The state Republican convention opened Tuesday afternoon at the Sheraton Towers on Seventh Avenue and the first noise-making inside the hotel was from that old GOP warhorse, Richard Nixon. He came charging into the lobby like a Teabagger chasing down the last liberal. “Let me make it perfectly clear,” bellowed a mystery man in a rubber Nixon mask who had that old gargled voice down pat, “this is the Richard M. Nixon convention!” He tried to elbow his way onto the convention floor.
No such luck. Comic-senatorial candidate Randy Credico, who pulled a similar stunt at last month’s Democratic Party confab in Rye, didn’t make it past the credentials table. He did a quick act for the cameras and was gone.
It probably wasn’t a terrific omen that all the conventioneers, many of them wearing yellow Tea Party tee shirts, instantly recognized the needle-nosed former Prez and whipped out their camera-phones to take a shot. Nixon is gone to his San Clemente in the Clouds for 15 years already, and the only chief executive forced to quit mid-term has been out of the White House since 1974. You’d hope that he was far enough in the Republican rearview mirror to let this new generation forget all about those bad old days.
But the ghost still lingers. In this case, the steady reminder comes via Tricky Dick’s son-in-law, Ed Cox, who is the chairman of the state GOP and who is running this week’s convention. It’s not that Cox carries any direct echoes of his late dad-in-law. He seems a very decent fellow with a nice square Republican jaw, and a shock of sandy-gray hair that falls across his brow whenever he makes a point with his finger. But he has somehow managed to lead his party into the same sort of post-Watergate hole that takes a few years to climb out of.
Cox gave a welcoming speech that took lots of standard shots at Democrats and their tax and spend ways. “My friends, history is now on our side,” he said at one point, although he didn’t say exactly when this dialectical payoff was going to come. When he finished there was mild applause among the delegates who gradually rose to their feet. It was a pretty slow standing O, the way some sections of the upper deck at Shea were always reluctant to get up when the wave came their way.
The big problem for Cox is that by almost everyone’s count, his preferred candidate, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, doesn’t appear to have a chance of even being nominated at the chairman’s own convention. The candidate he rejected, Rick Lazio, is likely to take more than fifty percent of the delegate votes Wednesday afternoon. This is highly embarrassing for a party leader, but it’s nothing short of disaster this year for the Grand Old Party, since the elephant team doesn’t look to have a single genuinely strong contender running for any of the six statewide positions up for election this fall. Convention goers asked about their chances uniformly responded with lines like, “Well, with Andrew Cuomo you never know. He may just make this a real race by putting his foot in it.” Or: “Harry Wilson could be a real contender for comptroller.” True, and the Mets could still jump out in front. The season’s young.
The big talk of the convention is whether Levy, who could be seen working the back of the room in shirtsleeves with a cell phone stuck in his ear, can cut a deal to snare a few delegate votes to get the 25 percent he needs to qualify for the ballot. Getting to this threshold is do-or-die for Levy since he’s not officially even a Republican yet, having only switched parties earlier this year, and is not allowed to go the petition route.
The people who appear to be having the most fun at the convention are in the team around Carl Paladino, the multi-millionaire Buffalo businessman-candidate who just completed a week-long trip on a barge along the Erie Canal. “It’s just amazing, seeing the state this way,” he said. “What they did when they built that canal? It’s incredible.”
Paladino’s aides say Levy has been all but begging for a loan of a few of their delegates in order to make the cut. The reputed offer is that, in return, Levy will ante up enough votes to put Paladino over the top at the convention so that he too doesn’t have to go the petition route to get on the ballot.
“What do we need that for?” asked Paladino’s take-no-prisoners campaign aide, Michael Caputo. “We are going to be on the ballot regardless. They keep telling us, ‘It’ll be fun to have a three-some in the race.’ They sound like a Penthouse Forum. Well, we have zero interest in that. Zero interest.”
As he was talking, Lazio walked up to Paladino and the two men embraced. A few of the people in yellow Tee-shirts with the Tea Party coiled snake of liberty on the back snapped pictures.