Greg Rigby, chairman of the Cayuga County Conservative Party, praised longtime state party chair Mike Long one day after Long revealed he will step down as the party's leader.
Long, a member of the Conservative Party since 1964 and chair for the last three decades, announced his departure at the conclusion of the party's annual conference in Albany. He sent a letter to members of the state committee informing them of the decision.
"I am fully aware that the fight for conservative values carries on and that many battles remain, but I feel the time for new leadership is upon us," Long wrote.
Rigby said in a phone interview Tuesday that while there have been conversations about Long's future plans, he was "a little shocked" at the timing. He attended the Conservative Party Political Action Conference, where Long first made his announcement.
The working relationship between Long and Rigby began in 2003, when Rigby became chair of the Cayuga County Conservative Party. In addition to his county role, Rigby is one of 11 state vice chairs.
"Mike has always come up to our committee meetings and our fundraisers, and he's been intimately involved not just in Cayuga County, but throughout the state," Rigby said.
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Under Long's tenure, the Conservative Party established itself as an influential minor party. The party aligned with Republicans to support candidates for Congress, state Legislature and statewide offices.
The party now occupies Row C on the ballot, behind Democrats and Republicans. In the 2018 statewide election, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Marc Molinaro received 253,624 votes on the Conservative Party line. That was more than Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo received on three minor party lines combined.
Long plans to remain involved with the state party. An election will be held next month to choose his successor.
Rigby told The Citizen that there are at least six people who have expressed interest in running for chair. He has been asked to run, but hasn't decided if he will seek the post.
Long, Rigby said, believes the party could use younger leadership and a different point of view. Rigby noted that it's a reflection of how Long led the party for 30 years.
"It's never been about him," he said. "It's always been about our philosophy, the taxpayers and residents, doing the right thing with common sense and respect."