Nick Langworthy was 29 years old back in 2010 when New York’s political establishment first took notice.
Republicans from around the state were gathering at Manhattan’s Sheraton Towers Hotel for their quadrennial convention when the fresh-faced new chairman of the Erie County GOP showed the party’s old lions he also stored a trick or two up his sleeve.
Langworthy was championing Carl Paladino’s upstart candidacy for governor, and most of New York’s Republican establishment wanted nothing to do with “Crazy Carl” from Buffalo. Indeed, the graybeards were reaching in to their own bag full of tried and true tactics to prevent Paladino from even addressing the convention.
But Langworthy came of age under former Congressman Tom Reynolds, and absorbed a thing or two himself during his short career. The kid from South Dayton (suburban even, not downtown) simply scheduled Paladino to nominate himself, leading to a marathon address from the Republican none of them wanted to hear.
Paladino never did get 25 percent of the convention vote and had to petition his way onto the ballot. But among all of that day’s “harrumphs” over Langworthy’s disrespectful tactics, the old lions noticed. They noticed even more when Paladino went on to demolish convention nominee Rick Lazio in the September primary.
Langworthy gathered with the state’s 61 other Republican chairmen again on Thursday, this time at Albany’s venerable Fort Orange Club. And there is no question that Langworthy – still a youngster at 33 – now has the attention of the state’s political establishment.
That’s because when Paladino notched his convincing Erie County victory over Democrat Andrew Cuomo in the 2010 general election, Langworthy inherited 11.5 percent of the weighted vote for this year’s state convention in May. That’s more than any other county in New York.
“Yeah, a lot of people were talking to me,” the chairman said after Thursday’s meeting.
Langworthy avoids calling attention to himself, but suddenly he holds real sway as billionaire Donald Trump and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino explore a challenge to Cuomo. At some point, Langworthy and his Erie County comrades will settle on one of the two. That candidate will then boast a sizable chunk of the 50 percent of the convention vote needed to secure the party endorsement. It’s even a sizable chunk of the 75 percent needed to deny the other guy a place on the primary ballot.
“Our electoral success is why Erie County has received so much attention,” the chairman says. “Yes, we have the weighted vote. But we also had wins in the County Legislature and in countywide offices in a 2-to-1 Democratic county. It’s respected.”
That’s why Langworthy, political consultant Michael Caputo, Assemblyman David DiPietro and Paladino himself – all Erie County guys – are suddenly dining at “The Donald’s” table. Trump doesn’t deal with the cloutless.
Now Trump and Astorino must make their case with the rest of the state’s Republican leaders – from the big counties on Long Island to the Adirondack outposts – to build enough convention strength to avoid another primary.
“If we’re really serious about beating Andrew Cuomo,” Langworthy says, “we have to be singularly focused about having no primary.”
Indeed, Paladino last week for the first time demonstrated enthusiasm for a Cuomo opponent after meeting with Trump in New York. But Trump says he will bow out rather than compete in a primary, and Paladino still hints at seeking the Conservative nod should Trump fail to emerge as the GOP candidate.
And every Republican recognizes the potential for disaster should the parties split their opposition to Cuomo.
So, over the next few months, Langworthy will loom large on the statewide scene – an elder statesman at 33 – and already an expert at understatement.
“I think Erie County,” he said, “will have a voice in the process.”