GOP candidate carousel still spinning
Democratic candidate for Congressional District 23 Max Della Pia has first-hand experience when it comes to convoluted primaries. In spring 2018, he was one of seven candidates — including current Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist — who were vying for the party’s nomination to run against then incumbent U.S. Rep. Tom Reed.
If anything, that exercise failed to bring members belonging to the minority party that stretched across 13 counties together. With far too many faces and views, it left district Democrats farther apart.
After the June vote that year, Della Pia had the lead by 26 votes in the primary before absentee ballots were counted. In the end, it was Tracy Mitrano who won the right to challenge Reed in a race where she would ultimately come up short.
Going into this November’s election, it appears Democratic candidate Della Pia will be the only constant.
Republicans, who successfully challenged the gerrymandered Congressional lines in court, may have won the battle but began an internal war that has the potential to leave some scars in the future.
There have been so many potential GOP candidates willing to throw their hat in the ring for this federal seat that voters definitely need a scorecard. Joe Sempolinski has the GOP nod for the Aug. 23 special election against Della Pia for the district that will fill the final three months of the vacant seat due to Reed’s resignation. All things considered, Sempolinski is a solid candidate. He formerly worked for Reed while having first-hand knowledge regarding each county that makes up the district.
Others who have been in the mix — but not in the race — include state Sen. George Borrello, former state Sen. Catharine Young, and the lesser known names of Richard Moon of Jamestown, Thomas Carle and George Burns, both of Fredonia, and Marc Cenedella, a Fredonia native.
When outsider and current U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney of District 22 near Utica first announced her intentions to seek Reed’s former seat after the first set of maps were approved, fellow Republicans with the strongest of name recognition locally backed away. Tenney, who spent weeks as a tourist in the Southern Tier, had a campaign war chest totalling $2 million that few locally could match while also having the blessing of U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik of the state’s north country.
Having heard their orders, county Republican committees across the Southern Tier endorsed Tenney with little contemplation. Never mind she barely knew the region, party leaders bowed to the higher powers of Tenney and Stefanik.
It turns out, that was an easy choice.
Once the strong Republican district lines were redrawn — again after the court victory — Tenney went elsewhere opening the door for incumbent Rep. Chris Jacobs, who was welcomed with enthusiam by both Borrello and Sempolinski. Days later, after witnessing senseless bloodshed where 10 people died in a mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket May 14, Western New York’s Jacobs decided emotionally — not politically — that limits on federal assault weapons were needed.
For the GOP, it was an unforgiveable mistake. Less than one week later, a capable and balanced leader — someone desperately needed in a divided Washington — announced he would not be seeking election.
Now Republicans across the district await their cue on who to endorse between a volatile Carl Paladino and current state Republican chair Nick Langworthy. Paladino last week was seen with both Stefanik and Tenney in Briarcliff Manor during a fundraiser. In the meantime, some in the party have noted their unhappiness with Langworthy and his run.
“It’s disrespectful to the position of state chairman to say, well, I can do that with my left hand while I run for Congress on my right hand,” said Susan McNeil, chairwoman of the Fulton County Republican Committee to CNHI staffer Joe Mahoney. “I’d like to find out exactly what he plans to do but my feeling right now is you can’t serve two masters.”
McNeil is not alone in her sentiments. Locally, Borrello indicated his uneasiness with Langworthy’s decision to be a candidate in an interview with WDOE radio in Dunkirk.
No matter what happens in the Republican bubble in the coming weeks, there’s no question that either Paladino or Langworthy will be the favorite going into November. With that being said, once that noise settles, residents — if they listen — may become impressed with the Democratic candidate.
Della Pia is a veteran from Tioga County whose over 30 years of military service includes experience serving as a former Senate Liaison Officer for the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. “Both my parents were World War II vets,” he said. “They taught me the American values of integrity, service before self, and caring for others. I feel obligated to do what I can to restore public confidence in our legislative branch.”
That Paladino-Langworthy showdown has the potential to get nasty. Della Pia, who speaks softly but with command, could be capable of rising above that distraction.
John D’Agostino is the editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 716-366-3000, ext. 253.