Tonawanda News


May 16, 2011

DUVALL: In the race for NY's 26th district, it's TEA for two

— — It’s a problem that has vexed veteran political observers and members of the movement alike: What exactly is the tea party?

Is it a separate group from the Republican party? Is it just a rebranding of the most conservative elements of the GOP? Is it supposed to help get Republicans elected or is it supposed to replace Republicans with a more stouthearted stock of politicians?

In New York, at least, it isn’t helping the Grand Old Party as much as it’s hurting it.

After watching Carl Paladino set back the Republican slate at least a decade with his disastrous gubernatorial bid, the Republican faithful have to be thinking “here we go again” with this special election.

Enter Jack Davis, as vexing a political figure as there’s been on the Western New York scene in years.

Davis is a lifelong Republican, except for the three times he ran for Congress as a Democrat.

(Full disclosure: During Davis’ first congressional bid in 2004, before I was hired as a reporter for GNN, I did paid communications work for Jeffrey Bono’s state Assembly campaign in the 142nd district, the seat now held by Jane Corwin. Davis was a financial contributor to the Bono campaign.)

The Democrats didn’t mind taking Jack’s money when they thought the seat was a lost cause, but after Chris Lee’s shirtless photo escapade, it was time to clear the deck for a real candidate. Republicans felt the same way and Davis was left out in the cold.

So he started a third party bid, running on the Tea Party ballot line.

But since no one really knows what that means, it’s been a little confusing. There are several factions in the local tea party (lower case) movement. Rus Thompson, the Grand Island activist who was an adviser to Paladino, can’t stand Davis and has been sending out emails to reporters and supporters alike, fuming that Davis has co-opted the tea party brand for his own political ambitions.

Thompson has plans to endorse Corwin on Monday in an effort to bolster her conservative credentials and win back some of the tea party sympathizers who have defected to the Davis camp.

Funny, how one tea party’s goal, as outlined by Rus in an email Saturday, seems to be to help the GOP.

“The special election and who wins it will have an effect on the redistricting of New York state. We cannot let a liberal tax and spend Democrat pull out a victory here. There are many disgruntled, angry Republicans out there and some of them are helping in the Davis camp. They want to defeat the Republican machine and that is all they care about. This is NOT the race to do it, this is NOT the time or place to play vengeance politics. Or run a campaign on a fraudulent TEA Party line to split the vote,” he wrote.

But is Rus Thompson the sole arbiter of one’s tea party bona fides? Not if you ask David Bellavia, another tea party candidate and activist who is supporting Davis.

Bellavia is an Iraq war veteran who ran for Congress in 2010. Feeling spurned by a Republican machine that cast him aside in favor of Corwin, Bellavia has taken on the role of Corwin attacker, giving the Republican candidate some serious headaches from what should have been her stable conservative base.

He sent out an email Saturday, as well, quoting — of all people — Rus Thompson, ranting about some shady back room deals that the Republican establishment made during the Paladino campaign.

“Why would you help (Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy) and (Corwin campaign manager Chris Grant), when they hate the Tea Party so much that they would do this?” Bellavia asked.

All of this fighting over turf on the right flank hasn’t accomplished much good for any of the parties involved. We’re no closer to knowing whether Davis is a true conservative or just a political opportunist; Jane Corwin is losing ground in a race she never should have had to sweat.

By contrast, Kathy Hochul looks like a clear-headed, competent candidate who’s running a smart campaign.

And all this time, I thought it was the Democrats who held the circular firing squads.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Contact him at

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