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Lazio, Cox visits signal campaign is under way

Criticism of President Obama's "Chicago-style politics" and a call for drastic overhaul of state government highlighted the Wednesday appearances of two top New York Republicans in yet another sign that the 2010 campaign for governor is well under way.

New State Republican Chairman Edward F. Cox and newly declared gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio both tried to portray the embattled GOP in a new light -- each insisting that Republicans offer new solutions to state problems that Democrats have not even begun to solve.

"The cause of the huge problems that New York State faces can be traced back to the fact we have one-party rule," said Cox, the Manhattan attorney who earlier this month beat out Niagara County Republican Chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek for the state party's top spot.

"This is a huge opportunity for the Republican Party to do something good for New York State," he added.

Later in the day, Lazio addressed reporters at the Best Western Hotel on Delaware Avenue and immediately and emphatically retreated from his 2000 observation that the upstate economy had "turned the corner." The former Long Island congressman, in league with then-Gov. George E. Pataki, made the comment during a televised debate from Buffalo against Senate opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"These nine years have not been good for the state or for Western New York," Lazio said. "It's clear that whatever I saw nine years ago was a false start at best -- and maybe I was just plain wrong. The fact is, we have not turned the corner."

The visits by both high-profile Republicans piggyback on several days of confusion and setbacks for incumbent Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson, who is plagued by low poll ratings and Obama's not-so-subtle suggestion that he not run next year. That caused Cox, the son-in-law of the late President Richard M. Nixon, to denounce the president's tactics.

"To have that kind of interference by the president of the United States . . . that's not what the president of the United States should do," he said, blaming White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel -- a former Chicago congressman.

"For President Obama to meddle in our politics as he has -- and frankly, I think it's Rahm Emmanuel -- is using Chicago-style politics and bringing it into New York State," Cox said. "I think it's inappropriate."

The new chairman, joined by Erie County Republican Chairman James P. Domagalski in new GOP headquarters at 715 Main St., praised Lazio and other prospective candidates, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and County Executive Chris Collins. While emphasizing he has no favorite in the race at this time, he seemed to go out of his way to laud Collins for his performance over the past 21 months.

"Take a look at what Chris Collins has done for Erie County," he said, referring to the county executive's hopes for a $30 million surplus this year. "There is a good leader and a good statewide, potential candidate for governor.

"My role is to find the very best candidate," he added. "But we have an awfully good candidate in Erie County."

Cox was accompanied to Buffalo by Michael J. Hook, the Lancaster native who is now a top Washington political consultant -- and who also works for Collins.

The county executive has not said he is running for governor but was touting his administration's accomplishments as recently as Tuesday before a Republican gathering in Genesee County.

Lazio, meanwhile, said he recognizes the need to re-introduce himself to New Yorkers after working on Wall Street for the past nine years, especially with polls showing few voters still familiar with his name.

"This is how you do it; you start by communicating with the people of New York," he said. "This is very much about engaging people."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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