In Republican circles, Reilich had always been popular and respected. Yet, after the long Minarik reign (many GOP elected officials had never known another Chairman), it was a leap into something completely new. It’s probably fair to say that Monroe County Republicans were optimistic about Reilich, and had reason to be. That’s different, however, from being assured.
Today they’re very solidly assured. The successes of Monroe County Republicans in the last two years have matched those attained in the highest moments of the Minarik era. Many would say they’ve surpassed them.
Chairman Reilich’s first test as party leader. A tremendous national Democratic tide, fueled by the unpopularity of George W. Bush and by the popularity of Barack Obama threatens even local Republicans. A presidential election year, meaning stronger than usual turnout by Democratic voters, made stronger still by the excitement of the Obama candidacy.
Locally, the State Democratic Party, hoping to capture the State Senate, pulled out all the stops, mounting serious and well financed challenges to Senators Joe Robach (facing Rick Dollinger) and Jim Alesi (facing David Nachbar). Local Democratic Chairman Joe Morelle followed suit, pouring $200,000 of State Democratic Assembly Campaign money into the effort to defeat Reilich himself.
The Democratic candidate for County Clerk, challenging incumbent Cheryl DiNolfo, ran an unimpressive campaign; otherwise there was Democratic strength across the board for almost every office.
Outcome: As Republicans took a nasty beating nationally, Monroe County Republicans won every competitively contested race, save one. (Incumbent Supreme Court Judge Lunn blew his campaign, wasting $75,000 on billboards, and spending only $25,000 on television, allowing Democrat Joanne Winslow to take his seat.) Alesi beat back the aggressive campaign from Nachbar; Robach succeeded against the formidable former Senator Dollinger, through a disciplined, positive campaign.
The achievement of Monroe County Republicans, under Reilich’s leadership, stood out conspicuously from among the national and statewide Republican wreckage.
We could sum it up verbally with two words, “County Legislature,” and visually by the look on Joe Morelle’s face on TV on election night, which looked like the dog just died.
Democrats in the County Legislature were measuring for curtains in the County Legislature Majority Office, Democratic Legislator Paul Haney was contemplating life as the Legislature President, and the champagne was iced and waiting in the editorial offices and newsrooms of the Democrat and Chronicle, when election night brought them the unwelcome surprise that Reilich’s Republicans had held the line. In numerous hotly contested races for seats in the Legislature, Republicans held every seat, denying Democrats the single seat they needed to sieze the majority.
The story repeated across the County. Republicans took over Morelle’s home base of Irondequoit, electing a Supervisor and two Town Board members. In Reilich’s home base of Greece, with all of the publicity over problems in the police department there, Supervisor John Auberger successfully beat back the most concerted and well-funded Democratic effort in years, denying Democrats even a single seat on the Town Board. Of all the competitive local elections in 2009, Republicans lost but one, a town Board seat in Mendon, at the same time they picked up the Mendon Supervisor’s seat.
Elections aren’t won by a Party Chairman alone. Reilich came into the Chairmanship with a talented group of operatives on board, most notably the renowned “Hannibal” and his A-Team, as it’s said they’re known among GOP insiders. They knew what the strategy should be and how to implement it. But it was Reilich who made the decision to keep the Team together, and who ratified the strategy and its implementation. Ultimately, it’s the Chairman’s responsibility. He’s the one Republicans would be blaming had things gone the other way.
The 2009 Republican victory, against all expectations, will be remembered for a long time by political types in Monroe County. Together with the local GOP sweep on 2008, it constitutes a remarkable record of success for Bill Reilich.
Republicans picked the right guy.
Happy 2nd anniversary, Mr. Reilich.
Originally published by The Mustard Street