Kathy Weppner, aka “Kathy from Williamsville” of WBEN Radio fame, will assume an even bullier pulpit in the months ahead as the Republican candidate for Congress against Democratic incumbent Brian Higgins of Buffalo.
According to a reliable source, the homemaker, who hosted her own conservative talk show until last year, will make her political debut at an official announcement of her candidacy on Friday.
“I think Kathy will have a great debate with Higgins,” the source said. “You won’t find a more polar opposite on national issues.”
Indeed, Weppner emerged as a tea party darling when the movement took hold a few years ago, riding that wave all through her radio days. She regularly invited conservatives to her Saturday afternoon gig, gained a loyal following and developed name identification along the way.
It all makes sense for the GOP – as sensible as it can be in an overwhelmingly Democratic district where the ultra-popular Higgins has so far proven indestructible. Higgins earned his rep on local issues like waterfront development, while a recent survey in Business First even ranked him the area’s most influential figure.
As a result, don’t expect Weppner to tread anywhere near the incumbent on local issues. But watch for a pit bull role on national stuff, linking Higgins to President Obama and his signature Obamacare program.
“Obamacare will be what this will be all about,” the source said.
Ditto for social issues. The source said State Sen. Tim Kennedy’s recent revelation that he has “evolved” from a pro-life to a pro-choice position – similar to Higgins’ change a few years ago – may have riled up Weppner enough to nudge her into the political arena.
All of this underscores that the GOP had nobody from its “A list” to challenge Higgins – hence the candidacy of someone with little private-sector experience. Still, she has eyed politics for a while, interviewing in 2011 for Chris Lee’s congressional vacancy, a spot eventually won by Assemblywoman Jane Corwin in her unsuccessful effort against Democrat Kathy Hochul.
Weppner also often spoke at tea party rallies and appeared with Rep. Rand Paul in East Aurora during a 2012 visit by the Republican presidential hopeful.
Still, the new candidate fails to veer far from the path of previous Higgins opponents Len Roberto and Mike Madigan. Both carried the tea party banner in the past two elections, with only Roberto gaining noticeable traction in a district with many more Republicans than the reapportioned Higgins stronghold of today.
The local hope for Weppner is to attract at least some national money from tea party allies. And they not only hope – but know – their new candidate will make lots of noise along the way.
• Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not rule out calling a special election for 11 vacancies in the State Legislature this year while in Buffalo last week, but appears wary of the expense.
As a result, the scramble to succeed Dennis Gabryszak in the Assembly proceeds on a low-key level, but with two new developments: Lancaster’s Donna Stempniak, who had been considered a major player, said she will not run. And Republican sources say the party is looking more and more toward Cheektowaga Councilwoman Angela Wozniak as its candidate.
• If one thing remains clear in the potential Republican candidacy of Donald Trump against Cuomo this year, it’s that a simultaneous campaign against state GOP Chairman Ed Cox is also under way. Trump makes it a point wherever he goes to lambaste the chairman’s record and ask if he has ever won anything.
Now Trump supporter Carl Paladino is joining in with a letter to Cox urging him to support the Manhattan billionaire.
“If you don’t and you chose to play more games, the rank and file will no longer want you as their leader and I will reconsider all of my options,” Paladino told the chairman. “Don’t take it personally. It’s business.”