Two tea party Republicans who serve on the Wilton Republican Committee want to take their advocacy to a larger platform.
Rob Arrigo and Elaine Gerber are challenging incumbent state Republican Committee members Todd Kusnierz and Shirley Needham in a rare contested race on Sept. 10 for committee representation of the northeastern Saratoga County municipalities in the 113th Assembly District.
“It’s (state Republican Committee) dysfunctional because nobody is willing to challenge the status quo,” Arrigo said.
Saratoga County Republican Chairman John Herrick said Kusnierz and Needham have been dedicated advocates for Saratoga County, and replacing them could weaken the county’s voice in the state party.
Saratoga County representatives typically “caucus,” and vote as a block in order to maximize the impact of the county’s weighted vote, he said.
“In order to overcome the heavy weighted vote of New York City, counties in upstate New York have to vote as a block so that our vote makes a difference,” he said.
Arrigo said Saratoga County needs a stronger voice on constitutional issues, such as the SAFE Act, the gun control legislation that was enacted in January.
“Unfortunately the SAFE Act was passed not just with Democrats, but it was passed largely because (state Sen. Majority Leader) Dean Skelos, R-Long Island, allowed a vote on the SAFE Act in the New York State Senate,” he said. “That is unacceptable, and we want to go and hold those elected officials accountable. And the best place to do that is on the state committee.”
Ronald Jackson, regional vice chairman of the state Republican Committee, said it is good to see people interested in serving on the state Committee.
“We sometimes feel lucky to find anybody that wants it,” he said. “So that’s kind of a nice thing. That’s good.”
Committee members are unpaid volunteers, and pay their own way to meetings and conventions.
But Jackson, who also is the Essex County Republican chairman, said he disagrees with the contention the Republican Committee and Skelos are not conservative enough.
Skelos’ majority hinges on support of independent Democrats who caucus with Republicans, Jackson said.
“So there’s no way he could have stopped it (the SAFE Act), even if he wanted to,” Jackson said.
Arrigo said he and Gerber want to bring independent voices to the committee.
“The way the parties have operated for so long is that they have essentially appointed people to these elected positions. So what you get is a lot of people who are beholden to the party — either big time party donors, political staffers, public employees,” he said.
Herrick, the Saratoga County Republican chairman, said Arrigo and Gerber are focussed more on national issues than local issues.
“Since Mr. Herrick has never spoken to me, I’m not sure how he came to an opinion,” Gerber said.
Herrick said Kusnierz and Needham each bring specialized expertise to the state committee — Kusnierz as an advisor to the state Senate Agriculture Committee and Needham as vice chairwoman of the Saratoga County Republican Women’s Club.
“I think that the two candidates we are supporting — Shirley Needham and Todd Kusnierz — have represented the interests of Saratoga County very well,” he said.
The state Republican committee endorses candidates for statewide office, raises money for campaigns and sets official policy of the state party.
The election Sept. 10, in conjunction with the Republican primary, is for two seats — one male and one female.
Kusnierz, a Moreau town councilman for 12 years, said he has “a proven track record” of commitment to the Republican party and local government service.
“I mirror the values of the state committee,” he said.
Needham said she has a long history of involvement in the Republican Party and is familiar with local issues.
She is a former Wilton Republican chairman and former Wilton Town Board member.
She was an aide to Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Glenville, from 2005-10, and worked before that for two other Assembly members.
Gerber said she would not be beholden to state party leaders.
Voting is open to enrolled Republicans in the following municipalities: Moreau, Wilton, Northumberland, Saratoga Springs, Saratoga, Malta, Stillwater and Mechanicville.