In Albany, Republicans Eye Greater Influence in Legislature

The state’s Republican Party suffered some major blows in this month’s elections, losing the governor’s office and all other statewide posts. But the GOP did make gains in the legislature that could leave the party with a power base in charge of the State Senate and deprive Democrats of a veto-proof majority in the Assembly.

Republican Party Chair Ed Cox, speaking just after elections, put the best spin on things, saying it’s tough to win seats in a “blue” state like New York.

“You need to rebuild the party brick by brick,” said Cox.

Cox says another element that hurt Republican candidates: Democrat Andrew Cuomo hijacked traditional GOP’s anti-tax and spending issues.

“Andrew Cuomo won by stealing our Republican clothes,” said Cox.

Cox struggled to coalesce party unity around a candidate for governor, at first supporting Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a Democrat who switched to the Republican Party to run. When that effort failed, he backed Rick Lazio, who lost the primary to Carl Paladino. After the primary, Cox stuck up for the Buffalo businessman, but admitted Paladino was an “inexpert” messenger who likely cost the GOP more votes than it won.

In recent days, as a concession to critics, Cox has let go his press secretary, Alex Carey, but says he intends to remain as party leader until his term is up next year.

There are still a handful of disputed Senate and Assembly elections that are undergoing recounts, but Republicans say if the current counts hold, they may end up controlling the State Senate. If that occurs, Republicans will have more say in redrawing new district lines in the next term, and will prevent Democrats from drawing them out of existence.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos would not comment on whether Cox should keep his post as party leader, saying he’s “not focused on that.”

“Right now I’m thinking about governing,” Skelos said. 

But Skelos says the GOP’s successes in the legislature, as well as in New York’s congressional districts, should count in the current chairman’s favor.

Perhaps the sleeper story on the elections was the Assembly Republicans’ gain of seven new seats. Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb says the victory was even more pronounced because 20 of his previous 42 GOP members retired this year. And he says it will have an impact for upstate and the New York City suburbs of Westchester and Long Island.

“We’ll have more membership on each of the committees, there’s more people standing up to debate on fiscal issues, especially the pocketbook issues,” said Kolb. “It changes the whole dynamic of the chamber.”

Kolb says if current recounts in two seats hold, the GOP may end up with 51 seats in the 150 seat Assembly. That means Democrats would not automatically have a two-thirds majority to override any potential vetoes, should the Democrats find themselves in disagreement with the new governor. 

Kolb says his team won the seats with very little help from the State Republican party, who he says were more focused on the other races. He says he has no hard feelings but, like Senator Skelos, he would not openly endorse Ed Cox to remain party leader, saying it’s up the rank and file to decide. But he says it would have been nice to have had more aid.

“You’d always love more help,” he said with a laugh. “Especially when it comes to raising money, because it’s hard to do.”

Kolb says if the GOP is seeking to rebuild, he knows where to look first. He says the Assembly Republican Conference has long been an incubator for future leaders. He says after all, former President Theodore Roosevelt and former Governor George Pataki were Assembly Republicans first.