Millionaire Eyes Gillibrand
Prominent GOP Leader May Seek N.Y. House Seat
Alexander “Sandy” Treadwell, the millionaire former chairman of the New York Republican Party, is actively weighing a run in the upstate 20th Congressional district.
“I’m very interested,” he said, during a telephone interview Monday, though he cautioned: “This is not an announcement.”
Since now-Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) defeated Republican incumbent John Sweeney in November, Treadwell, whose name has been mentioned as a potential candidate in the past, has been reaching out to county chairmen and other GOP leaders in the district, hitting events such as recent fundraisers for the Saratoga and Rensselaer county Republicans. He also has traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.), a friend from the days when they were both secretaries of state.
A spokeswoman for Gillibrand said the freshman Member is girding for a tough fight in 2008.
Treadwell is a longtime friend and supporter of former New York Gov. George Pataki (R), and served as secretary of State in the Pataki administration from 1995 to 2001.
While the NRCC is remaining neutral for now, Treadwell said the encounter with Cole was “very encouraging.”
Treadwell, a Republican National Committeeman, spent the past year traveling the country in support of Pataki’s presidential ambitions and has been heading his political action committee, 21st Century Freedom PAC, though Treadwell said that role “won’t last much longer.”
Additionally, he has been influential in creating the Lake Placid Regional Winter Sports Committee, a group whose mission is to promote Lake Placid as a national and international venue for sporting events. Treadwell has owned a Lake Placid home, which is in the 20th district, since 2004, but he also has a 400-acre-plus “family farm” on Lake Champlain and another residence in California, where he and his poet wife Libby’s two children live.
A former chairman of the Essex County Republicans, Treadwell was one of the first county chairmen to come out in favor of Pataki for governor in 1994. In the 1970s, he ran unsuccessfully for the New York Assembly.
Born in London, Treadwell, 60, is the son of a former British Army officer and an American mother and is the grandson of a founding executive of General Electric. He began his career as a journalist for Sports Illustrated and later worked at Classic Sports magazine.
After giving up cigarettes in the early 1980s, Treadwell became an avid runner, eventually completing five marathons. He is the author of a book about marathons around the world.
In 2004, President Bush, whose 2005 inauguration Treadwell donated $100,000 to, appointed him to the board of trustees for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Despite his wealth and contacts, Treadwell would not be a lock for the GOP nomination if he runs. Other Republican names that have surfaced as potential contenders in the 10-county district include Assemblyman Roy McDonald; Saratoga County District Attorney Jim Murphy; Richard Wager, son of the former publisher of the Poughkeepsie Journal; state Sen. Betty Little; and John Faso, the failed GOP gubernatorial candidate in 2006.
Faso, a former Assemblyman, told Roll Call last week that the 20th district House race is “not something that’s on my plate right now.” McDonald said he’s “keeping [his] options open” but remains focused on his current job; a spokesman for Little said: “At this point she has no plains to run.”
Treadwell’s reputation for moderate to liberal social stances — as party chairman he reached out to gay groups — potentially could cause problems among conservative GOPers in the district, some New York Republican strategists said.
Mike Long, chairman of the New York Conservative Party, which plays a critical role in the fortunes of Republican candidates, said Treadwell had contacted him but that the two hadn’t “had an eyeball to eyeball [yet] on where he is on issues.”
“If he is a staunch liberal Republican, he’s going to have a tough road ahead of him,” Long said. “We’ll see how staunch he is. … Some of the fun we used to have [when Treadwell was GOP chairman] always alluded to the fact that he was in a different place than I was. We never got into particulars.”
Treadwell declined to characterize his politics, saying: “I’ve always resisted pigeonholes.” He then added: “Certainly, I’m a fiscal conservative.”
Treadwell stepped down as state party chairman after the November 2004 elections amid heavy GOP losses and reports of discontent among the grass roots.
“The [Republican] party is a disaster in New York state,” said McDonald, comparing it with the Whig Party of the 19th century. “Lots of people are to blame for it and he’s going to fall into that category, too.”
Treadwell defended his efforts at the helm of the state party.
“I’m proud of my tenure as state chairman,” Treadwell said, pointing to successes such as Michael Bloomberg’s election as mayor of New York in 2001 and Pataki’s overwhelming re-election in 2002. However, Treadwell, who stepped aside with 10 months left in his second two-year term, did admit that 2004 was “a more difficult year.”
Some veteran New York political consultants said Treadwell also would confront criticism stemming from divisions in the state and local GOP.
“There’s a huge internal divide up there” between the camp represented by Sweeney and former state party chairman William Powers and the more liberal Pataki/Treadwell loyalists, said one longtime New York Republican operative with ties to Pataki. “They feel Treadwell destroyed the party and was just doing Pataki’s bidding.”
Others disagreed, however, saying reports of deep divisions among 20th district Republicans have been exaggerated.
For his part, Treadwell said there was no ill will on his end toward Powers, whose son once served as his deputy when he was secretary of state. Treadwell is described by both Republicans and Democrats alike as a “nice guy,” with a pleasant, likeable demeanor.
“He’s a very refined gentleman,” Long said.
Treadwell has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican committees and candidates over the years. He declined to say how much of his personal wealth he would sink into a potential Congressional race, but said he would not have a problem raising the “significant resources” required to launch a competitive bid.
“If you didn’t know he had money and were standing in a cocktail party in a room with him, you’d think he was maybe like a college professor or like a lawyer. … He is very much like George Pataki,” said the New York Republican operative with ties to Pataki, who described Treadwell as “more a Rockefeller Republican.”
As for the possibility that Gillibrand may face such a well-heeled opponent, one state Democratic official said: “I’m sure there’s concern, but she’s extremely strong.”
Gillibrand’s spokeswoman Rachel McEneny said in the Republican-leaning district Gillibrand, who is in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Frontline” program, is anticipating a “hard-fought” campaign and has two fundraisers planned this month in the district.
“The Congressional honeymoon period probably ended day she was sworn in,” McEneny said. McEneny added: “I’ve only heard very nice things about [Treadwell] as a person” but noted that his tenure at the helm of the state party raised questions about his ability to deliver “on the pressing needs of upstate New York.”