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STATE GOP LEADERS CALL PARTY STRONG
NEW CHAIRMAN SAYS ORGANIZATION WILL GET BACK ON TRACK

New York's Republican Party leadership proclaimed its organization strong and ready to make political inroads in 2006.

This despite the fact that the party lost seats in the State Senate and Assembly, saw its U.S. Senate candidate lose by the biggest margin in state history and had another presidential candidate fail to carry the state.

The party's cheerleading session came as its leaders Monday picked a new state chairman, Monroe County GOP leader Stephen Minarik, to pump new energy into an organization that some top Republicans say is drifting and without vision.

"Rest assured, we will get back up. We will be stronger," Minarik told GOP officials just after they named him the new party leader to replace Alexander Treadwell, who, like Minarik, was the handpicked candidate of Gov. George E. Pataki.

Minarik's elevation came after two Republican members of Congress from New York -- John Sweeney and Peter King -- last week criticized the direction of the state party. Pataki has also been sharply criticized by some Republicans for spending more time flying around the country stumping for President Bush's re-election and GOP candidates in other states than he did for New York Republicans.

Monday, there was no such talk, as party leaders sought instead to focus on new party-building efforts and plans to work more cooperatively with local GOP leaders.

Pataki urged the GOP officials to beef up their efforts to win all the statewide contests in 2006 -- which happens to be the year that Pataki may, or may not, run for his fourth term. Pataki reiterated Monday that he has made no decision about his plans for 2006. But he insisted he has no interest in a job in the Bush administration in Washington, despite rampant speculation over the past weeks that he wants out of Albany.

"I don't want any of those openings. I intend to stay here," Pataki said. He added, "I don't want to go to Washington. I've never wanted to go to Washington. I would have gone to Washington four years ago if I wanted to go to Washington. I'm the governor, and I hope I'm the governor for some time to come."

Despite the public face GOP leaders sought to put on the state of the party, insiders have been growing increasingly frustrated that the party has become too focused on Pataki and not enough on building up a political bench to win other seats. Democrats, whose ranks already outnumber Republicans 5 to 3 in the state, have registered far more voters in the past year, and the elections two weeks ago produced much sour news for the Republicans on the state level.

Some Republicans say work is needed.

"We've got to get back to some basics regarding building the grass roots and our operations, no doubt about it," said Robert Davis, chairman of the Erie County Republican Party.

Party leaders hope Minarik will do for the state's GOP what he has accomplished the past decade in Monroe County, where Republicans have won county executive races and taken over the County Legislature, despite a Democratic enrollment edge.

Party officials describe Minarik as a more in-your-face style of leader, compared with the soft-spoken Treadwell, who was selected Monday as one of the New York representatives to the Republican National Committee.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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