Eight potential Maffei challengers attend GOP forum to make their case

Feb 28, 2014

The race for Congress in the Syracuse area's 24th District is heating up. Republicans in the district that includes all of Onondaga, Cayuga and Wayne counties, and part of Oswego County, will decide who gets the party nod at a convention this weekend in Syracuse. The eight Republicans who want the chance to run against incumbent Dan Maffei got to make their case in front of a roomful of conservatives Thursday night.

The six men and two women who want the party nod come from very different backgrounds. There’s federal prosecutor John Katko; economist Janet Burman; farmer and retired army Colonel John Lemondes; attorney Rick Guy; businesswoman Jane Rossi; industry rep Randy Wolken; conservative activist Ian Hunter; and accountant Jason Lesch of Cayuga County, the only politician not from Onondaga County, where most of the voters are.

Making their cases at the Palace Theatre in Eastwood, all agreed on the basic conservative principle of too much government. But the overriding theme of the evening was a concern about a lack of leadership in Washington that they say has left the country adrift.

Katko puts it in a nutshell.

“The lack of leadership is going to make a huge difference down the road, when we’re trying to deal with these major issues, such as the budget, the deficit, the debt," Katko said. "You really need strong leadership, and we really don’t have that now in Washington.”

It’s that move toward new leadership that Wolken says the Republican candidates agree on.

“We need change," Wolken said. "Our current representative isn’t focused on growing jobs here. He isn’t focused on accomplishing outcomes, he really isn’t interested in representing us. And that’s what most people are interested in, change to a more active, more substantial leadership style.”

Attorney Rick Guy told the crowd he feels the time is ripe for a conservative Republican in Washington.

"This is going to be one of the major conservative moments in the last 30 years in my opinion, simply because people are really taken aback by the abuses of the executive office,” Guy said.

Former Army Colonel John Lemondes echoed his response, saying the time is right for change.

"I think people have simply had enough. They are tired," Lemondes said. "If you look at our state, we are dead last, 50 out of 50, in business friendliness.”

And while a stalled economy and bloated federal bureaucracy may have been the most talked about issues, candidates also skirted around what political pundits believe will be the biggest issue in these mid-term elections; the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Rossi called it a gift to Republicans.

"When a government gets too big and reaches into your private life, it kind of wakes people up, I think," Rossi said. "And I think it is a uniform message that we all have.”

In what is most likely a preview of the general election, the Republicans slammed issues ranging from the impact of the Affordable Care Act, to the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi. A convention of the four counties that are home to the 24th District will determine the party nominee March 1. As many as five of the candidates have indicated they may run in a primary if they don’t get the party nod.