On Dec. 10, the former governor of Massachusetts, William F. Weld, sat down with New York’s former Secretary of State, Randy Daniels, for a late-morning chat over soul food at Amy Ruth’s Restaurant in Harlem. Mr. Daniels dined on catfish; Mr. Weld chose smothered pork.
“This is 11 in the morning, and I’ve got to tell you, knowing that it was too early for smothered pork and cheese grits made it taste much better,” Mr. Weld recalled. He described his meeting with Mr. Daniels—the two men are running for the Republican nomination for Governor—with equal relish.
“It was probably the best, most relaxed sit-down I’ve ever had with Randy,” Mr. Weld said. “Perhaps it was the setting—the food was really good.”
A few months ago, when Mr. Weld seemed poised to leap into the waiting arms of the state Republican Party, such a jovial, schmoozy meeting between gubernatorial hopefuls might have raised a few eyebrows. But now, pork in the morning is the least of his indignities: Over the past month, contention has enveloped the state Republican Party, and Mr. Weld, the party establishment’s favorite, has found himself begging for the support of every grumpy upstate-county chairman.
Mr. Weld has fallen into a widening gap in the state Republican Party, between his patron—lame-duck Governor George Pataki—and the ascendant Senate Majority Leader, Joseph Bruno. In the past, the Republican Party has been able to use its muscle to clear the field for its chosen candidate. This year, three other Republicans—former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso, State Assemblyman Patrick Manning and Mr. Daniels—have refused to step aside for Mr. Weld, and a fourth likely candidate, Rochester billionaire Tom Golisano, is weighing a run. To the discomfort of Mr. Weld’s supporters, Mr. Bruno has been leaving the field wide open and hinting that a mystery candidate may still enter the race and push Mr. Weld aside.
Mr. Bruno had held out hope that Mayor Michael Bloomberg—who had already blanketed the city and its suburbs with a slick and successful television campaign for his own re-election—would be his candidate for Governor. But the Mayor has finally convinced him that it’s not an option. “Mike has pretty firmly closed the lid,” Mr. Bruno conceded in an interview. But he is still holding out hope that a better candidate will emerge—hardly a vote of confidence for Mr. Weld, Mr. Golisano or the others.
“You know, there’s one fellow—and I’d say the chances of him running are probably less than 50 percent—but if he elected to run, the guy … would run right to the top of the list,” he told The Observer. “Our lives are strange, and timing in life is everything in politics—and you don’t know who’s sitting right there now pondering the potential of a run.”
Thanks for clearing that up, Senator!
For the moment, Mr. Weld still leads the pack, garnering 43.2 percent of a weighted vote of Republican county chairmen on Monday. But several key chairs with heavy votes—including those of Westchester, Suffolk, Nassau and Queens counties—either abstained from voting or didn’t attend the meeting. Together, their silence amounted to 44 percent of the weighted vote, which may, in part, be a testament to the work of Mr. Bruno, who had lobbied to postpone the meeting. The next official effort to settle a nominee before the September primaries will come at a G.O.P. convention this May.
“I think there’s still opportunity leading up to that point to build consensus. I mean, clearly, four to one—the majority of the chairs yesterday—were behind Governor Weld,” said Ryan Moses, executive director of the state Republican Party. “I think that moving forward, we’ll get some of the people who weren’t there, and some of the people who abstained will make their voices known, and then we’ll have even more clarity.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Weld’s distant runner-up, John Faso, who took 10.8 percent of the weighted vote, tried to spin the news from Albany. In a press statement following the Dec. 12 meeting, he touted the fact that 23 chairs had voted for him and 23 for Mr. Weld and declared the contest a tie. Pushing it one step further, he said in the release: “I am enormously grateful for today’s victory.”
The state Republican chairman, Stephen J. Minarik, scoffed at Mr. Faso’s math. “It’s sort of like saying that in the Presidential election, Delaware has the same number of electoral votes as Texas. It’s not really the reality,” said Mr. Minarik. He added that the vote had sounded a clear note of confidence for Mr. Weld, adding, “I think Bill Weld’s the best candidate, and we need the party to move on.”
Robert Ryan, a spokesman for candidate Randy Daniels, disagreed. He said that absences and abstentions made the vote in Albany more of a washout than a Weld-fest.
“The silence was deafening,” he told The Observer. “A loud and clear message was sent to the party, and to the leadership of the party, that there was a process that has been good over the years, and that process is a primary.”
Michael Long, chairman of the state Conservative Party, agreed that Mr. Weld hadn’t been a clear-cut winner. “Some major counties didn’t even participate, so I think it really depends what Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk do here. If those three counties went for Faso, then I guess Bill Weld would have a real problem, wouldn’t he?” Mr. Long said. “Weld was supposed to be the anointed candidate. I guess that didn’t work out. So if anyone lost yesterday, I think that Weld certainly didn’t win yesterday.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Faso—who had been telling the press for weeks that he would easily win the vote of the county chairs—softened his tone of victory by the day after the meeting.
“I think we’re going to have to have a rumble here over the next few months heading into the party convention and into a primary, and it’s a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. Do we want to continue veering left so our policies are indistinguishable from the Democrats?” he asked. Moments later, he concluded, “I think that’s the overall message out of that meeting yesterday: There’s no consensus.”
Mr. Faso also said he’d raised around $40,000 at his first fund-raiser, which followed Monday’s vote at Jack’s Oyster House in downtown Albany.
Mr. Weld and his rivals can at least take solace in looking one line down the ticket, to the Senate race, and knowing that it could be worse. Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, at first the party’s favorite, has moved from weakness to weakness. A friend, Michael Edelman, wrote on a Westchester political site on Dec. 12 that she had been “flattered, cajoled, and essentially snookered” into the race.
“It’s been like throwing a deer down a well,” said one Republican insider of the effect of Ms. Pirro’s performance on any attempt to challenge Mrs. Clinton. But he did see an upside for Mr. Weld, who has been dodging accusations that he mismanaged a trade school during his time in the private sector. “The best thing that’s happened to Weld is the Pirro implosion—there are only so many column inches.”