BUFFALO — It’s a lament of upstate Republicans nearly as old as the Erie Canal: New York City Democrats dominate state politics, to the detriment of everyone north of Westchester County.
The first half of that complaint has never been more true than 2019 when in January, Democrats took control of the New York State Senate and completed their clean sweep of Albany lawmaking entities with the state Assembly and governor’s mansion already in hand.
In the wake of Republicans being washed from legislative influence, statewide GOP leaders demanded change at the top. Last week, the New York Republican State Committee elected Buffalo native Nicholas A. Langworthy as their new unanimous chairman.
Langworthy, 38, speaks with the intensity of a hissing radiator about the ineffective recent past of his party and his aggressive plan to “get up off the ground, dust off and get ready to fight again.”
“We’re focusing on growing our conference in Congress, gaining seats in the state Senate and rebuilding a party infrastructure that is, frankly, decrepit,” Langworthy said this week in an interview with The Palladium-Times. “What’s happening at the state capitol is disastrous.”
Without a Republican Senate to act as a moderator for hard left policies emerging from the Democrat-dominated Assembly, Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year has affixed his signature to an astonishing number of new laws long sought-after by liberal legislators.
Langworthy again says upstate is getting a raw deal.
“This legislative session was a dumpster fire for taxpayers in this state,” he said. “We’re the party that’s going to focus on the taxpayers because they’ve been forgotten for too long — the hardworking men and women. We have world-class educational institutions and our top export is our children. We need to fight for our youth, end the brain drain and keep our young people here in our state.”
After an early career running campaigns and government offices for western New York Congressmen Tom Reynolds and Chris Lee, Langworthy took the reins of the Erie County Republican Committee in 2010 at just 29 years old. He founded a College Republican chapter at his alma mater Niagara University and later as chair of the state College Republicans, worked closely with another local, young GOP rising star.
“Nick Langworthy recruited me to lead the College Republicans way back in 2004,” said Oswego County Clerk Michael Backus. “Since then, he and I have partnered on many campaigns at all levels.”
Backus took office in 2013 — also at age 29 — and also recently traveled to Albany to attend the state Republican convention where he said Langworthy “vocalized the challenges facing the NYGOP very well and is setting his sights on what Republicans should aspire to — statewide viability.”
Republicans haven’t won a statewide election in New York since Gov. George Pataki won a third term in 2002. Nearly two decades of electoral futility might scare some strategists away, but not Langworthy.
“Some people thought I was crazy for wanting this job,” he said. “The party was at a crossroads. We have to recruit younger candidates and be aggressive with how we message.”
What will that messaging look like?
“We’re going to make sure voters are reminded, reminded, reminded who did this to them,” Langworthy said. “Whether it’s illegal alien driver’s licenses, we’ll do that. If it’s going out on a farm and reminding people it’s 100 percent Democrat legislation that enacted the farm labor bill, that’s going to end the American dream for so many farmers, we’ll do that.”
The Farm Worker Fair Labor Practices Act, passed in the last days of the legislative session, substantially expanded collective bargaining and overtime protections for farm workers. The bill was roundly decried by upstate agriculturalists but supporters say it closed a glaring loophole in the state’s labor laws.
Langworthy’s tone at this point changes from political rhetoric to something more resembling a deep betrayal.
“[The Farm Work Fair Labor Practices Act] will devastate the family farm,” he said. “It was jammed through by people who have never been on a farm and these radical progressives had to stick their noses in an industry already crippled.”
“[Democrats] have vilified the entrepreneurial spirit and we’ll fight like hell day and night so voters understand the difference between us,” he added.
Assemblyman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, had a front-row seat to this year’s legislative session and as the ranking Republican on the powerful Ways and Means Committee was often called upon to be his party’s voice on the floor of the Assembly.
Barclay attended the GOP state convention where Langworthy was elected and said the new chairman would “push back on the radical ideas that are being proposed by the New York City Democrats.”
“His youth, political expertise and energy have served the Erie County GOP well and I look forward to him replicating the successes he has had in Erie County statewide,” Barclay said.
Langworthy may have the energy, but Democrats have the numbers. According to the state Board of Elections’ most recent data from February 2019, 5.8 million registered Democrats reside in New York compared to 2.6 million Republicans.
“We’re in good shape right now but I don’t take it for granted and I never discount the opposition or their commitment,” said New York State Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs of Long Island, Langworthy’s counterpart, in an interview this week with The Palladium-Times.
New York state Democrats “have never been stronger” in terms of enrollment and electoral performance, Jacobs said, but the two parties were not always so different. It was Gov. Nelson Rockefeller whose 14-year term saw the rise of “Rockefeller Republicans,” who had “one set of views on fiscal and economic issues and were very close to Democrats on social issues,” Jacobs said.
“The Trump agenda seems to have thrown that out the window,” he said. “Mr. Langworthy has quite a job ahead of him because he’s decided to buy into that.”
When talking about President Donald Trump, Jacobs pulls no punches but admits a modicum of “pity” for his colleagues on the other side of the aisle.
“They’ve decided to choose power over America, over our nation, over our values,” Jacobs said. “No one is going to convince me that these same Republicans go home at night and behind closed doors, are proud of their president. At the end of the day, when Donald Trump is long gone and on the ash heap of history, they’ll have to explain to their children and grandchildren what they heck they were doing and why they didn’t stand up.”
Langworthy served on Trump’s transition team executive committee following the 2016 election and says the president has embodied the efficacy of “aggressively taking your message directly to the people” and he’s “delivering on everything he promised.”
“The economy is on fire, wages are up, unemployment is down, we are getting fairer trade deals and we are leading again on the world stage,” Langworthy said. “When you look at what the Democrats want to do with open borders, 70 percent tax rates and abolishing private health care, the choice could not be clearer. We are confident that 2019 and 2020 are going to be great years for New York Republicans."
As chairman, Langworthy oversees 62 county Republican Committees, including the Oswego County Republican Committee. Committee chairman Fred Beardsley said he was “very impressed” with Langworthy and thinks he’s “ready for a skirmish.”
“He’s not afraid to step in and say, ‘this is wrong’ and ‘this is right’ and that’s the plan,” Beardsley. “This one-party rule has been disastrous so we’re dead set on putting in whatever it takes to bring back some of those Senate seats.”
Republicans vastly outnumber Democrats in Oswego County, by a count of 34,795 to 19,585, according to the state Board of Elections. U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, who represents portions of eastern Oswego County including Mexico and Central Square, is the only Democrat representative currently seated. Barclay and his Assembly colleague Brian Manktelow of Lyons, State Sen. Patty Ritchie of Heuvelton and U.S. Rep. John Katko of Camillus round out Oswego’s delegation, Republicans all.
Langworthy said those “excellent elected officials,” although seated in the minorities of their respective legislatures, would continue to need and receive support from the state party to “hold people accountable, no matter how small the minority.”
“We can shine bright lights, ask tough questions and stand up and be heard and make the Democrats admit when they screw up,” Langworthy said.
New York is 54,556 square miles and Langworthy says he’s up to the “rubber meets the road challenge” of being responsible for all of it. When you’ve got big responsibilities, you also need big goals and Langworthy’s gunning for the biggest.
“Our mission from this day forward is to take Governor Cuomo out of the governor’s mansion,” he said. “The only way to change New York is to change the government and we owe taxpayers a two-party government."