In a Saturday vote for Monroe County Republican chair, challenger Pat Reilly scored an upset win over incumbent interim county GOP chair Larry Staub.
The vote by members of the county’s town Republican committee members placed Staub second. Former Independence Party of New York co-founder and state chair Laureen Oliver placed third.
“Obviously, these were not the results I had hoped for but I wish the new chairman the best, says Staub. “We will meet next week to ensure a smooth transition.”
The convention was among the most well attended in decades. Three hundred seventy committee members—roughly half of the county’s total—voted. That compares to some 200 who cast ballots in county leadership election last year.
In the race, delegates’ votes are weighted according to how many GOP constituents they represent in their respective election districts. Reilly won with 17,924 votes. Staub placed second with 12,882. Oliver pulled 1,084.
Oliver returned to Monroe County in 2020 after a two-decade absence. In the 1990s she gave up GOP registration to co-found and chair the New York Independence Party, which lost its ballot line in 2020.
She attributes the high turnout in the chairmanship race to the fact that three contestants vied for the position. She says she and Reilly appealed to an insurgent “grassroots” party members long dissatisfied with the local party’s showing under an “establishment” that Staub personifies.
Staub was named the county party’s interim chair in late August by outgoing party chair David Dunning, who had served in the position for a year. A longtime operative in the county GOP, Staub had held a number of staff positions, most recently serving as County Parks Commissioner. He retired from that position in 2020 after Bello wrested the County Executive office from Republican incumbent Cheryl DiNolfo.
Reilly, who as chair closed the chairmanship convention, says his immediate focus will be on the upcoming November elections. He plans to concentrate on the County Executive race in which Mark Assini is challenging incumbent Democratic County Executive Adam Bello. Reilly plans to rally volunteer to fundraise and work for the Assini campaign.
The county chair election came after years of decline for the Monroe County GOP in which the party lost membership and saw its share of elective offices decline.
The Monroe County GOP “has lost steam,” Oliver says.
Like Oliver, Reilly ran as a challenger to what both see as a party establishment that has not done enough to reverse the local GOP’s slide.
Reilly promises a top-to-bottom remake of the county GOP, focusing the local party’s machinery more on local volunteer efforts than on what he sees as the “top down” leadership style that has run the local party for several decades. He also pledges to step up fundraising.
Citing his experience as a telecommunications executive, Reilly made improving the local party’s online presence and digital communications efforts a key plank in his platform, a thrust whose work he plans to begin after the November races.
In campaigning for the chair, Oliver decried what she sees as intra-party factionalism that has weakened the local GOP. Registered Democrats currently have a 64,000 edge over registered Republicans in the county.
Oliver sees the local party’s future in strengthening its appeal to the middle of the road voters not registered as Democrats or Republicans who make up more than 160,000 of the county’s more than 500,000 registered voters.
She believes the Republican Party has lost ground nationally by ceding too much to its radical right-wing and that the local party needs to overcome the taint of its most radical contingent She advocates development of a local party platform based on local issues that more or less ignores the hot-button issues the national party has become increasingly identified with.
A semi-retired accountant, Oliver says she would be willing to work as an advisor to Reilly’s grassroots contingent or with the party’s establishment.
“I will surround myself with the best and the brightest in our party to rebuild our team regardless of what faction of the party they find themselves in,” Reilly promised in a pre-election letter sent to town committee members.
“I haven’t gotten around to calling Laurene Oliver yet, but I plan to,” he said a day after the chairmanship 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].