Fallout from Hardwick's decision to split with county GOP

Republicans said legislator was not conservative, Democrats supportive of his moderate positions

Mike Baggerman
December 18, 2018 - 12:07 pm

Erie County Legislature meets. December 6, 2018 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - Reaction from county officials were largely partisan after the news broke on Tuesday morning that Erie County Legislator Kevin Hardwick is no longer going to conference with republicans.

Hardwick, who has been a republican for four decades, said he's joining the democratic caucus of the county legislature beginning January 1 because he said the republican party is no longer what it was when he initially joined it. He told WBEN on Tuesday that he hasn't made a final decision whether or not he will join the democratic party but said he's leaning towards it. 

"If you want to be a player, you have be in one of the two major parties," Hardwick said. "I think it's the best decision for me. It's the best decision for my constituents."

Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy on Twitter said that Hardwick sold out by leaving the conference and that they are recruiting a Republican candidate for 2019.

Erie County Legislature Minority Leader Joe Lorigo said he heard about Hardwick leaving the caucus on Monday.

"He was sick and tired of going off the reservation and having to be put on the reservation, have things go well for a couple months only to go off the reservation again," Lorigo explained. "He was sick and tired of being put back on the reservation and he wanted to basically do his own thing. I'm not surprised."

Lorigo said that Hardwick was playing the politics of Kevin Hardwick and explained that he is neither a democrat nor a republican. 

"Since I got to the legislature in 2012, Kevin's only been looking out for Kevin," Lorigo added. "There's been a number of times over the past seven years that I've been a member of the legislature where we've had disagreements. I don't believe Kevin really stands for anything other than what's best for himself. Throughout the years, we've had a caucus...that prided ourselves on sticking together as a cohesive unit. Kevin would pretend to buy into that message but would, at the last minute, go off and cut his own deals and help himself to the detriment of everybody else."

Democrat Pat Burke said Hardwick leaving the legislature is a positive for democrats and for everyone.

"Kevin Hardwick has always been a moderate republican," Burke, who will be resigning from his position on the legislature on Wednesday and will be replaced by Tim Meyers on Thursday, explained. "I think it's become just become more and more difficult in the current era and the current political climate to stay a moderate republican in the current republican party."

The flip for Hardwick means that democrats add to their majority and now hold seven votes to the four by republicans. However, this comes with an asterisk because democrat Tom Loughran has, on several occasions, voted in favor of republican efforts, including the recent Erie County budget. The Erie County Democratic Committee tweeted that Loughran is "ineffective and treacherous" because of his vote on the budget, which is why he did not earn the trust of fellow democrats for the Chair of the Legislature.

Republican political strategist Michael Caputo said that Hardwick has been a republican only in name for several years.

"You never knew what you could say around him because it would go right back to the democrats and right to Mark Poloncarz," Caputo said. "It's been that way for years. When he first ran for office, he talked a good, conservative game. When he got into the legislature, he cut deals on the back end with democrats every year."

Caputo said that Hardwick was a supporter of term limits but didn't follow his own term limit plan. 

Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner released the follow statement

"When the voters of Erie County gave Democrats the majority last year, they expected us to move this region forward and put their interests ahead of party and self-interest.

Kevin Hardwick believes in those same principles, as he proved when he refused to go along with a reckless partisan attempt to derail the County Executive's budget or take contributions from Tonawanda Coke as so many others in the GOP did. He is also committed to fighting for the working families of Western New York and has the support of the AFL-CIO and the Working Families Party.

In the Trump era of extreme partisanship, people are tired of petty politics and do-nothing government, which is why Democrats have retaken the House of Representatives and fewer people are identifying as Republicans. It is important to maintain our majority in the Erie County Legislature so we may continue on the path of fiscal responsibility, economic growth, and greater opportunity for everyone in our community.

Our Caucus and our party are open to new ideas, and while we may not always agree, we know Kevin will be an outstanding addition to our side of the aisle because he shares our belief in governing responsibly and for the benefit of the people who put us here."

Republican Erie County Legislator Ed Rath

“Legislator Hardwick’s political ideology has often been known to shift depending on what benefits him personally. So his decision to join the Democratic caucus is no surprise. He’ll spin this as him being some type of compromising maverick, that’s laughable.

 During this budget process, our budget package only gave him 90% of what he demanded, the Democratic package that raised taxes gave him 100% of what he demanded. It was as simple as that. That’s how he approaches governing.

 Erie County is sitting on $120,000,000 of cash, money which belongs in the pockets of taxpayers. When Republicans led the Legislature, Legislator Hardwick blocked substantial tax reform. He has done it again this year, and now Erie County hasn’t provided real property tax relief in 20-years. Residents can now thank maverick Hardwick for stopping real reform in Erie County, more money for roads and a measurable tax decrease.”

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw:

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz:

“I have known Professor Kevin Hardwick for many years and, while we have not always agreed on matters of policy, I have always known him to be a man of principle, an honest negotiator and a hardworking legislator focused on meeting the needs of his constituents. Professor Hardwick was elected to the Legislature in 2009 and throughout that time he has been a respectful and articulate man of his word, not given to the bullying, threats, and posturing that seem to dominate the minority caucus today. While he and I did not discuss his decision to leave the minority caucus prior to his announcing it, I am certain that as a lifelong Republican it was not an easy decision for him to make. Professor Hardwick was elected to the legislature in 2009, a legislator in the Jack Kemp-Jack Quinn model who, like other moderate consensus-building republicans, has realized that his party has left him behind. In those nearly 10 years as a Legislator he has acted with thoughtfulness, character, and integrity, traits that apparently no longer have a place in the minority caucus.  When faced with a caucus that was determined to create a budgetary hole that would harm county finances for years to come, Professor Hardwick understood that responsible adult decisions needed to be made and he joined in a bi-partisan manner with his legislative colleagues to craft a budget that delivers the largest property tax rate decrease seen in Erie County in over a decade along with increased funding for roads. No secret political “deals” were made, no nefarious “quid pro quos” took place, just a small group of individuals who were willing to work weekends and evenings together to hash out a fiscally prudent budget. While others refused to work across the aisle, Legislator Hardwick put the people ahead of leaders in the republican and minor parties and went to work, whatever it took. Now the Minority Leader and the Comptroller are rabidly attacking Professor Hardwick, claiming that he “struck a deal” and “sold out” his caucus by working to actually do the people’s business. On the contrary, Legislator Hardwick is an example of a public servant who knows the right thing to do and does it. As a professor of political science Professor Hardwick knows compromise and bi-partisanship are not bad things but rather are essential to creating a responsible, balanced budget. I welcomed Professor Hardwick’s input during the budget process and look forward to working with him in the future."

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