New York State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox had a better summer this year than last—his work on Bob Turner’s campaign in the Ninth Congressional District could go a long way toward erasing bad memories of the open war between GOP members during the gubernatorial primary last year. He spoke with The Capitol about what’s going right for New York Republicans, the presidential primary candidates and how Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes it easy to be a Republican in New York State.
The Capitol: It seems as though you and the New York State Republican Party are on the upswing, with your win in the Ninth District. What’s the prognosis for the state’s GOP?
Ed Cox: Yes! The New York Republican Party is back in New York State. It started with the 2009 local elections which even though they weren’t the most noticed, were the most significant. In those two elections we won the county executive race in Westchester County, in a 2-to-1 Democratic county, with a fiscally conservative candidate [Rob Astorino]. We beat Tom Suozzi, who was a very big name in Nassau County, with a virtual unknown. We won the comptrollership in Nassau County, we won the Legislature in Nassau County, in Dutchess County, in Ulster, Saratoga, Monroe, Orange and Erie Counties. That was just the 2009 election. It really redefined the politics of New York State, such that not just the Republican candidate but also the Democratic candidate for governor ran as a fiscal conservative.
TC: You took a lot of heat for your candidate choices in the Republican gubernatorial primary last year, but you pushed for Bob Turner this year, and that seems like a smart move in hindsight. Do you feel vindicated?
EC: Look, the object was to win, so while I did feel that we had other good candidates, to convert a really strong capable politician who’s a real fiscal conservative such as Steve Levy to be a Republican and to run [for governor]—he was clearly the strongest candidate that we had. Now, whenever you do something like that, you’re going to ruffle feathers. He would have been the most effective candidate against Cuomo. There were some people here in the party, basically consultants, who really wanted to get their hands on the get-out-the-vote operation and on the national party, so they convinced the national party to turn on Levy, et cetera, et cetera. We weren’t united as a party that way. They weren’t behind the best candidate, for the wrong reasons. A lot of people made a lot of noise, and most of those people were consultants, who were no longer benefiting from the party, because the party was now doing some serious things. But also, Andrew Cuomo was very smart politically. He stole our clothes. He started talking Republican.
TC: It seems Cuomo never took off those Republican clothes. How much of the favorable climate for Republicans in the state now is because of his cooperation with party leaders?
EC: The object of this whole process is to make government work well for the people of the state. I mean, the reason I’m doing this job is because I felt it was very important. As [Mississippi Gov.] Haley Barbour once told me, “Ed, if you don’t have a strong state party and you try to win elections, you’re drawing to an inside straight.” I told him I saw this big wave coming after the ’08 election. I tried to run around and find other people who would be chairman of the state party, and no one else would do it. So I put myself out there. And the base of the party elected me. We raised money, went right into those ’09 elections and we won. That was a real message, and the Democrats, and certainly Andrew Cuomo, picked it up. The governor on these major fiscal issues has been on track. That’s why the state has gotten the good government it got over the last legislative session. Now, there are things that are left undone; for example, we have a hard property tax cap, but we do not have mandate relief. The governor, on the gay marriage issue, very adroitly pushed it through the Legislature, but that absorbed a lot of political energy that prevented mandate relief and pension reform, and some other major economic issues from getting resolved.
TC: In the Ninth Congressional District race, why do you think the Republicans were able to be unified, where they’ve had so much trouble in the past?
EC: It was all behind-the-scenes. We worked together with the NRCC and the RNC. Out front you have the candidate, the campaign manager. They were out front doing their jobs, and doing them well. We selected the right candidate, and Ed Koch clearly got along well with Bob Turner and they respected each other. Ed Koch said, “The president of the United States has thrown Israel under the bus,” and that became part of our message, because Bob Turner agreed with that. The fact of Ed Koch coming in, in one of the most Jewish districts in the United States, had a huge impact. He sensed this campaign was ready to deliver a message he thought needed to be delivered to the president. In the end the bottom result is, as James Carville said, the White House should panic. In this race we were outspent three to one, and the last time a Republican held the seat was 1923. It is an inner suburb, filled with Reagan Democrats. The Reagan Democrats in the inner suburbs in 2008 gave Obama the benefit of the doubt, but now they’ve turned very hard against him and voted Republican. It’s a very working-class area. They want to be in place in a real community where they can raise their families. These are the people that make the city run, these Reagan Democrats. They exist in every other inner suburb in every major city all across the country. If they vote Republican in 2012, Obama will lose.
TC: Speaking of the presidential race, what do you think of the Republican national primary candidates?
EC: New York State has been visited over the past several weeks by, really, two very good candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. I am a neutral in the process. I am supportive of any candidate who comes to New York State, because that’s good for the state and building the party. We are now in “party-building mode.” We want to put the structure in statewide that stands for pro-growth, pro-business programs, to make it easy for entrepreneurs to build businesses here. We want to stop the hemorrhaging of our most productive citizens.
TC: Did you have conversations with either of the candidates about the issues?
EC: Two weekends ago I was with Governor Romney at his fund-raisers out on Long Island, and this week I was with Governor Perry at various events with him. As the congressional district vote showed in NY-9 that there was a huge discouragement among the voting public with President Obama, we all realized we have a very good chance of winning the presidency. For the candidates, New York is very important to them. This is where money can be raised, this is where they can get national media and many of the ethnic centers are here, so the candidates can interact with ethnic groups that are important to their message to get out what they want to say about their campaigns. I think New York can play a major role in this primary. By their being very active here, it builds excitement in the party.
TC: Your summer wasn’t just exciting politically. At the beginning, your son Chris Cox married Andrea Catsimatidis. How was the wedding? How are the newlyweds?
EC: Oh, it was great. So great. They are just so much in love. We had so many friends and family there, so many that they filled the whole church, the Greek Orthodox cathedral. And they were so much in love that it filled the whole wedding ceremony and the reception with love. It was a wonderful ceremony with lots of symbolism. It’s been a wonderful summer.
Tags: Andrew Cuomo, Bob Turner, Chris Cox, Ed Cox, New York State, New York State GOP, Ninth Congressional District, primary, Republican Party, Rick Lazio, Rob Astorino, Steve Levy, The Capitol, Tom Suozzi
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