Eager to win back control of Albany, New York’s Republicans engaged in a spirited battle over the top of their party’s ticket Wednesday at their convention in Manhattan, with supporters of Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a Democrat, struggling to get him on the ballot.
Although Levy, who had the backing of GOP state chairman Ed Cox, had enough support to get on the ballot had he been a Republican, 28 percent, he failed to muster enough support in a second roll call to allow him on the ballot before switched parties.
That left the field open for another Suffolk politician, former congressman Rick Lazio of Brightwater, who won the support of 59 percent of delegates at the convention at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Midtown.
The roll call over Levy’s candidacy became a raucous debate, with some delegates angrily rejecting the notion of a Democrat on the ticket, while others argued that voters should have the final say. Chants of “Just Say No” competed with chants of “Let The People Vote.” One delegate, when casting his vote against Levy’s inclusion, said “No Sheldon Silver Democrats.” Silver is the state Assembly speaker, and the longest serving leader in Albany.
Levy left the hotel in defeat and told reporters he would keep his options open in terms of petitioning to get on the ballot or running as an independent.
Lazio, best known for his unsuccessful Senate race against Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton a decade ago, was clearly relieved that he likely faces no expensive primary fight in September when he took the stage to accept the party’s designation for governor. His running mate is Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards. In all likelihood, Lazio will face Andrew Cuomo, the state attorney general, former federal housing secretary and son of three-term New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, in November.
"We are going to Albany and when we get there we are going to tear down the wall of incompetence and corruption," Lazio said in his acceptance speech. “The political insiders; they think they can run the state. But I’ve got news for them. Their days are numbered. With the tax hikes and chronic budget delays they have sown the seeds of their own destruction,”
He was referring to a the downfall of two Democrat governors, Eliot Spitzer and his successor, David Paterson, in unrelated scandals; in Spitzer’s case, his patronizing of prostitutes and in Paterson’s, his intervention in an investigation of complaints of domestic violence brought against a senior aide.
Lazio, 52, who gave up his House seat to run for Senate and became a lobbyist for Wall Street firms and later executive vice president at JP Morgan Chase, recalled an encounter in his childhood between his father, a small business owner and Republican activist, and Ronald Reagan, then the former governor of California and presidential hopeful, when the elder Lazio picked Reagan up from the airport for a New York appearance. When his father later suffered a stroke, Lazio reached out to Reagan and was able to get a personal message of hope for his recovery.
“It’s about doing the right thing, not because the press is there or the polls say it’s popular. It’s about doing the right thing when no one is watching. Because it’s the right thing to do.”
Republicans also picked candidates for Senate, comptroller and attorney general. Bruce Blakeman, a former member of the Nassau County Legislature, won the majority of support for the senate race against Democrat junior Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, while Gary Bernsten, a former CIA official, will take on two-term incumbent Charles Schumer, the third most powerful member of the Senate.
Harry Wilson, a member of President Barack Obama’s task force on overhauling the auto industry and the only Republican appointee, will take on state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, while Dan Donovan, the district attorney of Staten Island, will run for the open office of state attorney general to be vacated by Cuomo.
Republicans have not held statewide office since Gov. George Pataki decided not to seek a fourth term in 2006. They lost control of the state Senate in 2008, giving Democrats nearly unchecked power in the state, but the staggering economic crisis and the weak performance of Paterson could fuel plenty of crossover votes by the state’s majority of Democrats in November.
But personalities and message may play as much of a role as issues, says Doug Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College.
“The Republicans may have plenty of ammunition, but they don’t have anyone to pull the trigger,” said Muzzio. “What is the message: I’m angry, you’re angry and Andrew Cuomo is part of the establishment? I don’t know if people are going to buy that argument that Cuomo was part of the mess in Albany.”
Muzzio added that Cuomo has kicked off his campaign with power and precision, putting the left-wing Working Families Party on notice that he may not accept their nomination as prior Democrats have traditionally done and releasing an extensive policy agenda.
“He has produced a 240-page document that lays out in detail an agenda that’s almost unheard-of,” said Muzzio. “It talks about everything from changing organizational structure and tax reform and the necessities to reduce labor costs.”
The national director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Matthew Brooks, said the organization was deciding how much of its resources to spend on New York's races in this tumultuous election year, which could see a drastic shift in the leadership of Congress.
"We are looking at the entire national landscape and trying to assess where our members want to be active and how we are going to engage them in the process," said Brooks. "There are obviously a lot of good races in New York, and we are going to take a good, hard look at those. Our members are very interested in taking back the statehouse and hopefully bringing victory in the Senate races."
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