Could Ralph Lorigo's candidacy for New York governor hold the surprise of the primary season?
Wait - who?
Lorigo, a Buffalo-area lawyer, mustered about a third of the weighted vote at the Conservative Party state convention May 28, to make the primary ballot against the designated candidate - Rick Lazio, the former Long Island congressman.
Given his longtime role as the party's Erie County chairman, Lorigo's run is layered in intraparty intrigue.
Lorigo has clear ties to Buffalo billionaire Carl Paladino - who's also giving Lazio a primary challenge, but on the Republican line.
At a meeting March 19 of the Conservatives' state executive committee, Lorigo pushed for Paladino to get the minor-party line rather than Lazio, the favorite of state party chairman Michael Long.
After Lazio won that fight - but before Paladino petitioned his way onto the Republican ballot - Lorigo, an enrolled Conservative, put his own name up for governor.
"I'm running to save the Conservative Party. Carl is running to save the state," was how Lorigo presented it Thursday.
John Andrew Kay, a lawyer and insurance broker in Huntington Station, joined up with Lorigo at the Conservative convention. He got the weighted vote needed to challenge Greg Edwards, Lazio's choice for lieutenant governor, in the Sept. 14 primary. But Kay declined a ballot spot the following week, once Edwards won the Republican endorsement. Kay - along with Suffolk Conservative chairman Ed Walsh, who initially backed the newly Republican Suffolk Executive Steve Levy for governor - now are counted in the Lazio camp.
Just Thursday, however, Lorigo's campaign website still posted a message alluding to "my running mate for Lt. Governor, John Andrew Kay." "I like Ralph very much," Kay said, but urged him to remove the reference. "I was not ever in it to be a spoiler. I'm with the Conservative Party, which means I'm with Ed and Mike, and so I'm with Rick Lazio," Kay said.
In mailings, Lorigo slams Lazio on abortion, gun control, oil drilling, the federal bank bailout and Democrat Andrew Cuomo's record as U.S. housing secretary. Lorigo has some regional supporters. Tom Cronin, a longtime Bronx Conservative activist, said this week: "He's the conservative in the race as far as I'm concerned" and most likely to get the 50,000 votes in November needed to preserve the party's ballot status. Suffolk activist John Bugler hails Lorigo as the true anti-abortion candidate.
"We'll get the 50,000 for sure," said Walsh. "You look at the world, everyone's going conservative."
The firmly pro-Lazio Long has called for Lorigo's resignation as one of the party's state vice chairs. "It is clear that he is a stalking horse for Paladino," Long said. "The night of our convention, in Ben Benson's restaurant, he told a number of our people that Paladino had promised to fund his [Lorigo's] race to the tune of a half-million dollars."
A state Board of Elections finance disclosure form for "Friends of Ralph Lorigo," which was due July 15, had yet to be posted Thursday on the board's website. Yet, Long said, Lorigo held at least one fundraiser in Erie months ago, and sent out materials marked as paid for by the Lorigo committee.
Lorigo says he'll file the form and focus on mailings later in the campaign. "It's very clear," he said, "in terms of when and what Mike is saying, that he's now concerned about the candidacy."
Long, however, predicted the party will prevail, with the better-known Lazio carrying the banner, and said: "Ralph's just there as a distraction to Lazio in the Conservative primary."