By Bob McCarthy
The Jan. 1 news dropped onto New York Republicans about as welcome as a New Year’s hangover.
Harry Wilson, the Westchester County financier who was actively exploring a challenge to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo this year, passed on a campaign the GOP desperately wanted him to embrace.
“I have been highly reluctant to rule out running because I very much would like to run and do everything I can to make New York a better place,” Wilson said. “I just don’t know how to do that now and be the father and husband that I want and need to be at the same time.”
Kaboom. Kaput. That’s all she wrote – some of the colorful expressions of disappointment stemming from GOP lairs around the state. Others, we presume, were more colorful.
“Calling hours are 2-4 and 7-9,” observed one local Republican.
Signals of Wilson’s reluctance became obvious in recent weeks. He was not talking very much to reporters, a sure sign in itself. Influential GOP chairmen like Erie’s Nick Langworthy went down to Scarsdale to encourage him, only to return realizing the best candidate the underdog Repubs could field – the man with at least a fighting chance in overwhelmingly Democratic New York – would remain on the sidelines.
The Republicans’ Conservative allies are also disappointed.
“My primary issue is the New York economy,” said Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph Lorigo. “That’s where Harry Wilson would have been such an excellent, excellent candidate.”
Wilson may not sport a household name, but he is not totally invisible either. In 2010 he ran a more than respectable race for comptroller against Democrat Tom DiNapoli. He’s been warming up in the Republican bullpen ever since.
And, oh yes, Wilson was talking about committing 10 million of his own dollars to the race. That caught their attention.
Now state Chairman Ed Cox and his crew turn to the bench – State Sen. John DeFrancisco of Syracuse and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb of Canandaigua. Both are well-known in their hometowns and in Albany, but not much farther. And neither carries a wallet as stuffed as Wilson’s.
“What about Joel Giambra?” you ask. “Hasn’t the former Erie County executive declared his candidacy, too?”
Indeed, he has. Giambra met with Republican chairmen in Albany last Monday. Apparently, most of them had scrutinized the former Democrat’s still active campaign finance account and all of those contributions to Dems like Hillary Clinton, Bill deBlasio and Cuomo – yes, Cuomo.
By all accounts, Giambra is making no progress with his adopted party.
“In my mind, after Monday, it’s down to John DeFrancisco and Brian Kolb,” said Onondaga Republican Chairman Tom Dadey, an influential leader in the state party. “Joel Giambra getting the nomination of this party is a nonstarter.”
Dadey notes that as a lobbyist for former Sen. Al D’Amato’s Park Strategies firm, Giambra served as a major fundraiser for all those Democrats. He even sponsored a deBlasio event several years ago in Buffalo.
Still, Giambra soldiers on. He met for 90 minutes in Manhattan on Wednesday with Cox, and those close to him think it went well.
“It’s good they had a nice, long talk to get everything out, and we’ll see where it goes,” Giambra spokesman Tony Farina said. “Joel made it clear he’s serious about this as a moderate, libertarian in the George Pataki mode.”
Farina said Giambra spent much of last week in New York City, and will unveil a plan next week to deal with its crumbling mass transit system.
The candidate has also retained the influential Casale Group of Cooperstown and continues to emphasize that only his Republican brand can prosper in New York State.
But making that case in an era of a Republican Party geared more toward Donald Trump than Nelson Rockefeller remains his major challenge.