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Internal GOP Politics Contributing to Growing N.Y. Mayoral Field

photo of Steven Shepard
January 7, 2013

New York Republicans had hoped that a contentious Democratic primary would give their nominee an advantage in this year's mayoral race. But the GOP field is getting more crowded and rivalrous by the day.

The city's five county Republican chairs were divided between billionaire John Castimatidis and former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión. Castimatidis has long been a major party donor, while some county chairmen thought Democrat-turned-independent Carrión represented an opportunity for the party to appeal to Hispanic voters.

But the GOP race was upended last month when MTA Chairman Joe Lhota resigned to pursue a run for Gracie Mansion. Lhota -- a former deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani -- has been trying to woo the city's GOP chairs, and many think he represents the party's best hope to deny the Democrats once again. Giuliani has become Lhota's most forceful supporter; while Mayor Michael Bloomberg has remained silent, he is thought to favor Democratic City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

That is what makes this weekend's developments so interesting. Just when it seemed like the GOP had their candidate, the Daily News on Sunday reported that state GOP chairman Ed Cox has been talking with A.R. Bernard, pastor of the Christian Cultural Center mega-church in Brooklyn, about a possible bid. Bernard appears to be interested, though he would have to move back to the city (he currently lives in Long Island's Suffolk County). Here's the Daily News's Celeste Katz, reporting on Cox's effusive praise for Bernard:

Cox said Lhota is qualified to be mayor, but in an interview with the News, the state Republican boss could not contain his enthusiasm for Bernard.

"What a guy! Isn't he something?" Cox said. "He's a terrific preacher, and very down to earth, a success as a businessman... and look what he's done also for his community with the C.C.C. Quite extraordinary."

So what's behind Cox's maneuvering for Bernard -- even as other party leaders (and the New York Post) begin to coalesce around Lhota? Cox says this has nothing to do with his support for Bernard, but Katz noted in her story Sunday that Giuliani did not support Cox's candidacy for state party chair in 2009.

In fact, not only did Giuliani prefer Niagara County GOP Chairman Henry Wojtaszek over Cox, he coordinated an effort described at the time by Liz Benjamin (then with the News) as, "as much a pro-Wojtaszek fight as it is a stop Cox campaign." Giuliani allies also enlisted former Gov. George Pataki, former Sen. Al D'Amato and former Reps. Rick Lazio and Tom Reynolds in the effort.

That effort failed, and Cox won the chairmanship. Now he's publicly encouraging a candidate who would challenge the man Giuliani sees as the continuation -- and defender -- of his legacy.

Democrats -- Quinn first among them -- once thought they'd emerge bloodied by their own crowded, September primary to face united Republican opposition. That appears less likely as long as GOP leaders continue to push different candidates.

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