Interviews & Profiles

NY’s new GOP Chair Ed Cox: ‘We are on the offensive’

After leading the GOP party for years, Cox is back with hopes to disrupt the Democratic supermajorities in Albany. And he called the recent chief judge saga a threat to democracy.

Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

After weeks of speculation, Ed Cox was officially reelected to serve as chair of the state Republican party on Monday. Cox led the party from 2009 to 2019 but decided against running for reelection after a poor showing for Republicans in 2018. He went on to work on his frenemy former president Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. 

Now Cox has returned to lead the party and hopes to build on the Republican Party’s gains on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley in the 2022 election cycle. Cox’s return coincides with Democrats’ launch of a high-dollar effort to retake control of Congress in 2024 – starting with six GOP seats in New York. The new chair also has high hopes to disrupt the Democratic supermajorities in Albany, while arguing Senate Democrats rejecting Gov. Kathy Hochul’s nominee for chief judge, Hector LaSalle, was a strike to the “essence of democracy.”

Fresh off of his reelection win, City & State caught up with Cox to discuss his decision to return to the helm of the state Republican party and his vision for the party as the 2024 election cycle heats up. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is your vision for the state Republican Party?

The vision for the Republican Party is to become a viable strong party – which we have proven that we are by the fact that we won 11 Congressional seats, rather than the four seats that the Democrats in Albany had tried to squeeze us into, and they would take the other 22 seats. Despite our really extraordinary victories with respect to congressional seats, we are still short of breaking the supermajorities that the Democrats have in the Senate and in the Assembly – and of course, they also have the governorship. That raises the issue that they have absolute power and absolute power corrupts absolutely. They have indeed been corrupted as shown in a very fundamental sense with respect to democracy in the fact that they are now trying to rip away from the governor – a Democratic governor no less – the power of appointment of the chief judge of the Court of Appeals. The way they have acted: for the first time ever the Senate rejected the nominee of the governor. They did it in an unconstitutional manner – as decided by the courts – and that is by doing it in (the Judiciary) Committee with a 10-9 vote. This really strikes to the very essence of democracy in a sense. The separation of powers is a foundation of our democracy. 

What strategies do you have to build on the GOP gains in the suburbs and on Long Island?

The Democrats did an extraordinary gerrymander coming out of the (Independent Redistricting) Commission. The Redistricting Commission couldn't come to a conclusion. At that point, the Democrats in the Legislature took the power to redistrict to an extreme and stuffed most of the Republicans into four districts, so they could get the other 22 districts. We were prepared for that, and this is something we'd worked on. It took two and a half years of work from start to finish and it cost $4 million from start to finish. It took the defeating amendments to the constitution that would remove some of our legal arguments in 2021. It took the Empire Center litigating to fund the Redistricting Commission because the Legislature didn't want to put in the $4 million to fund the commission. They wanted it to fail. It took work to make sure that the commission got the right testimony. We made sure that the legal process would have the testimony that needed to make its point to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Democrats in their gerrymander had violated the anti-gerrymander provisions of the state constitution. We took it to the highest court and we won. A special master redrew the districts and the result was in a competitive fight, because of national funding, we were able to win. Of the nine competitive districts, we managed to win eight of them plus the three that were generally Republican districts, as a result, we have a record of 11 Republican representatives in the House of Representatives. 

Now the problem is, the upcoming year is a presidential year in a blue state. That means a lot of Democrats will show up and vote. We need to defend those seats. The Democrats have set up a special war room (and) they’ve pledged $45 million. This is going to be a tremendous fight here in New York for control of the majority and the United States House of Representatives.

You received criticisms for Republicans’ performance in the 2018 elections, which led to many Republicans calling for your resignation. In hindsight, what is your perspective on your performance in that election?

Well, the problem there was the issue of the suburbs and for national reasons, we lost the suburbs all across the country. And especially in a blue state, such as New York, we need to regain the suburbs and, in fact, we have started to regain the suburbs by the wins in Nassau County where we now have the county exec, the legislature, towns; and I am convinced that in my home county of Suffolk County, we will win the county exec there along with the legislature. We will be doing very well in Suffolk County and Nassau County; we need to do the same in Westchester; we already have the county executive in Rockland County and then we need to do that all across upstate New York and the suburban areas of the major cities upstate New York. So we are on the offensive. 

Why do you think the party brought you back?

Well, we had built a team based around my executive director and my finance director when I was the chair of the party, and that team stayed together. We were the core of the redistricting fight on the political side and also on the legal side. So (after) that victory, that team moved over to do a super PAC for Lee Zeldin. We raised a total of $17 million that was spent in the last six weeks and helped his excellent campaign to get a lot of momentum. He ended up with 47% of the vote, which is extraordinary for a Republican in a year where the big red wave didn't really show up. He had raised a lot of money, but he spent it in his primary. So it was clear that he needed an independent expenditure to help his candidacy. That's why we did the independent expenditure campaign. 

So with those two victories, we had a team that battled hard in the redistricting fight and battled hard in supporting Lee Zeldin as a gubernatorial candidate. So coming out of that, this very strong team – which included me, a former executive director of the party, the former finance director of the party –  who were very good at what they did. It just made sense.

What has his biggest takeaway been from being away from leading the state Republican Party? Were there things you picked up being on the outside that you didn’t realize while serving as chair?

What I found was that I had the freedom to focus on some things that otherwise I could not have or as a matter of law could not have done. The political and legal complexity: the size of the team that had to work to defeat the amendments to make sure the commission got funded, to make sure that their commission testimony was right, to make sure you pick the right lawyers, to make sure you support them, to make sure you raise and fundraise. That was very complicated; I could not have done that whole effort without a full team. It was a different team than you would have in the state apparatus. I had a very terrific co-leader in John Faso and we work very closely as we have for 30 years in many things in politics. 

Given everything that happened with Rep. George Santos and the failed vetting process in Nassau County, does the state party plan to give county party leaders additional resources or guidelines on how to properly vet candidates for 2024?

We're all very knowledgeable that you need to vet candidates completely and that's what we've always done on the state level. I'm sure that our county parties will redouble their efforts with respect to vetting candidates going forward at all levels.