David Bellavia’s dislike for Jane Corwin didn’t just begin when he was passed over as a candidate in the NY-26 race. It goes back to Corwin's earliest days in politics.
And while Bellavia has taken a genuine shine to Tea Party-line candidate Jack Davis, he regrets that his support for Davis is being seen by some as just sour grapes.
Mainly, he supports Davis, he said, because he is an "honorable man" who knows what he stands for while he doesn’t know whether Corwin is a real conservative or just an opportunist.
“She only believes what people within a 5-foot radius of her believe,” Bellavia said. “If she’s in a red district, then she’s red. If she were in New Jersey, she would be a Patacki Republican. I can’t honestly tell you what she believes because all she talks about is negative things. She tells us what’s wrong with Kathy Hochul, but she expresses no beliefs, she has no plans. She’s an empty-suit candidate.”
Bellavia, a Batavia resident and a decorated Iraq War veteran, stopped by The Batavian’s office Monday morning to discuss the race and why he’s come out in favor of Davis and against Corwin.
In 2006, Bellavia backed Republican Tom Reynolds against Jack Davis, and in 2008, even though some in the GOP had encouraged him to run, he backed Chris Lee's campaign. When Shirtless Chris Lee vacated the office, Bellavia let the GOP leaders know he wanted to be the candidate, but Erie County Republicans, particularly the Chris Collins' wing, had another idea.
In a weighted-vote system that disenfranchised GLOW Republicans, the Erie County GOP handpicked Assemblywoman Jane Corwin.
Even so, Bellavia said, after he couldn't get on the ballot as an independent candidate, he was prepared to sit out of the race. But then, the smear campaign started. There were e-mails to his wife's coworkers and bosses suggesting nefarious conduct by Bellavia.
Until this election Bellavia has been a loyal Republican. But he believes the whisper campaign was orchestrated by Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy. He said Langworthy denied it. Langworthy couldn't be reached for comment.
Bellavia believes the Langworthy/Collins camp is taking the Western New York GOP in the wrong direction, that Corwin isn't suited for the office she seeks. While he doesn't agree with Davis on all issues, at least Davis will give you an honest opinion, according to Bellavia.
The questions Bellavia has about Jane Corwin's character began, he said, when they met at a GOP function where she told the group they were talking with that she would never use her own money for an election campaign.
At the time, Bellavia said, he didn't know who Corwin was or the Lewis family/Talking Phone Book connection.
Later, when Corwin had an opportunity to run for Assembly, according to Bellavia, Corwin promised to drop $500,000 of her own money into the race. The self-funding vow immediately caused the other GOP hopefuls to drop out of the race.
He found Corwin's seeming double-speak distasteful, he said.
“Conservatives should stand for truth and honesty,” Bellavia said. “We don’t say just anything to get elected.”
When the nomination process came around for the NY-26 special election to fill the seat vacated by Lee, Bellavia said he witnessed Corwin use the same tactic. Corwin, he said, promised to spend $5 million of her own money on the race.
So far, she’s only put about $2 million into the race and outside money is flooding into the district to shore up her campaign.
“That’s money conservative Republicans in other districts are going to need to protect their seats,” Bellavia said. “Instead of spending her own money like she promised, she’s taking money that the Republican Party will need.”
Bellavia believes the NY-26 should be represented by somebody from one of the rural counties, which are the reddest part of the district. He thinks Erie County Republicans, led by Colins and Langworthy, hold too much sway – and aren’t conservative enough – to get the NY-26 the kind of representation it deserves.
They also represent too narrow a base of Amherst, Range Rover Republicans to truly reflect the more diverse parts of the district, or the working class, rural counties.
“Where are the black conservative Republicans?” Bellavia said. “Where are the conservative Hispanic Republicans? You know they’re out there. Where are they? Where are the farmers? Why can’t we be represented by a farmer?”
The thirtysomethings gaining power in the ECGOP, Bellavia said, are unprincipled, lack values and aren't true conservatives.
He wants to see them stopped before they become entrenched, which will only happen, he said, with a Corwin defeat.
“If she loses, I can guarantee you, the next candidate will be a conservative,” Bellavia said.
“If I have to be the one to fall on a grenade to change the direction of the Republican Party in Western New York, then I’ll be happy stay out of politics, to just raise my kids and stay right here in Batavia,” he added.
Which raises the question, is Jack Davis a conservative?
“He’s right on a lot of issues,” Bellavia said.
Bellavia then listed off trade (he characterizes Jack’s position as “fair trade”), he's right on the Second Amendment (he noted Davis has a substantial gun collection and loves guns), and Davis has said he will caucus with the Republicans and the Tea Party. He said Corwin hasn’t said that she will caucus with the Tea Party.
In fact, Bellavia said that typically, the Tea Party movement is supposed to stand against mainstream, GOP insiders, and today, the Tea Party Express was in Buffalo endorsing Jane Corwin, the epitome of a GOP insider.
As for abortion – Bellavia is staunchly pro-life -- he disputed claims that Davis has said he supports partial-birth abortion. While he doesn’t agree with Davis’s overall position on abortion, he said Corwin’s position is even worse.
“She said she favored allowing abortion in the first trimester,” Bellavia said. “Nobody talks about trimesters. Either you’re pro-life or pro-choice. You only talk about trimesters if you’re a career politician trying to have it both ways.”
Bellavia said he was disappointed in New York pro-life groups when he went to them to seek support for his candidacy and was told they were going to sit on the sidelines in this race. He said one group announced that Corwin is “pro-life enough.”
As for the other candidates in the race, Bellavia said he personally likes Kathy Hochul and Ian Murphy. He called Hochul a “good Catholic and strong woman.” He also said she’s a liberal Democrat and disagrees with her on a lot of positions.
As for Murphy, he said the Green Party candidate is smart and funny.
“If Murphy gets (as much as) 2 percent of the vote, it’s going to be an embarrassment for Corwin,” Bellavia said. “He’s nailed her character. He saw in her what the Republicans should have seen in her.”
As for regrets, he has a few.
Bellavia said he likes Assemblyman Steve Hawley but regrets that he got off on the wrong foot with him.
Early on, Bellavia admitted, he said that Steve never would have been elected to the Assembly if his name was Johnson rather than Hawley. He knows that really offended Steve and he never should have said it.
Then, in the run up to this race, word leaked out that Collins, Langworthy and Carl Paladino offered Bellavia Steve Hawley’s Assembly seat if Bellavia would drop out of the congressional race (the plan was, Hawley would move to Ranzenhofer’s Senate seat and Ranzenhofer would become a judge).
Bellavia regrets that a discussion that was supposed to remain behind closed doors among a small group of people leaked out.
He said it was an unfair to Hawley that the conversation was leaked.
“It didn’t come from me. I never said a word,” Bellavia said. “I never even considered it for a minute and I wouldn’t take such a deal.”
Bellavia’s other regret is that some people think he’s just the “candidate scorned” and that’s the only reason he’s backing Davis.
“Honestly, 90 percent of my initial response was these guys were so nasty that I wanted to get back at them, but I stand with Jack today,” Bellavia said. “I could have just stood back and lobbed bombs, but Jack Davis is an honorable man. I honestly believe in Jack Davis.”
We left two phone messages with Matt Harakal, spokesman for Jane Corwin, and invited him either to provide answers to interview questions or submit a response of any length at any time after publication. We followed up the phone offer with an e-mail. We also reached out to Nick Langworthy for comment and would welcome a written response from Langworthy.
It should also be noted that we’ve extended at least a half dozen invites to Jane Corwin to stop by The Batavian office for an interview. We’ve never gotten a yes or no response from Harakal to any of those requests.