Sunday, February 25, 2007

Despite trials, GOP chief to stay

Newsday Rick Brand

Mondello already is conceding the upcoming special elections....and the only way Mondello is going to have Spitzer where he wants in the White House .............andy

February 25, 2007Joe Mondello may have suffered a bruising State Senate loss in his own backyard, but the new state GOP leader says he's given no thought to stepping down - and will stay on no matter what happens in two more uphill special elections next month."I'm a long way from quitting," Mondello said. "I'm a fighter."After 24 years as Nassau's powerful Republican chairman, Mondello, in his first 12 weeks in his state post, has faced an almost Job-like series of political traumas. These are unlike any he's faced since 1983, when he succeeded Joseph Margiotta, who was convicted on federal corruption charges.In short order: Mondello lost his most popular GOP State Senator, Michael Balboni, who defected to new Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer then waded in hip-deep and engineered an embarrassing 3,500-vote Senate loss Feb. 6, shrinking the Senate GOP majority to 33-28.Vacancies for Senate victor Craig Johnson's legislative seat, and for new Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's Assembly seat, set up two more special elections March 27 for Mondello - in heavily Democratic districts. Mondello said the Senate loss had little to do with the strength of his own political army - which he claims still outnumbers the Democrats' - but rather, showed the clout of a newly-elected governor who won in the area with 72 percent only three months earlier. "I felt badly because we ... really worked the thing," Mondello said. "But the district has changed dramatically ... and we had an extraordinarily popular governor holding Craig Johnson's hand and Hillary Clinton holding the other. They even got DiNapoli and Tom Suozzi together, something I did not think would happen in my lifetime." While former Republican Rep. John LeBoutillier has called for Mondello to step down, the party leader dismissed him as "a disappointed toady ... who wants to see if he can make Joe Mondello's life a little miserable." Mondello said he sees no challenges to his leadership. The only criticism he says he's heard is that he "should attack Spitzer more vociferously." However, Mondello said he has held back on purpose. "I watched my predecessor and his predecessor attacking on every little thing and it got them nowhere," he said. "Spitzer's on the crest of his honeymoon. If you attack the guy, you're going to be anti-reform. ... I've decided not to make that mistake." Mondello added, "Honeymoons don't last forever, and when he stumbles, we'll be right there."Mondello acknowledges that the upcoming special elections will be tough for Republicans. He is conceding nothing, but says the party has to do a better job penetrating heavily Democratic areas in North Hempstead - if not to win them, then at least to reduce their margins. But Mondello also maintains North Hempstead Democrats may face problems of their own with a district attorney probe of the town's building department. He believes three county legislative seats will also be in play in the upcoming elections - enough to give Republicans a shot to regain the majority.Financially, the Nassau GOP has $1.4 million in the bank, with a $500-a-head fundraiser headlined by Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) March 16, where the party expects to draw 2,000 people.It's the state GOP, with only $300,000 in his campaign and housekeeping accounts, that worries Mondello. "No matter how much I do or how hard I work, I mean no matter how many trips I make into the city," he said, "the money is not coming into the state committee like it should." However, Mondello hopes a $1,000-a-head event headlined by top presidential hopefuls Rudolph Giuliani and Sen. John McCain on May 11 will replenish the state coffers. "You can't run something if you have no money," Mondello said.Mondello also said either candidate will put the New York Republicans "back on the map" in 2008 presidential politics after years of focusing on battlegrounds in smaller states. "With either McCain or Giuliani, they are not going to forget New York," he said.

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