Businessman Harry Wilson listens as he prepares to participate in New York's Republican gubernatorial debate at the studios of CBS2 TV, Monday June 13, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
NEW YORK – Harry Wilson, candidate in the Republican gubernatorial primary in New York State that will be held, next week, at first glance is the Greek-American Republican’s dream of a nominee for public office: “He is a businessman. Harvard Business School graduate. That is what we need to run the state better,” one might hear. Indeed, but the rest of his bio is attractive to moderate Democrats of Hellenic descent, with a track record of crossing party lines to work with Democrats for the common good. It will be seen if non-Greeks in New York state agree.
Currently, Wilson is Chairman and CEO of MAEVA Group, LLC, a nationally-recognized expert in corporate restructurings, turnarounds, and transformation. He spent his early career as an investor at some of the nation’s top financial firms, but he also was one of the four leaders of the Auto Task Force, which was responsible for the U.S. Department Treasury’s role in the restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler under President Barack Obama. In 2010, Wilson very narrowly lost a race to be York State Comptroller.
He has an A.B. in government, with honors, from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He and his wife of nearly 17 years, Eva Romas Wilson, have four daughters and reside in Westchester County, NY.
Wilson took time from his grueling campaign schedule to speak to our readers.
The National Herald: You have made a very significant commitment of time and money to your campaign. Why?
Harry Wilson: I’ve been blessed to live the American Dream, and that’s why I’m proud to invest in our campaign to share our message of safe communities, lower taxes, and a more affordable, more prosperous New York. I deeply believe this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix our badly broken state, for the benefit of all New Yorkers, and that is why I am doing everything possible to win and to fix our state.
TNH: You have shown an ability and willingness to take on very difficult situations and work with a broad variety of stakeholders. How is that easy for you and why is it important for New York State as you potentially wrestle with a Democratic legislature?
HW: I have negotiated hundreds of highly complicated deals with entrenched stakeholders who said they would never change and that the organization could not be fixed – and I have managed to develop win-win solutions every time. I will do the same with New York State, leveraging the governor’s very expansive budgetary authority. By the end of 2023, if I am elected governor, New York will be a far more affordable, far more prosperous, and far safer place to live and work.
TNH: At a time when working and middle class families are struggling, how does your family background help you communicate with them and develop policies that will help?
HW: When I was a kid growing up in upstate Johnstown, as a working class, first generation Greek-American, we had to count every penny. We could not have survived the inflation that is hurting so many New Yorkers today, and those memories are what drive me today when I think about how we can best make sure all families have a fair shot in life. When I spend time with New Yorkers who are struggling, it certainly helps that they know I can identify with their struggles since I lived through them myself.
TNH: When you were young you overcame some serious health problems. Today, healthcare costs can be devastating for middle and working class families. What are your ideas for addressing that?
HW: Yes, I had serious orthopedic problems, to the point where doctors told my mom I may never be able to walk. When I was 13 months old, I was also badly burned and still bear the scars today. If you saw that little Harry Wilson wrapped up like a mummy, braces on his legs, who also didn’t speak a word of English, you might have said, “that kid is going to have a tough life.” But I have been blessed beyond measure. I’ve had an incredible family and built a great business career. I’m so grateful to God for all of our blessings.
And I realize that overcoming these challenges can be really difficult, especially in the face of continually increasing health care costs. In New York, part of the problem is we have a very limited marketplace for health care due to excessive regulation, which increases costs. We also have done a poor job in addressing quality concerns outside of the major hospitals. We need to both allow for more competition to benefit consumers and implement quality targets to make sure all New Yorkers are receiving quality care at a reasonable cost.
TNH: Tell us how your Greek immigrant parents molded you and your sister to become the people you are. And by the way, what parts of Greece are they from?
HW: My dad’s dad and my mom were from very small villages in central Greece and my dad’s mom was from Evia. On my wife’s side (she is also 100% Greek), her dad’s family came from the Peloponnese and her mom’s family came from Paros and Evia.
Our Greek and Greek Orthodox heritage have played a huge role in shaping who I am today. Those immigrant and Orthodox values – Christian ethics, hard work, commitment to family, unimpeachable integrity, and helping others – define me as a person, as a professional, and as a husband and a father.
I owe all of this to my incredible parents, who sadly are no longer with us. My dad had a heart of gold and worked so hard to put food on the table for us. My mom worked just as hard and was also one of the toughest, if not the toughest, people I have ever known. She lived through the Nazi occupation and then the Greek civil war (she was born in 1941) and wasn’t able to start formal schooling until she was 8 years old. She came to the U.S. without knowing a word of English, just 11 months before I was born. Despite those and many other challenges, she built a great family and a great life.
So many of my fellow Greek-Americans have similar stories, which is another reason I identify so closely with, and am so proud of, my heritage.
TNH: How is turning around a state like turning around a company, how is it different, and what are your main ideas and vision about that?
HW: While there are certainly significant differences, the core questions and areas of focus are very similar. In both cases, you have to start by defining the mission. For New York State government, I think the mission should be creating an environment where families and businesses can flourish and grow; high standards for public safety, public education and public health; low taxes and limited regulation to foster a successful business climate; and doing all of this at a reasonable cost. Once the mission is defined clearly, good leaders need to be laser-focused on investing in programs that have a proven ability to advance the mission in a cost-effective way and not wasting limited resources on ineffective programs. In companies, this process of pruning unsuccessful initiatives happens all the time (and, in fact, is necessary for the company to survive); in government it almost never happens – but it can and it must. Now those programs are not meant to be profitable, of course – but they should serve the customer – the residents of New York – with a high quality product at a reasonable cost. As a result, while the goals of a government versus a company are very different, the same types of key questions and disciplines apply to both.
TNH: Another two great concerns of New Yorkers are spiking crime and high taxes. What are some your thoughts about that? For example, how did needed bail reform get out of control?
HW: Our Turnaround Plan for New York focuses on three primary pillars:
1) The largest tax cut in the history of any state – 20% property tax cut and 20% income tax cut. This will take New York from being the highest taxed state in the nation to being competitive again.
2) Regulatory reform focused on regulations that needlessly drive up the cost of food, energy and housing; by reforming these regulations, we can partially offset the painful impact of inflation on middle class and working class families in particular.
3) Reversing a number of soft-on-crime policies, like bail reform, so that we can return to the safe streets we had just a few short years ago. We have an extensive anti-crime plan at www.harrywilsonforgovernor.com/makingnysafe. It’s clear that the bail reform policies have been significant contributors to rising crime, but there are other factors as well, and all of these must be addressed holistically to deliver the public safety New Yorkers deserve.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Iditarod, the annual sled dog race celebrating Alaska's official state sport, is set to get underway Saturday with a new focus on safety after five dogs died and eight were injured in collisions with snowmobiles while training on shared, multi-use trails.
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