Just about two years ago, Republican Jane Corwin was wrapping up her special congressional election campaign against Democrat Kathy Hochul and independent Jack Davis.
On Election Eve, Corwin seemed resigned to the fate that awaited her when she was asked if she would have done anything differently.
“I probably would have addressed the Medicare message – coming out at my opponents – quicker,” Corwin said.
Indeed, the Clarence assemblywoman’s premonitions proved correct. Hochul triumphed in a district the GOP had all but inked into its column. Corwin slinked back to the Assembly, and many expected she would give up on her brief foray into politics.
But things have changed. Hochul narrowly lost her re-election bid last November, and she is the one who has now exited politics. Corwin, meanwhile, was recently named second in command of the Republican conference by Minority Leader Brian Kolb of Canandaigua.
It’s not the glitziest post on the planet. Republicans continue to represent a rare species in the Assembly, where they are vastly outnumbered by New York City Democrats.
But Corwin’s rise in the GOP ranks underscores her resolve to continue in politics. She doesn’t need a job – the Corwins of Spaulding Lake have done pretty well. It is, however, a matter of surviving a bitter loss and then carrying on.
“I absolutely thought about it,” she said last week about retiring from politics. “After you lose an election, you question if you can do a good job, and I questioned myself. But different people reached out to me and encouraged me.”
So now Corwin is embracing the hand that was dealt her. She knows Assembly Republicans are often ignored by Albany’s press and powers that be, but that they have a place.
“To me, we make the biggest difference in discussion and debate,” she said. “It was our conference that came up with the property tax cap idea – years ago. In the minority we have the freedom to do that. No leader makes us do it.”
Former Rep. Tom Reynolds, who once served as Assembly minority leader, knows a bit about the job, too. He recognizes Corwin’s growth in stature.
“She’s a superb and capable legislator who speaks on our issues and conveys what she, her district and Republicans are thinking,” he said, “and she does so in a civil manner.”
“No one works harder than Jane,” added Assemblyman Tony Jordan of Saratoga County.
Corwin stems from the political camp of Chris Collins, the former county executive who eventually snared the congressional seat she attempted to win. Some thought that wing of the local party was finished after Corwin lost in May 2011, followed by Collins’ defeat for a second term as county executive the following November.
But Collins’ narrow victory over Hochul last November changed all that. Corwin’s stock now rises also.
So the assemblywoman emerges as a major spokeswoman for a New York Republican Party desperately trying to find its way. After years of pulling off a statewide victory here and there and outright control of the Senate, the GOP now finds itself on the outside looking in.
She sees a ray of hope in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent slip in the polls, even if she liked much of what he proposed before a leftward shift in his January State of the State message.
“In my conservative district, people liked him,” she said. “I was impressed that he was willing to take on teacher evaluations and pension reform.”
But now she believes the governor’s new course serves as more than a hint of presidential ambitions. She thinks he saw President Obama’s November victory on a liberal agenda as the pathway to national success.
“I think he’s considering a presidential run,” she said. “He reset his agenda on that. My hope is that he will get back to fiscal things.”
Against this backdrop, Corwin will be watching Cuomo, and many will be watching Corwin.