Ever since GOP stalwarts Anthony H. Gioia and Patrick P. Lee announced their intention to hold a fundraiser for Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins, the two have encountered subtle pushback from some other Republicans.
Carl P. Paladino, though, is anything but subtle. The 2010 GOP candidate for governor says he and some like-minded friends will show up outside Gioia’s Meadow Road home Monday to protest the two influential Republicans’ support for one of New York State’s major Democrats - as well as someone Paladino holds in political and personal contempt.
“They’re all a bunch of RINOs,” Paladino said, referring to ardent conservatives’ name for those they consider Republicans in Name Only. “It will be me, some heavy hitters, and some tea party types.”
Paladino’s protest and his mounting opposition to “RINOs” are coming just as New York State Republicans begin seeking a strong candidate to challenge Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo next year. Paladino has threatened to reprise his 2010 candidacy on the Conservative line if the GOP fails to nominate someone with money and name recognition. He also says the candidate must pass his test of being sufficiently conservative.
This local battle between more traditional and more conservative Republicans mirrors similar conflicts in Washington where the GOP establishment appears to be growing tired of the influence of tea party conservatives.
“They’re using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous," House Speaker John A. Boehner said this past week after a budget deal was announced that avoids a government shutdown.
Paladino plans to meet later this week with Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a leading contender for the Republican nomination for governor. Astorino will attend the Erie County Republican Party’s annual holiday party at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo and is emerging as the front-runner for the GOP nod.
But Paladino has said in the past that Astorino “hangs out with RINOs,” and their meeting Wednesday is expected to play a significant role in whether Paladino will support an Astorino candidacy.
“I’ll be meeting with him,” Paladino said. “We’re going to talk.”
Now, just prior to Astorino’s visit here and as state Republican Chairman Edward F. Cox drums up support around the Westchester hopeful, Paladino appears to be revving up his anti-RINO campaign.
And that’s where Monday’s GOP fundraiser for Higgins comes in to play.
Even though former Republican Reps. Thomas M. Reynolds of Clarence, Jack F. Quinn Jr. of Hamburg, and Amo Houghton of Corning have signed on to the Gioia-Lee affair as co-sponsors, other Republicans have reacted with skepticism.
Paul Harder, chairman of Rep. Chris Collins’ fundraising efforts, invited prospective donors to a Dec. 9 event for the Clarence Republican with letters noting the Higgins affair and seeking support from “REAL Republicans.”
And one Republican official who asked not to be identified also registered his opposition at the time the Higgins event was announced.
“I’m greatly irritated by it,” the Republican said. “There’s no candidate against him, and that’s all the more reason why it’s not necessary.”
With Higgins occupying a safe Democratic seat and with plenty of money in his campaign treasury already, the fundraiser amounts to overkill, the Republican said.
“Brian is just going to give it to Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Headquarters, anyway,” the Republican said, referring to the House Democratic leader and hinting that Higgins will be free to funnel his excess money toward other Democratic campaigns across the country.
But Paladino’s latest move makes no sense to Gioia, a retired Buffalo businessman and former ambassador to Malta who over the years has raised millions of dollars for national, statewide and local Republicans. He and Lee, another Buffalo businessman and philanthropist, announced in November they would take the unusual step of raising money for Higgins.
Gioia noted that Paladino accepted a significant donation from him during the gubernatorial campaign. Gioia also said Paladino has attended many other Gioia-sponsored fundraisers in the past.
After raising more money for Republicans – including presidential candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney – than any other local Republican, Gioia said he finds it hard to believe Paladino can be so upset.
“If they think they’re going to shake me down or intimidate me, they’ve got to be kidding,” he said. “Carl has done some good things, particularly on the school board. But this won’t change my behavior one iota. I’m proud to support Brian.”
He also questioned Paladino’s enlistment of tea party colleagues for the Monday protest, noting its requirement to be “100 percent pure” in all elections.
“I subscribe to what William F. Buckley said – that you nominate the most conservative people you can who can get elected,” he said. “The tea party has forgotten that in the past.”
Paladino, meanwhile, continues to single out Higgins for his sharpest criticism. The real estate developer portrayed the congressman as a Pelosi puppet on a Scott Street billboard for several months earlier this year. And The Buffalo News profiled the deeply personal feud between the two in March, featuring particularly caustic barbs aimed by both men toward each other. The two are South Buffalo neighbors and related by marriage.
“I don’t respect him, his politics, his demeanor nor his personality,” Paladino said then, citing Higgins’ “arrogance.”
In turn, the congressman shot back.
“Carl is the worst kind of coward this community will ever know,” Higgins said. “He hides behind his dirty money and sits in his Ellicott Square cave spewing his venom and hateful emails every day. He’s pathetic, disgraceful and a broken man.”
Higgins declined to comment for this story.
Gioia, meanwhile, said he resented Paladino’s implications and noted that he is free to express his politics any way he wants. He also noted that while serving from 2001 to 2004 as ambassador to Malta, the island nation served as a major port of call for the Navy.
“We met thousands and thousands of Marines and sailors and never once asked them about their affiliation,” Gioia said. “Because they were Americans. It didn’t matter.
“This all needs to be said,” he added. “There’s been enough of this stuff on both sides.”