Millionaires Poised to Take GOP Fight to N.Y. Freshmen

Posted April 18, 2007 at 6:26pm

Two Republican multimillionaires are poised to jump into Congressional races in adjoining New York districts where upstart Democrats ousted GOP incumbents last fall, sources in the Empire State and Washington, D.C., said this week.

In the upstate 20th district, former New York Republican Chairman Sandy Treadwell, who has been preparing for a House bid for several months, filed papers Monday to challenge Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D).

And Republican leaders believe they have persuaded Andrew Saul, a veteran of the fashion industry and the investment world, to run against Rep. John Hall (D) in the Hudson Valley’s 19th district. He may formally enter the race before the end of the month.

Both Saul, the chairman of Caché Inc., the women’s fashion manufacturer and retailer, and Treadwell, an heir to the General Electric fortune, are longtime donors to Republican candidates and causes, and both are expected to wage free-spending campaigns to defeat the Democratic freshmen.

“We’re confident we can win both seats back,” said Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

But Democrats dismiss the two millionaires as political novices who are simply trying to buy their way into Congress.

Gillibrand and Hall rode the national anti-Republican wave that crested in New York last year to upset victories in GOP-leaning House districts. Both have toured their districts tirelessly since taking office, and both posted very solid fundraising numbers for the first quarter of the year — Gillibrand especially.

Gillibrand raised $668,000 and banked $552,000 through March 31; Hall raised $350,000 and had $342,000 on hand.

Still, their fundraising totals could be dwarfed if Saul and Treadwell spend liberally from their own pockets. Both men are known for their civic and philanthropic work, and each has been generous to state and national Republicans for years. Both stepped up their activity with the Empire State GOP through their association with former Gov. George Pataki (R).

Pataki appointed Treadwell New York secretary of state and then arranged for him to become state party chairman, a post he held through the end of 2004. Saul is the Pataki-appointed vice chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency that oversees New York City buses and subways and several commuter rail lines.

Treadwell has a wealth of connections in the 20th district through his work as state chairman and has been reaching out to party activists since late 2006. He spoke at a Lincoln Day dinner Tuesday night in Columbia County and recently set up his first campaign office in Saratoga Springs. Bill McGahay, who served as state GOP executive director when Treadwell was chairman, is already doing work for him.

Treadwell said he is in the “process of putting a team together” and finalizing his “media folks and polling people.” At the moment, he said his campaign was focused on “raising dollars” and “planning events.”

Treadwell said he told the Columbia County Republicans: “I very much want to be your candidate.”

But while Treadwell appears to be the favorite of national Republican leaders, his path to the GOP nomination is not assured. For starters, there remains a slim possibility that former Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), who lost the seat to Gillibrand by 6 points in November, may try to get his old job back.

What’s more, Treadwell may be deemed too centrist by New York’s small but influential Conservative Party, which often holds sway in Republican nominating fights.

Even if Sweeney remains on the sidelines, Treadwell might not be the only Republican in the 20th district race. Richard Wager, a 36-year-old aide to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) and son of the former publisher of the Poughkeepsie Journal, has created an exploratory committee and recently held his first fundraiser.

Although he grew up in the district, Wager has been living in New York City. But he said he and his wife recently bought a house in suburban Millbrook and rent an apartment in New York.

Wager, who also worked for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) and is getting support from current and former Giuliani and Bloomberg aides, said he would not make an official decision on the race until this fall. He called Treadwell a “very nice man” but said he was not worried about matching the former chairman’s deep pockets.

“I think our fundraising structure will allow us to be competitive with anyone,” he said, declining to elaborate.

Corinne Weber, Dutchess County Republican chairwoman, said at this point Treadwell and Wager are the leading contenders for the GOP nomination.

“The people are going to have a hard time making a decision between the two,” she said. “Both are unbelievable candidates. … We are having a rough time figuring out what we want to do.”

While conceding that Treadwell’s track record with the state party may give him a “slight edge,” Weber added, “Some will go for Rich because he’s the hometown boy.”

Some state and local elected officials also are mentioned as potential candidates in the 20th district, but they are unlikely to run.

Meanwhile, in the 19th district, Saul has begun to reach out to party leaders to discuss the race, GOP sources said.

Saul is about as plugged in politically as Treadwell is. His daughter, Jennifer Saul Yaffa, is the Republican national committeewoman for New York and doubles as the chairwoman of the Manhattan GOP.

Neither Saul nor Yaffa responded to phone messages this week. One Republican leader in New York said Saul had been out of town tending to a family illness.

One seasoned GOP operative in the Empire State was surprised to hear that Saul was considering a run for the House.

“It just doesn’t seem like him,” the Republican said. “Knowing his personality, I don’t see him as one of 400 idiots [in the House].”

Another veteran New York GOP strategist predicted that Hall, a former pop star, would be harder to defeat than many Republicans realize because his district is rapidly moving to the left. Both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and now-Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) racked up huge margins in the 19th district in 2006.

“The only way I can see a Republican taking back that seat is if the Republican Party nominates Rudy Giuliani for president,” said the strategist, Mike Edelman, who is based in Westchester County. “Otherwise, I think it’s gone over to the other side for a long time.”

But Spain insisted that the White House campaign could prove beneficial to the Republican nominees in both the 19th and the 20th districts.

“All three leading [GOP] presidential contenders have proven they can perform well in the Northeast, and we believe they will help us there as well,” he said.

Assuming Saul runs, he may have to fight for the Republican nomination with Kieran Michael Lalor, an Iraq War veteran and conservative activist.

Ex-Rep. Joe DioGuardi (R-N.Y.), who has made several comeback attempts since losing his seat in 1988, has expressed some interest in challenging Hall, though he has taken no steps to run.

Carrie James, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said that all the Republican machinations in the two districts will be for naught, because both Hall and Gillibrand are working hard and delivering on the promises they made when they were elected.

“We’re confident that Reps. Hall and Gillibrand will be back to serve the hardworking families of New York in 2008,” she said.