[ NOV 21 3:30PM UPDATE: Rath confidant Mike McHale contacted PoliticsNY.net and said this report is unequivocally false, completely fabricated and pretty darn malicious. He said not only would Legislator Rath never do this, McHale himself wouldn't either. ]
There should be no question in anyone’s mind that Election Night was good for Republicans and bad for Democrats. Erie County GOP chairman Nick Langworthy celebrated and is now busy making plans with his team to lead Erie County. Erie County Democratic Committee chairman Jeremy Zellner made excuses and is now scrambling to put together the last pieces of authority that his broken Democratic Party faction has.
As Zellner slips into self-preservation mode, the focus really shifts to Langworthy, who now must manage the burden of helping his team govern. His first fire to fight was started last week by GOP Legislator Edward A. Rath, III. It continues to rage today.
The fire Rath chose to start is a political classic, rooted in a battle for leadership, prestige and title. In the legislature, oftentimes seniority breeds entitlement and when the emerging majority caucus met to select its leaders, one thing they couldn’t agree on was the relevance of seniority.
The caucus unanimously chose to nominate Minority Leader John J. Mills to serve as their Chairman. Mills is the most senior member, but even a novice political observer knows that is not why he was chosen. Mills is the middle ground of the Legislature; he is the guy that is first to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats, and the guy that always goes to his colleagues before making decisions. With a razor thin Majority, this quality in a leader is essential. Knowing that any one member can defect and change an outcome, legislators needed to be comfortable with a Chairman who would seek their advice, and consent, on major decisions. John Mills is that guy.
The Majority Leader is second in command and first in terms of managing staff. This person must command members' respect; members must be comfortable with him. The Leader must be organized, fair, and most importantly, respectful of the political challenges their colleagues face.
In the run up to leadership discussions, it became clear that Legislator Rath felt his seniority entitled him to this position. He was caught off guard by the interest of his colleague, Legislator Joe Lorigo.
Lorigo, a freshman legislator and member of the Conservative Party, started his campaign for leader months ago, without knowing he was running for it. He reached out to his colleagues on a regular basis to learn from them and get their opinion. He took the time to learn about their districts and understand that despite the fact they are all the “Minority Caucus,” they all have very different constituencies and could never adhere to a one size fits all legislative strategy.
This is one of the most important qualities a caucus leader must have, and Lorigo gets it. Like Legislators Kevin Hardwick and Lynne Dixon, he represents rural, suburban, and urban neighborhoods and the various concerns that each face.
Legislators, with the possible exception of Rath, seem to agree that for the incoming Republican majority to be a successful one, they need to move forward with a legislative plan that respects the interests of their constituents, not an aggressive right wing agenda. The fact that Rath couldn’t get a second legislator to support his bid for leader confirms this speculation. He is known for being very conservative, sometimes forcing legislation that might put legislators from more moderate districts at risk.
Rather than accept the decision of his colleagues to support a more centrist choice for leader, insiders say Rath several key players that his pass-over was the result of a backroom deal between his party chairman, Langworthy, and Lorigo's father, Erie County Conservative Party chairman Ralph Lorigo.
With the help of his longtime friend Mike McHale - a confidential law clerk to Court of Claims Judge John Michalski - Rath is pushing the story that Lorigo became leader because his dad agreed to give the Republicans five judicial endorsements next year.
The hard truth of the matter is that Rath is out of touch with his colleagues, and not trusted enough internally to carry the water of an incoming majority. Chairman Langworthy is coming off two years of incredible victories. There is no reason he would trade a $5,000 leadership stipend for political juice in the distant future. Chairman Lorigo would be a fool to give anything away for something that his son already locked down on his own.
One important fact: Chairman Lorigo has made a practice of not negotiating over his son, letting Joe take his spills and earn his way on his own.
The normally gentlemanly Rath may not realize it, but he's offending his GOP colleagues. By making the assumption his colleague’s votes were for sale, he is publicly questioning their integrity. The charge that a legislator’s vote is controlled by a party boss is a pretty serious one, especially when it is coming from another legislator. His colleagues don't like it.
Soon Langworthy will need to sit down Rath and put this fire out with a conversation about elementary math skills. I suspect it will go something like this:
Langworthy: “In order to become leader, you need to have 4 of the 6 votes. How many do you have?”
Langworthy: “You do not have enough votes. Joe has five. He will be Leader Want to grab a beer and talk about how bad ObamaCare is?”
Rath: “Now you’re talkin’”