Erie County Republican Chairman Jim Domagalski chose a most appropriate setting to introduce his county executive search committee last Monday morning -- the Georgian Room of Statler Towers.
Like Domagalski's GOP, it has seen better days. There's an aura of faded glory about it. And it cries out for a savior to restore it as a place linked with power and success.
The Georgian Room clearly represents the chairman's tough assignment. His party now lags behind Democrats by a record 144,000 voters. The GOP just got whacked across the country and the state. And the Republican administration of current County Executive Joel Giambra tops few popularity polls these days.
But he believes it's not impossible.
"The Erie County Republican Committee is committed to a new approach, and most importantly, a new direction for Erie County," Domagalski said Monday.
That's why his search process and the people he is soliciting prove so interesting. He is adamant about finding someone with feet in both the government and private sectors, as well as a record of community service.
You might think that means Chris Jacobs, the former New York secretary of state who is a successful private developer with a long record in education -- including serving on the Buffalo Board of Education.
Jacobs is interested and will decide within a week, even if he knows the Republican pendulum has swung to the negative. He has won elections in the city, and scored a healthy 44 percent in last year's special election for Mayor Byron Brown's State Senate seat. He comes from a well-known family and can bring some of his own dollars to the effort.
"It's up to me now to decide if I have the full fire in the belly," he said last week. "But I have to say -- humbly -- that I think I'd be good at it."
But many wonder if Jacobs is Domagalski's guy. There has been little contact between the two. The chairman continues to emphasize the names of people who nicely fit the bill but who are not interested. It's possible he has already quietly identified his own candidate.
Maybe a woman? Maybe a high-profile business type? Maybe Dennis Vacco, co-chairman of his search committee, will "pull a Cheney" and emerge as the candidate? That's how Dick Cheney joined the 2000 GOP ticket after leading George Bush's vice presidential search. Those who know Vacco say the former attorney general still has another big race left in him.
Meanwhile, the Democrats keep rolling along. Jim Keane, the former deputy county executive, will formally launch his campaign on Jan. 26 at the Ironworkers Hall in West Seneca. He expects to draw his usual room-busting crowd and this week will report about $120,000 in his campaign account.
West Seneca Supervisor Paul Clark will report much more -- maybe around $400,000 -- with about $200,000 of his own money. That's serious coin. And his close relationship with Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph Lorigo makes him a serious candidate, too.
Add the strengths of County Legislature Chairman Lynn Marinelli and Amherst Council Member Dan Ward -- maybe former Mayor Jim Griffin -- and it's clear the Dems are way out in front in organization and fund-raising while the Republicans are just getting started.
Domagalski remains unfazed. He knows the Democrats will almost certainly beat up each other in their traditional September fratricide. And he knows Republicans can elect countywide candidates when the stars, moons and planets align just right.
The chairman also realizes a British developer has purchased Statler Towers and promises to rehabilitate the venerable downtown landmark. With money and effort, the Georgian Room someday will be restored.
It's conceivable that the same ingredients, along with a little luck, can accomplish the same for Domagalski's GOP.