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Eye on NY: DeFrancisco 'rapidly approaching' decision on NY governor's race

As two Republicans announced this week they will not seek the party's nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year, state Sen. John DeFrancisco said he will soon decide whether to launch a gubernatorial campaign. 

DeFrancisco, R-DeWitt, has been exploring a run for governor since the summer. He has visited nearly three dozen New York counties and engaged in numerous conversations with Republican leaders. The discussions continued in Albany last week when lawmakers returned to Albany for the opening of the 2018 legislative session. 

"Decision time is rapidly approaching," DeFrancisco said in a phone interview with The Citizen. "It's gotta be sooner than later because I can't wait much longer if I'm going to do it. I've gotta feel confident in my mind that this is something that I can do." 

Republicans were dealt a blow when Harry Wilson, a corporate restructuring expert who many believed was the favorite to secure the GOP nomination, announced on New Year's Day that he would not be a candidate for governor this year. Wilson was willing to spend $10 million of his own money on the race and could have been a formidable opponent for Cuomo despite the Democrats' voter enrollment advantage in the state. 

The announcement didn't surprise DeFrancisco, who said he recently spoke with Wilson while the two were in New York City. During that conversation, Wilson didn't reveal whether he would run or not, but DeFrancisco came away feeling that he wasn't going to run. 

Wilson cited personal reasons for the decision. He has four young daughters and didn't want to miss spending time with them, especially his two oldest daughters who are now in high school. 

Another Republican, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, also announced he will not run for governor this year. 

With Molinaro and Wilson out of the race, DeFrancisco said his decision-making process hasn't changed. 

"My position points are still the same: Do I have enough support to get the nomination and number two, do I have a reasonable opportunity to win this?" he said. "It's going to be an uphill battle. No one will say differently, including myself." 

One reason DeFrancisco feels it will be an uphill battle is Cuomo's fundraising advantage. While the Syracuse-area Republican has been a successful fundraiser as a state senator, it pales in comparison to the governor's haul. 

As of July, Cuomo had more than $25.6 million in his campaign account. The latest campaign finance filings are due soon. The governor's war chest could increase as he prepares for his second re-election bid. 

The fundraising disadvantage won't be enough to scare away DeFrancisco. He has already conceded he won't raise as much money as Cuomo. His final decision will rest on whether he believes he can mount a competitive campaign and defeat Cuomo, who is seeking a third term. 

"I'm still in that phase," DeFrancisco said. 

If DeFrancisco jumps into the race, he will join two other upstate Republicans vying for the nomination. Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb launched his campaign in December. Former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra entered the race for the GOP nomination last week. 

Republican leaders are scheduled to meet Monday in Albany to discuss the 2018 ticket. The party needs candidates for other statewide races, including a challenger to face U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand as she seeks a second six-year term. 

Kelly Rocheleau / Kelly Rocheleau, The Citizen 

A crowd watches Tim Thomas' demonstration of ice fishing equipment Saturday. 

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Influenced by New York's minimum wage law, Skaneateles Mark's Pizzeria becomes Mike's

Mike Harvard started with Mark's Pizzeria in Skaneateles as a delivery driver in 1999, and now his name adorns the sign of his pizza business.

The Mark's location in Skaneateles quietly opened as Mike's Pizzeria late last month, with a new logo to match. Harvard, who had co-owned that Mark's location with Jamie Schneider since 2003, said they made a mutual agreement with Mark's Pizzeria Inc. to re-open as a separate business in that same location, a decision influenced by the state's fast food minimum wage law.

Harvard said this decision was a part of conversations between the duo and the company for the last couple years on how to address the state's rising minimum wage requirements for fast food establishments, which, according to the state Department of Labor, is a business in a chain of 30 or more locations. Pay requirements for fast food workers were first enacted by the state at the end of 2015, with separate pay increases for New York City and the rest of the state.

This will culminate in a fast food minimum wage of $15 by the end of the year for New York City and by 2021 for the rest of the state. Fast food wages were bumped up by $1 to $11.75 for the rest of the state on Dec. 31. Prior to that date, the Mark's chain shuttered several central New York stores, including the one in Elbridge.

Others, like the Skaneateles location, rebranded into independent operations. Harvard noted there are now currently 29 Mark's locations, keeping the franchise below that threshold of 30 locations to require raising the fast food minimum wage. He said becoming a separate business will keep costs down, and prices from rising, due to not having to pay workers more.

A Mark's official, however, said the minimum wage law was not the driving factor behind the company's recent closures. Joe Kondas, the director of communications for Mark's Pizzeria, said the Skaneateles location, as with the closed businesses in areas such as Clay, Cicero and Elbridge, were simply not profitable enough for the company to keep operating. The company also has its eyes on turning different locations into larger "super stores" with 60-90 seats — with three stores planned for renovations this year — and those closed locations weren't making enough of a profit, let alone earning enough, to justify expanding them.

Kondas said the company tried various means to make those closed locations more profitable.

"We tried to push the needle as much as we could," he said. 

Kondas said the company hopes that Harvard's venture does well, adding that Harvard and company founder Mark Crane are good friends.

Kondas said the Mark's location in Auburn will remain, adding that it is "very profitable" for the company. 

"We wish him all the best and we hope that with his format he can go forth and prosper," Kondas said.

Harvard said going from first being hired by Schneider to co-owning his own establishment has been "pretty wild." The newly named business has been doing well since discretely opening on Dec. 27.

"I've been doing this for 18 years; it's not much different, we're still making pizza," Harvard said.