In the final week before the special election in New York’s 26th congressional district, conservative and Tea Party groups are swarming western New York to endorse the Republican candidate Jane Corwin and attack Jack Davis, the candidate for Congress running on the “Tea Party” ballot line, as a ‘fraud’ and a ‘phony.’
Rus Thompson of TEA New York, the most vocal of the Tea Party groups in the area, has already done both. Which begs the question: How did Jack Davis end up running as the “Tea Party” candidate in the first place?
First of all, New York’s election laws permit a candidate to establish and run on his or her own ballot line if he or she can obtain the requisite number of signatures. Davis did just that.
On one side of the Davis issue is the Tea Party Coalition, the group that recruited Davis to run on an independent line. The group is chaired by Allen Coniglio, and its members include James Ostrowski, Tony Matuszak, David DiPietro, and Roy Shearer.
On the other side of the debate is Thompson’s TEA New York.
Originally the groups were allied, but split in 2009 over disagreements about the direction of the movement.
“And the split’s never been healed,” said Tea Party Coalition’s Ostrowski. “It’s never going to be healed because too many nasty things have been said or done.”
On Thompson’s end, one of those nasty things is that they convinced Davis to run. Davis, as Thompson said, “has really thrown a wrench into things,” pulling so many votes away from Corwin that what was supposed to be an easy race for the Republicans became a very heated one.
For Davis’ supporters in the Tea Party Coalition, it is the other Tea Party groups that have abandoned their principles and allowed themselves to become synonymous with the Republican Party.
“The other part of the Tea Party up here – I don’t know if you even call them Tea Party anymore, they’re mainly Republicans,” said Coniglio.
“The Republicans have been trying to take it over and we are resisting,” he said. “The other group has pretty much already sold out.”
Thompson extended an invitation to Tea Party Express to come to the district to denounce Jack Davis and make clear that he is not a Tea Party candidate. The national Tea Party group held two press conferences Monday in support of Corwin.
But Coniglio called the group’s endorsement irrelevant.
“Tea Party Express is a Republican organization,” he said. “They’re funded by Republicans. The money they raise goes to the Republicans. I’m not impressed by anything they do.”
Coniglio and Ostrowski contend that Davis is a legitimate Tea Party candidate.
“There’s a massively false propaganda campaign against Jack Davis and the Tea Party,” said Ostrowski. “Almost everything they say about it him is false or taken out of context.”
“Jack Davis is somebody I’ve known for years,” said Ostrowski, who explained that he first met him at fundraiser in 2009.
“In comes Jack Davis,” he said. “He came in, he supported us.”
“Jane Corwin – she’s had no connection with us whatsoever,” he said, calling her a “machine Republican.”
“Now she claims she’s got a conservative record in the assembly. Well, the assembly doesn’t have any power,” he concluded.
For Ostrowski and Coniglio, one of the purposes of the Tea Party is to fight the established interests.
“We have to be very careful that we’re not an appendage or tool of the Republican Party machine because that’s inconsistent with the whole policy of the Tea Party,” said Ostrowski.
This is part of what inspired them to recruit Davis to run on a third ballot line after he did not get the Republican nomination.
“In a special election, there’s no primary,” said Ostrowski, referring to the fact that the candidate is picked by the central committee of each party. “The only way to have that kind of a primary is to run as an independent.”
“Not a lot of people even knew you could run as an independent,” he continued. “So the idea was there, and I called Jack, knowing that Jack has a substantial agreement with our movement. And I said, ‘Jack, you know you can run as independent.’”
Ostrowski said they also considered David Bellavia, who had also sought the Republican nomination, but ultimately settled on Davis, in large part because Bellavia “didn’t have the financial resources.”
Davis, he said, “has the fortunate ability to fund his own campaign. If you can self fund, you can go in there as your own person.”
“As with any candidate,” Ostrowski said, “I don’t agree with Jack on every issue. But on a substantial variety of critical Tea Party issues, he takes the correct tea party position.”
Ostrowski pointed to Davis’ willingness to cut spending, and his desire to end the wars and close overseas military bases as a way to save money. He said Davis wanted to cut corporate welfare, cut foreign aid, and bring American troops home.
Asked about Davis’ record of running for the seat twice as a Democrat, Ostrowski said that “he ran as a conservative Democrat,” and that even on the Democratic ticket he embraced Republican and Tea Party values, like “cutting pork and fiscal welfare.”
He said Davis was “a lifelong Republican” in spite of his brief fling with the Democratic Party, and he scoffed at the idea that Davis was a Democratic plant meant to hurt Corwin’s chances in the race.
“Jack is the real Tea Party candidate,” he said. “Corwin is the fake candidate.”