The city Republican Committee is planning for a long rebuilding process as it tries to become competitive in Schenectady politics again.
Since only a judgeship is up for election in the city this fall, the Republicans have a year to try to recover from last November’s drubbings at the polls.
However, Republican officials say that it will be years before the GOP returns to the level of success it once had in city politics.
“For a long time it was a powerhouse. Now it’s a longtime rebuilding process,” said Republican Club President Josh Fitzpatrick.
In one indication of the city Republican Committee’s disarray, county GOP officials are still not certain who will lead the committee during the rebuilding. Former city attorney Michael Brockbank holds the reins for now.
Whoever leads the committee will face challenges. Voter registration is 2-to-1 in the Democrats’ favor, and every elected position in the city is held by a Democrat. The Republican candidate for mayor last year lost by the biggest margin in the city’s history. The party was also able to field just one candidate for four City Council seats and one candidate for two county Legislature seats. Both were strongly rebuffed at the polls.
County GOP committee Chairman Thomas Buchanan has said the city committee is dying. Fitzpatrick said it’s in such dire straits that the GOP now must recruit organizers from the suburbs and send them into the city to build a new generation of Republicans.
“It’s hard, door-to-door work. It all starts at the grass-roots level,” he said, “There is a lot of work to do to rebuild the community. There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done.”
But Buchanan said a city Republican could be elected even now, without the grass-roots foundation that may take years to build.
“It takes a strong candidate who is well-financed with the right message,” Buchanan said.
A perceived crisis also could become an election issue. “The voters will make a change when the need arises,” Buchanan said. “They may not think the crime is bad enough yet or the taxes aren’t just high enough yet, but when they do — we’ll be there to govern the city.”
Fitzpatrick added that he doesn’t think voters turned away from the Republicans because they were dissatisfied with the GOP’s core values, priorities or effectiveness in achieving its goals.
“Everything in politics, for good or bad, Republican or Democrat, in my opinion is cyclical,” he said. “When political parties have been in power for a couple years, these things ebb and flow.”
He sees hope in the fact that his club has grown from 26 members to 83 in just the first four months of the year. Unfortunately, most of them live in the suburbs, which makes it difficult to find good candidates to run for city positions.
“Recruiting candidates is not easy,” Fitzpatrick said.
Buchanan put it more bluntly.
“Are we able to attract quality candidates? Yes. Are we able to field them for every seat? No,” he said. “In the city, the Republicans need to reach out to a broader base of new voters.”
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