The contest to lead the county GOP

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The passing of the torch from one Monroe County Republican Committee chair to a successor more often than not has been an undisputed handoff. Not this time.

In a race slated to be decided at a Sept. 23 party convention, three hopefuls are vying for the position: Larry Staub, Patrick Reilly and Laureen Oliver.

Staub is a longtime Republican operative who has held numerous GOP staff positions at the county and state level.

Reilly is a telecommunications executive who chairs the Brighton Republican Committee.

Oliver is longtime political operative who left the Republican Party in the 1990s to co-found and chair the libertarian-leaning New York Independence Party.  After spending some two decades in Nevada and Florida, she returned to Monroe County in 2020 and has now rejoined the Republican Party.

The race comes as the once locally dominant GOP has seen its ranks and its share of local elected offices noticeably shrink in recent decades.

Each of the three candidates cites the local GOP’s diminished prospects as their reason for seeking the county leadership position. Their diagnosis of what ails the party and their prescriptions for curing the party’s malaise differ.

For much of the past four decades Republicans firmly held the reins of county government, controlling both the Monroe County Legislature and the county executive’s office. Over that span, however, the county GOP has steadily lost membership while the county Democratic Party’s enrollment grew.

According to state Board of Election figures, in 1996 the 153,265 registered Republicans in Monroe County outnumbered the 141,164 registered Democrats by more than 10,000. By early this year, the county’s 217,959 registered Democrats outnumbered the 131,860 registered Republicans by a margin of more than 86,000.

Still, as local GOP registration shrank, between 1992 and 2020 the Monroe County executive office stayed in Republican hands. With the election of Democratic County Executive Adam Bello in 2020, that changed.

Maintaining control

So far during Bello’s term, Republicans have kept control of the County Legislature despite Democrats’ gaining a slim one-seat majority of the 29-member body.

For two years after they lost the majority, Republicans maintained control with support of a five-member rogue Democratic faction calling itself the Black & Asian Democratic Caucus that consistently voted with Republicans.

In 2021, the Legislature’s then president, Irondequoit Republican Joe Carbone, boasted that notwithstanding the Democrats’ majority, thanks to the BADC his party had “a supermajority” capable of thwarting any Bello initiative.

Last year, the BADC was reduced to a single lawmaker when all members but the current Legislature president, Rochester Democrat Sabrina LaMarr, lost their seats to other Democrats who did not vote with the GOP.

This year, in exchange for being named president, LaMar agreed to caucus with the GOP, allowing Republicans to hang on to their majority despite being a seat shy of an actual majority.

In June, LaMar lost in the Democratic primary to challenger Rose Bonnick, who ran on a platform of returning “a true Democrat” to the seat. Bonnick is considered likely to win a November race for the seat, raising the possibility that Democrats could win true control of the Legislature and, if Bello wins re-election in November, shut Republicans out of any county-government majority.

Rebuilding the party

To the problem of how to rebuild the ailing county GOP, Staub offers a build-it-and-they-will-come solution. The key to restoring his party’s dulled sheen lies simply in winning elections.

The other candidates see the local party’s slide as a failure of leadership by a contingent of insiders who lost touch with ordinary voters. Both see Staub as a longtime member in good standing of that contingent. Both say that as a first order of business they would restructure the local party, completely retooling its rusting machinery.

Oliver complains that factions within the county GOP for years have vied to control the party apparatus and, in the process, have lost touch with ordinary voters. 

She cites organizing work she has done with the Independence Party, and in Florida and Nevada.

“I’ve been hired as a petition-drive director. I know how to build a party,” Oliver says. Her challengers have no comparable experience, she asserts. The local GOP, says Oliver, “has lost steam.”

Reilly also believes the local GOP is out of touch. He sees a chance for a local GOP renaissance in less reliance on stalwarts like Staub and more outreach to local volunteers like himself. Citing his experience as a telecommunications executive, Reilly proposes to update what he sees as the local party’s neglected and sorely lacking digital infrastructure.

“Technology has changed how campaigns should be run. Online presence, data management, digital communications, and online fundraising have all improved dramatically, yet we don’t use any of it in our party locally,” Reilly argues in a letter outlining his platform sent to GOP committee members in late August.

“Some people have grandiose ideas, but it really comes down to winning,” counters Staub.

He blames the local party’s slide less on local leaders’ failures than on demographics. Distraught by New York’s increasing leftward turn, Republican voters across the state have departed for more GOP-friendly states, he asserts.

As interim county GOP chair, Staub has something of an incumbent’s sheen. He was named to the position in late August by outgoing chair David Dunning, who made the appointment virtually simultaneously with his own departure.

Citing the difficulty of juggling the county leadership position with his duties as Chili supervisor, Dunning, who had served as county chair for the past year, strongly urged fellow Republicans to accept Staub as his successor.

“I wholeheartedly endorse Larry Staub as our new chairman. We should all thank Larry for stepping up to the plate,” Dunning said in a statement.

Oliver and Reilly see Dunning’s endorsement as an attempt by a member of a local GOP establishment responsible for the party’s decades-long slide to crown fellow insider.

Over a 40-year career as a local GOP operative, Staub has served in positions including deputy county clerk, county director of parks, communications director for former GOP County Executive Maggie Brooks, and chief of staff for Monroe County Republican legislators and GOP state Sen. Jim Alesi.

Still, Staub disputes his challengers’ portrait of him as an establishment figure, arguing that as someone who never held elected office, he is as a much of an outsider as Reilly or Oliver. Since being named interim chair, he notes, he has worked without pay and will continue to do so. If elected, Staub says, he plans to appoint a presumably paid executive director.

Unaffiliated voters

Given the increasingly lopsided registration advantage enjoyed by Monroe County Democrats, much of the local GOP’s chances of regaining its lost clout arguably lies in the party’s ability to sway voters not registered in either party.

As of February, the state Board of Elections counted 167,445 of Monroe County’s 517,264 registered voters as neither Democrats nor Republicans.

Of that number, 8,610 are registered Conservative Party members who would presumably favor Republican candidates; 2,042 are Workers Family Party members who would seem more likely to align with Democrats. Of the remaining 156,793, most—135,710—are blank or independent. Another 21,083 are registered in unnamed parties.

All three candidates concede the necessity of convincing blanks to vote for Republicans in upcoming elections.

Oliver and Reilly see a more concerted outreach to grassroots voters as key to winning blanks over and a ground-up restructuring of the local GOP’s machinery as key to effectively kicking off such outreach.

Staub, who views regaining electoral ascendancy as the first step needed to rebuild the local party, believes messaging is the route to retaking seats. He sees two races in particular as winnable: the county executive race in which Mark Assini, the former Gates town supervisor who lost a close contest with Rep. Louise Slaughter in a 2014 congressional race, is challenging Bello; and the race for an Irondequoit seat in the Legislature in which Carbone is challenging Democrat Dave Long, who narrowly defeated him for the seat in 2020.

Winning votes in both races, Staub believes, will require stressing the time-tested Republican issues of crime and taxes. Democrats remain vulnerable on both scores, he asserts.

How their platforms will play with the local GOP committee members who will choose the party’s next leader on Saturday remains to be seen.

I asked one longtime East Side GOP committee member how he thinks the county chair vote might play out. Asking not be identified by name or town, he said, “I don’t know. I don’t know who any of these people are. I’ve kind of lost interest. I’m not even sure if I will vote.”

Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

10 thoughts on “The contest to lead the county GOP

    • I remember who won….and who lost. It wasn’t the other candidate, it was us, Joe and Judy public. (And no I’m not a Trump fan) But while you even begin to counter that thought, I will bring up just one thing, one action, one disaster. It was a miliary disaster. The Afghan withdrawal will stand as thee worst military action in our entire military history. I’m not sure if you were tuned in or not, but thirteen of our finest were murdered. In addition the civilians who were murdered and the wounded. All the while a Marine sniper had the bombing culprit in his sight. But he couldn’t get permission to pull the trigger. Can you say JAG? Then the hundreds left behind. Interpreters promised citizenship we also left behind. They were met with the most creative ways to butcher individuals. Others simple threw themselves on the razor wire killing themselves. Oh, did I mention 70 plus billion in military assets left to our enemies. Those assets have show up on other battle grounds. Maybe you could tune into the interview with the Marine sniper and get a real taste of what your victor accomplished. I don’t even care about all the shenanigans with the Biden family. Hunter is someone all fathers and mothers hope for. Kicked out of the military, drug addict, child out of wedlock, which is finally being recognized and a computer loaded with all sorts of proof in the pudding. Drugs in the White House? Nah, that’s the most secure building in the world. And don’t even point to the previous administration. Our illustrious leader in the White House… and beach owns it all. Our enemies are in the bleachers watching our demise. No military action necessary, just sit and watch. I could go on but I don’t want to make this too complicated. Lastly, have you taken in a family who crossed our southern border? Didn’t think so. Semper Fi.

      • Thanks for the entertaining denial that you’re not a Trump fan…..immediately followed by the type of disinformation/misinformation spewed daily by Trumpublicans.

        For example, the convenient ignoring of the fact that the Biden administration inherited the Doha deal behind the Afghan withdrawal, a deal negotiated and signed by the Trump administration in Feb. 2020,with the logistics of the withdrawal planned and executed by the Pentagon. Biden’s only involvement was to extend the withdrawal deadline from May 1, 2021 to Aug. 30 of that year to give the Pentagon more time to get their act together. An act that they fumbled miserably, but which the uninformed proceeded to blame on Biden.

        Oh, and the Pentagon abandoned $7 billion worth of equipment in Afghanistan. Not the $70 billion figure that some Far Right propagandists throw around.

        And of course, as with all Trumpublican screeds, I see that you managed to drag in Hunter Biden. Guess irrelevant non sequiturs are easier than dealing with important issues.

        Finally, we have the claim that the Afghan withdrawal, “will stand as the worst military action in our entire military history. Hmmm. One would have thought that Pearl Harbor might rank above that. Or the Fall of the Philippines. Or the Battle of the Little Bighorn, or even the attack on the US Marine barracks in Beirut during the Reagan administration where the failure of political and military intelligence (of many kinds) and security resulted in the deaths of 241 US military personnel. But hey, given that Trumpublicans have proven their detachment from reality by going on record as claiming that their Leader was a greater president than Lincoln, I guess we should have expected some sort of claim like that for the Afghan withdrawal.

      • “Semper Fi” – and yet you would not even answer this basic question: Who won in 2020?

        The sheer nerve to use “Semper Fi” when posting easily disprovable falsehoods. Here you are, at this site, on April 11, 12:42 PM, attacking an individual who posted an entirely accurate record of Trump’s assorted frauds and crimes. You stated: “If we are going to allow comment some element of fact has to be included.” If that were so, you wouldn’t be allowed to post anything here. Unlike you, I favor the First Amendment. But sure, “Semper Fi.”

        Love the whataboutism. How many more of our kids would you have seen sacrificed? Twenty years, 2,500 American kids dead, $2+ Trillion, but, sure, it wasn’t enough. BTW, trace that to the Bush Catastrophe.

        Hunter Biden? Seriously? But hey, why stop there: “But her emails!” “Benghazi!” But sure, “Semper Fi.”

        “Lastly, have you taken in a family who crossed our southern border? Didn’t think so.” Nice man-child cheap shot. But sure, Semper Fi!

  1. Given that over the years the local GOP has abandoned any pretense of putting forth candidates to present their programs and ideas within the Rochester city limits, perhaps it would be more accurate and honest for them to rebrand themselves as the “Monroe County (Except for Rochester) Republican Party”.

    • The “other party” doesn’t bother running in the city because….it is run smoothly, no problems, virtually zero crime, no drugs and generational poverty has been addressed and is non-existent. Things could not be better! The RCSD is graduating near 95% and most go to college after high school. Testing is at an all time high. Why in the world would you remove the democratic party from power and give someone else a try. Stay the course Rochester, all is well. Or is it?

  2. Another excellent article by the Rochester Beacon. It is a shame Gannett, once a venerable Rochester institution, does not provide this quality of local journalism.

  3. Both the Democrats and Republicans have stayed away from the school board elections. Until they get involved in the school board elections, they will not have any input and how the education system really goes.

    I was a member of the Republican committee in the Town Of Rush for several years, and I never felt that they were interested in any elections other than the Town elections. Until they get involved from the grassroots up to the county and state, they are never going to be able to straighten out the real problems.

  4. As a registered Independent I see both parties as disconnected to the Rochester community. The Republican can’t get their house in order. The Democrats have the house but can’t seem to bring order. Crime on the rise and an education system that cannot and or will not teach the way kids learn. In both case the Party is paramount. It’s as though once elected the populous doesn’t matter. The item of importance is sticking finger in each other eyes. The one that embarrasses the other the most in the winner and the people who live in the community don’t really matter until….until election time. Then they are rolling out the promises they ether can’t or won’t keep. Let me say this….if the two parties would get together and solve just one issue in the Urban Rochester community, let it be education. Decades of failure. That said, if the intellect associated with our Democrat and Republican parties can’t get that done, they are of little use to society. Get off of your collected duffs and address education. Most of Rochester’s woes will be addressed and resolved if you educate our youth. Give them the opportunity to discover their innate skill/gift. Give them the opportunity to acquire a living wage profession or career. Give them choice. You owe that to them, period.

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