It was Collins' first appearance at the dinner, Chairman Mike Long said, and he was seated at the head dais. Also up front was Rick Lazio, the former congressman who lost the 2000 Senate race to Hillary Clinton. Both men are possible Republican candidates for governor in 2010.
"I invited him because I got wind that he was doing some good work up there. I brought him in because he's a new face, and we're trying to energize the people around the state," Long said of Collins, adding that he met the first-term executive at the party conference in February. There are no set criteria for the prime seating, Long said, it's usually people who have been "helpful to the party, it's people that I want to give some exposure to and let the world know that we're looking at."
"I like to give those people the opportunity to display their wares," he said.
I asked Long about Lazio, and the fact that there two gubernatorial hopefuls in the same spotlight.
"He's got both feet in the water, he told me last night, and Chris Collins is looking to test the water," he replied.
Joining Long, other party officials, Lee and Lazio up front were freshman Republican representative Chris Lee, talk show host Curtis Sliwa, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, former assemblyman John Faso, pundit Larry Kudlow, supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis, Rockland County Executive Scott Vanderhoef and radio host Jim Kerr, who served as emcee. Senator Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, gave the keynote address.
Ed Cox, who is also pondering a gubernatorial run, made an appearance, as did George Pataki, who has talked about running for the U.S. Senate, and Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos.
With the exception of Lazio, these men are in a state of suspension until Rudy Giuliani makes a decision as to whether he will seek statewide office.
Giuliani, Long said, did not attend.