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Wojtaszek eyes the state

North Tonawanda's Henry Wojtaszek loves to talk about the Republican Party, and he'll have plenty of chances over the next few days.

The Niagara County GOP chairman hits Albany today to help kick off the big meeting of the New York Conservative Party, an important stop for someone with statewide ambitions.

On Tuesday he'll venture across the river to Troy and address the annual Lincoln Day dinner of Rennsalaer County Republicans. Next week it's off to Binghamton for the same routine in Broome County.

Wojtaszek isn't visiting Troy to stock up on Hembold's hot dogs or Binghamton for Lupo's spiedies (a little local color there). The 45-year-old attorney and former Navy officer is laying the groundwork to become state Republican chairman.

"I'll be talking about how we can get on the road back," he said a few days ago. "There have been mistakes. But obviously we've got to get out there and make things happen ourselves."

Indeed, Wojtaszek likes to make things happen. He's earned top-notch reviews for running the Niagara County party. He made a gutsy but futile congressional run against Louise Slaughter back in 2002, and was a serious contender for the GOP nod to succeed Tom Reynolds in Congress last year.

So while he's just a young whippersnapper compared to the Old Guard that runs the state GOP, he arrives with real credentials.

Wojtaszek is quick to talk about finding the right kind of candidate -- the way that Erie County chief Jim Domagalski (a close Wojtaszek ally) has recruited business types with an outside-of-politics view.

"I've learned from Tom Reynolds," he said. "You've got to find a candidate who fits the area. And you can't have a party that almost 'brags' about sending e-mails when you've got Obama out there owning the Internet."

So you can boil his message down to a few words -- modernize and recruit good candidates.

The only problem with all of this is that the state GOP has a chairman -- Joe Mondello of Nassau County and a fixture of Republican politics in New York State. By mastering the hardball ways of the Nassau County GOP for many years, he ranks as an official survivor.

Mondello is oft-criticized for a laid back style that rarely sees him venture beyond Long Island or Albany. And when you come right down to it, state Republicans are not exactly basking in success.

The party lost its last bastion of Albany power -- the Senate -- in 2008. And Democrats control the office of governor, comptroller, attorney general and both senators -- as well as the Legislature.

Combine that with an almost 2.5 million Democratic edge in enrollment across the state, and it doesn't get much worse.

So what does Wojtaszek say about Mondello? The guy who appointed him as vice chairman for upstate affairs?

"There is certainly a belief that much more can be done," Wojtaszek deftly answers. "And there's a good blueprint here in Western New York between Jim Domagalski and myself."

Mondello will be up for re-election in September. And while many in the party are grumbling, no Republicans have yet taken to the streets with torches and pitchforks.

And Mondello has taken a number of proactive steps in recent weeks, like appointing a commission to rejuvenate the party and welcoming new Republican National Chairman Michael Steele to Albany last week.

But the Republican Party in New York and nationally seems to be crying for a way out of the wilderness. Mondello may yet be one of those who provides the answers, but it appears that up-and-comers like Wojtaszek will either pressure the Old Guard for new ways -- or attempt to provide them themselves.


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