As Cox Marches Along, Some Wojtaszek Supporters Hint at a Deal

ALBANY—Henry Wojtaszek's ongoing campaign to become Republican state chairman has taken a turn toward the negative, with his affiliated operatives telling county chairs that his opponent, Ed Cox, was affiliated with Andrew Cuomo in 2006.

"I did get a call from a friend of mine who said he had heard that Ed Cox, back in 2006, had been supportive of Andrew Cuomo as the attorney general," Jasper Nolan, the Saratoga County chairman who has endorsed Wojtaszek, told me. "I am concerned about Ed Cox and his earlier relationship, if in fact that can be proven. There does seem to be some credibility there."

Liz reported this earlier Thursday, and in conversations with Republicans around the state I've heard that the steady drumbeat of pro-Wojtaszek lobbying—by Al D'Amato, Tom Reynolds, Dennis Vacco and surrogates of Rudy Giuliani and George Pataki—has continued.

All that considered, it doesn't seem to be working, and the consensus among people I've talked to is that Giuliani didn't go far enough in committing to a run for governor or some other statewide office, and that Wojtaszek is simply too far behind Cox in terms of declared support to make up a deficit. Another county fell to Cox today when John DeSpirito III, the Onondaga County Republican chairman, endorsed him.

"I've received calls from the mayor, his staff, and other people, and I've also received calls from Ed," DeSpirito told me this afternoon. "We've been pondering this for the last two weeks very heavily, and we eventually decided to come out for Ed."

DeSpirito worked for Giuliani's presidential run, and was one of a handful of county chairs to receive a personal call from the former mayor. He still remains hopeful the mayor will run—every Republican I talked to today does, but they're not necessarily optimistic it will come to pass—and said he's "very confident that Ed and the mayor will get along."

One elected Republican put it to me this way: "If Giuliani said, ‘I'm running for this, and Henry is going to be my guy,' then a lot of people would be giving him the benefit of the doubt. But he's not doing that! So he can make all the calls he wants."

Jim Domagalski, the Erie County Republican chairman, told me by phone that he remains undeclared pending a meeting with his committee (he said that a letter he sent talking up County Executive Chris Collins wasn't related to this chairmanship struggle) but said this: "I think Rudy Giuliani is one of the great Americans of my lifetime and I hold him in the highest regard, and I would support him for governor if he announced today. So I certainly am respective and always attentive to what his thoughts are. But I believe that political parties aren't built on people. … I think that that's where political parties aren't well served, when they're built on individual personalities. I think they're best built by ideals and principles."

Nolan and Warren County's Mike Grasso, another chairman loyal to Wojtaszek, said that Giuliani's support of the Niagara County chair fueled their support. But Grasso hinted at an exit strategy for Wojtaszek, and both Grasso and Nolan had nothing but good things to say about Cox.

Grasso regretted things had gotten so "polarized" and likened Cox's aggressive out-of-the-box strategy to a "steamroller."

"What we need to do as Republican chairmen is determine our future, determine who we want to run for governor, and figure out who that person is most comfortable with," he said. "As in all of these things, there's always negotiations whenever there's this type of position involved, so there's always backroom politics or what have you. But certainly if the leaders can work it out among themselves, so much the better."

Nolan yesterday alluded to a similar arrangement.

"I feel that, hopefully, it could end up being Mr. Cox and Mr. Wojtaszek working out some agreements that will assure that the upstate chairman, especially ones out in the west, that certain things will be taken care of so it doesn't end up just being back in New York City," he said.

One Republican operative suggested that Wojtaszek might base himself upstate and have more of a day-to-day administrative role while Cox stayed in Manhattan. It's unclear whether either man would be interested in this, or if it could work.

"That marriage will last as long, probably, as Elizabeth Taylor's third or fourth marriage," said the operative. "It doesn't matter which."