New York State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox is refusing calls for his resignation, despite a party that is livid with his performance in recent years. Cox has held the party’s chairmanship since 2009, during which time he has failed to field a single successful statewide candidate and the party’s control of the Senate chamber was lost.
Few in the party believe that Cox will remain in his position through September when his term is scheduled to expire. Many party officials want Cox to resign the post ahead of the opening of the State Legislature’s next session in January so that the party can be led more effectively with an opposition posture.
They argue that Cox lacks the political instincts and a willingness to aggressively work his social circles for fundraising and party building. Cox, who is the son-in-law of President Richard Nixon, lives in Manhattan and sees the world very differently than the typical New York Republican living on Long Island, Staten Island, or Buffalo.
“[Ed Cox] doesn’t have the capacity to lead this party because he is not of us,” explains one Tea Party activist. “He is behaving like an enlightenment philosopher who asks, during the French Revolution, ‘Where are my people going? I must find out so that I can lead them.”
Many in the party believe Cox to be beholden to John Catsimatidis, the New York City businessman estimated to be worth more than $3.4 billion. Cox’s son, Chris, married Catsimatidis’ daughter, Andrea, in 2011. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Chuck Schumer, and a dozen members of Congress and other dignitaries were in attendance.
Catsimatidis is a Republican but with more centrist leanings. He controls the waning Reform Party in New York, which just recently lost its ballot status, earning fewer than 50,000 votes in the last gubernatorial election. The party was pursuing a sweeping package of election law reforms, including ranked-choice voting and ballot initiatives and referendums.
Catsimatidis owns two radio stations in the New York metropolitan area, including WABC, which employs Reform Party Chairman Curtis Sliwa and former Fox News personality Rita Cosby as its drive home radio hosts. Catsimatidis has his own Sunday morning program that airs on several stations along the East Coast.
Catsimatidis and Cox had been on the verge of making history earlier this year, in a secret effort to end the Conservative Party and marginalize its chairman, Mike Long. The two men shared the objective of weakening the Conservative Party’s influence in Republican primaries, which would allow for the big-tent strategy that could grow the party in heavily Democrat-enrolled areas of the state.
The Reform Party planned to field its own candidate, Joel Giambra, in an effort to secure the 50,000 votes needed for the party to maintain its ballot status. If Giambra had been the Republican and Reform nominees, there was an opportunity to displace the Conservative Party’s ballot line. The new alignment would have ended the culture wars and put election reform at the center of the Republican discourse.
Catsimatidis saw the ‘reform’ brand as a way to broaden the Republican Party’s appeal. With a gubernatorial candidate telling people to vote on the Reform line rather than the Conservative line (as Giambra had been), the party could have rebranded its political coalition in a fell swoop that could have ended the Conservative Party’s ballot access and marginalized Long.
But Long threatened nearly every county chairman in the state. If they supported Giambra at the party’s nominating convention, Long would withhold the Conservative line from every local candidate they endorsed.
Giambra has long blamed Long for “castrating the Republican Party in New York.” Long remains hell-bent on pushing conservative cultural issues like abortion and gay marriage, often in primary contexts that push Republican officeholders further to the right, making them uncompetitive in districts where Democrats usually outnumber Republicans by wide margins.
The Republican electorate in western and upstate New York is demanding to become the new seat of leadership. Without a State Senate majority, the party is without any lever of power in state government — something that is particularly infuriating upstate, which lacks influence in the state capitol. If the party can’t retake the chamber in 2020, it will be redistricted out of existence in 2021, an unacceptable possibility to many party officials.
Many party donors and officials are coalescing behind former United States Ambassador Anthony Gioia, a prolific party fundraiser, to succeed Cox. Gioia is a wealthy Buffalo-area businessman widely credited for his party-building efforts. He secured significant backing for George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Jeb Bush.
Erie County Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy has long been considered a bright and capable leader emerging inside the party. His name is often floated as a potential successor to Cox and he has the backing of former gubernatorial nominee Carl Paladino. Other Western New Yorkers being floated for the chairmanship include Giambra, former Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, and former Congressman Tom Reynolds.