State Republican chairman Joseph Mondello said Monday he has decided not to run for a second term as his chief rival, Manhattan attorney Edward Cox, announced he has the support of more than half of New York's county chairmen for the job.
Mondello, 71, said in a statement he had made his decision weeks ago to refocus his attention on Nassau County, where he has led the Republican party since 1983.
"I am confident I would win re-election as state chairman by a comfortable margin," Mondello said of next month's Republican convention. But he said he chose instead to "give my undivided attention to this year's critical campaigns in Nassau County" as Republicans seek to retake the county executive's office and a majority in the county legislature.
"My first love has always been the Nassau County Republican Committee," he said.
As Mondello mulled over his options, he met Friday in Nassau with former GOP presidential contender and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Accounts of what transpired, however, are in conflict.
Mondello's spokesman, Anthony Santino, said Mondello is supporting Henry Wojtaszek, Niagara GOP chairman, as his successor.
Although Cox announced the support of 41 of New York's 62 Republican county chairman, Wojtaszek Monday said he is optimistic, pointing out that state committee members, not their county chairmen, elect the new leader. "It's not over 'til we cast the vote," Wojtaszek said.
Cox, a son-in-law of the late president Richard Nixon, will continue to run an aggressive campaign, said senior adviser Thomas J. Basile.
Mondello said he is proud that he put the GOP state committee back on sound financial footing after he became chairman in November 2006.
Former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) praised Mondello's tireless work for the party even though the two have had a rocky relationship since Republicans lost control of the Senate last year.
Skelos said in a statement, "I am very pleased that Joe will be able to devote all of his time and energy in the future to leading the Republican party back to power in Nassau County."
Nassau politics have changed dramatically since Mondello became chairman 26 years ago. Then, registered Republican voters outnumbered Democrats and the GOP controlled virtually all local government. Now Democratic voters have an edge over Republicans and Democrats control three of four countywide elected offices, the county legislature and the Town of North Hempstead.
"No one should ever underestimate Joe Mondello," said Nassau and state Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs. "I wish him well on his return to Nassau County, but not too well."
But Legis. David Mejias (D-Farmingdale), a county lawmaker targeted by Mondello this fall, said, "Joe Mondello is not exactly the fresh face Nassau County is looking for."