senator Dave Valesky has "abandon[ed] the reformist agenda we enthusiastically sent him to Albany to pursue in 2004," and Russo, despite being a newcomer, "has a deep understanding of the major structural problems and imbalances in our state government." In other words, Kendall thinks him to represent the best of both worlds.
  • Russo vs. the Current Senator  At The Capitol, a publication on New York state government, Austin Shafran and Scott Reiff, spokesmen for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Senate Republican Campaign Committee, respectively, air their views on the race. Shafran calls Russo "a hypocritical outsider who spent most of his time living in France and New York City." Reif counters that "instead of standing up for Central New York, [sitting senator] Valesky has voted with his New York City leaders 100 percent of the time."
  • The Backlash Against Career Politicians  As an example of why voters are lining up to support Russo, here's Lonely Conservative's take: "Andy's an outsider ... As far as I'm concerned, every incumbent in Albany should be voted out and be replaced with citizen legislators who aren't out to make careers out of politics." Then, too, the blogger notes that Russo is "a friend of a friend" who "came here to my house to meet me in person" (an echo of Kendall's argument about hard work). But Lonely Conservative also supported Russo against his primary opponent Dan Leidka, and responds to Leika's negative ads thus:
I don't care when Andy became a Republican. He's not a politician, and as far as I know, he didn’t have political aspirations until he became so disgusted with the way things are going in our state that he decided to get involved.
  • How Nice to See an Openly Conservative Musician!  "I know many conservatives and Republicans in the music world; many of them are closeted," writes National Review's Jay Nordlinger. "That world can be ruthless, politically." Nordlinger also recalls, humorously, a story about another pianist-turned-politician, the famed Ignacy Jan Paderewski, meeting French Prime minister Georges Clemenceau at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919:
Paderewski has become Polish prime minister, and Clemenceau is introduced to him at the conference. "Any relation to the pianist?" the Frenchman asks. Paderewski answers, "I am the pianist." Clemenceau says, "And now you're in politics? What a comedown."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.