Joel A. Giambra's name never entered the official proceedings of the Erie County Republican Party's "governing principles convention" at the City Campus of Erie Community College on Saturday.
But the Republican county executive and his recent efforts to distance himself from his adopted GOP dominated much of the day's conversations. Following a county financial crisis that has grounded Giambra's once-soaring popularity and caused a split between him and the party, local Republicans seemed intent on charting a course for the post-Giambra era.
Erie County Republican Chairman Robert E. Davis would not say anything disparaging about Giambra, but made it clear the party is looking to the future. Others have said that Giambra's assertions that he follows a "Republican lite" philosophy or that he is not guided by party principles prompted the need to emphasize GOP ideals.
Davis said the party will soon form a search committee to seek a Republican candidate for county executive in 2007.
"This is all about going forward to the election cycle of this year, next year and '07," he said. "The fact that Joel has said he is not a candidate for re-election in '07 means it's important for us to define what we stand for today.
"Joel, as county executive and titular head of the Republican Party, has made his positions clear," Davis added. "We're making it clear what governing principles we want."
About 200 delegates adopted basic Republican stands on a host of national issues ranging from reaffirming the right to bear arms to standing up for the "sanctity of life and the traditional institution of marriage." They haggled over the wording of eight major resolutions, but never wavered in supporting other concepts like limited taxation and "right sizing" government.
For just about everyone attending, it seemed an energizing affair.
"I think this is long overdue, especially at this time with so much uncertainity," said John Long, who was the Town of Tonawanda GOP chairman for 20 years. "It seems to me that over the last three or four years, our party has gotten off the path we set out on many years ago. It's time to bring the party back to its proper focus."
Some of Giambra's former top assistants -- like Carl J. Calabrese, Marina P. Woolcock and Jeffrey W. Hammond -- helped run the affair. All were considered "true" Republicans who have broken with the county executive, a former Democrat whose inner circle now is comprised to a large degree by former Democrats, current Democrats and long-time friends.
"I think there is a need to redefine our values and core principles," said Calabrese, the former deputy county executive.
Before Saturday's session, Giambra said he had not been asked to participate, and felt he was too busy with budget matters anyway. But he noted the successes that he and the party enjoyed in the past.
"I hope they adopt the philosophy that brought us together, like reducing the cost and size of government," he said.