When Nicholas A. Langworthy leads the Erie County delegation to the Republican State Convention in Manhattan next month, some grizzled old pol might just bar him from entering the smoke-filled backrooms.
With a kidlike mug and only 29 years old, Langworthy hardly looks old enough to smoke, let alone lead the Erie County Republican Party.
Yet that's exactly the position he assumes after the GOP County Committee meeting Wednesday. He becomes the youngest person to lead a local political party in anyone's memory.
To almost everyone who knows him, however, the son of a Chautauqua County tavern owner appears as a rising star in political circles, with more experience than many of his elders.
"He's where he is because of a combination of intelligence, political intuition and flat-out hard work," said former Niagara County Republican Chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek. "The fact that he's chairman at 29 does not surprise me in the slightest, and I could have told you that a long time ago."
Langworthy assumes command of upstate New York's biggest Republican organization at an optimistic time. As just-departed Chairman James P. Domagalski pursues the State Senate seat being vacated by longtime Republican incumbent Dale M. Volker, Langworthy looks for more GOP successes such as the election of Chris Collins as county executive and Chris Lee as congressman from the 26th District.
Still, he faces a pressure-filled challenge to elect Assemblyman Jack F. Quinn III to the State Senate seat held for nearly 30 years by Democrat William T. Stachowski in a contest that could determine control of the upper house. He also must tiptoe through a potentially divisive Senate primary pitting Domagalski against as many as three other Republicans (he enthusiastically backs Domagalski) and maneuver through rocky Republican waters leading to the nomination of a gubernatorial candidate.
Wednesday night, the GOP County Committee unanimously endorsed Domagalski for the Volker seat.
Langworthy said former Erie County Sheriff Patrick M. Gallivan, who has been considering a run for the State Senate, chose not to address the committee. "He called earlier to say he was not yet sure he would be a candidate for office, but was giving careful consideration to a potential candidacy," Langworthy said.
Lancaster Village Mayor William G. Cansdale Jr., who had been seeking the endorsement, did address the committee, Langworthy said, and another Senate hopeful, former East Aurora Mayor David J. DiPietro, did not attend.
Langworthy easily won his new post Wednesday, reflecting universal confidence among Republicans -- despite his age.
"He's ready-made for Erie County's good and tough politics," said former Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, Lee's predecessor, who trusted Langworthy to manage his two rough congressional campaigns in 2004 and 2006. "He has great instincts, a natural ability and savvy worthy of someone twice his age. Age will not be a factor for Nick Langworthy at all."
A graduate of Pine Valley Central School in South Dayton and Niagara University, Langworthy gravitated to politics as a kid. He was president of his class and the Student Council at Pine Valley, and by the time he got to Niagara, he knew he was bitten by the political bug.
He started a Niagara chapter of the College Republicans, became state president of the organization in 2001 and served as an intern to then-Gov. George E. Pataki. By 2002, he was managing Wojtaszek's unsuccessful congressional campaign against Democrat Louise M. Slaughter of Fairport -- at age 21.
"I've always loved politics," Langworthy said this week. "I'm going to win them over with my work ethic. No one is going to outwork me."
After The Buffalo News profiled him as the young manager of Wojtaszek's 2002 campaign, Reynolds recruited him for his staff. There he evolved into, as he describes himself now, "a behind-the-scenes guy."
"He certainly has been battle-tested in the campaigns he was with me," Reynolds said. "He was with me in '04 and again in '06 as a central figure in one of the most complex races in the country."
Langworthy refers to his work for Reynolds as "my master's degree." He left Reynolds' congressional staff in 2008 to manage Lee's successful congressional campaign and then joined his Amherst office.
Lee is also a fan, saying this week that Langworthy "knows what it takes to run a party, win elections and recruit solid candidates."
Now Langworthy will leave Lee to become the full-time, salaried chairman of the Erie County Republican Committee.
"I have to devote the energy to the party that I think is necessary," he said. "It will be a full-time commitment."
Langworthy said he has learned much from the three chairmen he has served -- Reynolds, Domagalski and Robert E. Davis.
The philosophy that Langworthy has distilled from them is simple, he said:
"Stick to our principles and win elections."
He calls 2010 a "fire wall election" because of the GOP's need to retake a Senate majority to prevent Democrats from reapportioning Republican lawmakers virtually out of existence in New York State. And while neither he nor his committee has officially committed to a candidate for governor, he sounds much like Domagalski in praising Buffalo businessman Carl P. Paladino.
"He's a guy who says in his message a lot of the same things people are saying in their living rooms," he said.
The new chairman says he relishes his new opportunity because county Republicans have an ability to win even on overwhelmingly Democratic turf.
Langworthy says he is willing to take advice. One of those offering it is Joseph F. Crangle, who became Erie County Democratic chairman in 1965 at age 33.
"There is one basic thing: Listen before you make a judgment," Crangle said. "Get the benefit of people who have been around, but realize there are new challenges and new ways of doing things."
As he begins his chairmanship, "I'm excited," Langworthy said. "We're really united now. Our opponents are not."