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State GOP meets to pick candidates, set the stage for the 2022 races

NYS GOP Chair Nick Langworthy speaks to reporters as the party convention gets underway on February 28, 2022
Karen DeWitt
NYS Public Radio
NYS GOP Chair Nick Langworthy speaks to reporters as the party convention gets underway on February 28, 2022

New York state Republicans Monday nominated candidates for Attorney General, Comptroller and U.S. Senate, and set the stage for the nomination of their candidate for governor, Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin. The GOP is hoping they can find a path to victory, despite some big odds.

State Republicans listened to speakers including the last New York Republican governor, George Pataki, who won three terms in the 1990’s and 2000’s.

Pataki and other speakers focused on the rising crime rates and say they want to roll back changes democrats made to the state’s bail reform laws. The former governor also critiqued Democrats for being too politically correct, saying they are out of step with regular New Yorkers and are too beholden to “woke” culture.

“Right now the Democrats are having a real debate ‘am I a he, a she, a we, a it a them or a this?’,” Pataki said. “They don’t know who they are because they are trapped in this woke identity crap.”

Pataki, who said he is not interested in running again, was a little known State Senator from the Hudson Valley when he brought down liberal icon, former Governor Mario Cuomo, in 1994. The party’s choice for governor this year, Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin, who will be nominated later on Tuesday, is also relatively unknown, even among Republican voters.

Republican State Party Chair Nick Langworthy said he believes 2022 is the year that history could repeat itself for the state’s GOP. Langworthy said he realizes the party faces challenges, in a state where Democratic voters outnumber registered Republicans by a two-to-one margin, and the GOP has not won a statewide office in 20 years.

But he said voters are discontent about many things.

“You have inflation which is affecting every single one of us, the cost of gasoline, we don’t know where that’s gong to end,” Langworthy said. “There’s so many things that are affecting everyday New Yorkers that are making the cost of living untenable.”

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018, said Zeldin may have a better shot in a blue state like New York, this time. When Molinaro ran, Donald Trump, who was widely unpopular in New York, was President. Now it’s Democrat Joe Biden who is losing support among voters.

“People are fed up, they’re scared they’re tired, they’re exhausted by a broken government,” Molinaro said. “And I think they’re willing to give a Republican an opportunity, if we’re honest and earnest about our desire to serve.”

And Langworthy predicts that in the national contests, Republicans will take back the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The war in Ukraine was also on the minds of many at the convention. Former President Trump has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent days, calling his invasion of Ukraine “genius” and “savvy,” though Trump, speaking at the national CPAC convention, also praised Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky’s resistance to the Russians as “brave.” No Republicans at the convention defended Putin. Pataki, in his speech, blamed the invasion on what he said is the weakness of Biden as a leader.

“(Ukrainians) are suffering under bombs and gunfire from Putin’s Russia,” Pataki said. “This didn’t have to happen. We have a weak president who has failed to defend our allies at times of desperate need.”

Pataki said Biden should have imposed harsher sanctions on Putin earlier.

The relationship between the former President and Ukraine is complicated. One of Trump’s impeachment trials centered on charges that he held hostage millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine as he tried to pressure its government to investigate his political rival, including now President Biden.

But GOP Chair Langworthy said if Trump were in office now, Putin would not have dared to act so aggressively.

“I believe that if Donald Trump was still the President, he (Putin) would have never made that move,” Langworthy said.

The GOP denied media credentials to the Russian news agency NTV, and is giving the only Ukrainian-born member of the New York City Council, Inna Vernikov, a prime speaking slot on Tuesday.

Republicans nominated global financier Paul Rodriguez as their state comptroller candidate, to run against incumbent Tom DiNapoli. Joe Pinion, a former host with Newsmax, will take on U.S. Senator and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Michael Henry, a commercial litigation attorney will run for Attorney General against Leticia James, who is seeking reelection.

Michael Henry at a podium.
Karen DeWitt
Michael Henry, a commercial litigation attorney from Astoria, is seeking the Republican nomination for the state Attorney General's office.

Henry said James has focused too much on filing high profile lawsuits, including ones against former President Trump and his family, and he said he would dial that back.

“Not just Trump lawsuits,” said Henry, who said James files lawsuits in other states where she does not have proper jurisdiction.

“A lot of things that she does basically to have a press conference,” said Henry. “And then moves on after the press conference.”

Henry said now that he’s become the party’s nominee, he expects his fundraising to ramp up, and make the race more competitive.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.