SOMERS, N.Y. - Phil Oliva of Somers has quietly thrown his hat into a crowded ring of contenders seeking the Republican nomination to unseat Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of Cold Spring in the 18th congressional district.
While he does not make it official until later this month, Oliva confirmed this week that he has filed to run, joining five other prospective Maloney challengers.
After working in government and politics for the better part of two decades, Oliva will be making his first bid for elected office. The Heritage Hills resident is a senior advisor to Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, whose 2013 re-election campaign he managed. He has also been a speechwriter for then-Gov. George Pataki and managed district operations and appropriations for an upstate congressman.
In the private sector, Oliva was director of communications strategy and external affairs for a Connecticut-based healthcare company for four years before founding Gipper Communications. A White Plains-based consultancy focused on strategic communications and planning for political, corporate and not-for-profit clients, it started in 2011.
“I’m running because our country is heading in the wrong direction, Washington is broken, and as a young father I’m very concerned about the future,” Oliva said in an interview. “I also believe I would be a much better representative for this district than the incumbent.”
At least five other challengers, all of them upstate Republicans, apparently feel the same way and have already filed to run, fueling the likelihood of a GOP primary contest in September.
Geography could play a role in that race. Westchester, once a dominant presence in the 18th district, has only a handful of communities left in the district after the 2010 census, Somers among them. The others are North Salem and a little piece of Yorktown; parts of North Castle (including Armonk) and New Castle; and Lewisboro, Pound Ridge and Bedford.
But the district also comprises all of Putnam and Orange counties and part of Dutchess County, places with most of the hometowns of Oliva’s prospective opponents. Other than John Lange, a Bedford Hills native, these potential primary foes live north of the county: Sakima A.G. Brown of Poughkeepsie, Dan Castricone of Tuxedo, Ken Del Vecchio of Warwick and Frank Sampinato of Newburgh.
Oliva insisted he is not concerned that his upstate opponents might attempt to hang a “Westchester values” tag on him.
“I have traditional American values,” he said, citing his working-class roots in the Bronx, where he learned, “early on, the values of hard work and personal responsibility.”
Voters throughout the district “can relate to the issues I am running on: a strong national defense, a strong free-enterprise economy, secure borders and limited government,” Oliva continued. “In the end, voters will vote for the candidate they believe best shares their values and will best represent them.”
He and his wife, Jessica, have called Somers home for the past four years. They now have two children, Philip, 4, and Daniela, 2, and expect their third next month. Oliva, a 1995 graduate of Siena College, earned his MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Lally School of Management and Technology.
The candidate plans a formal campaign kickoff Jan. 30 with an announcement at Four Brothers Restaurant in Mahopac. The event begins at 11 a.m. and is open to the public.
Asked which presidential candidate he most resembles in both views and temperament, Oliva chose Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and his “hopeful, optimistic message on restoring the American dream.”
“He’s a conservative who speaks in a moderate, friendly tone,” he said, calling to mind “The Great Communicator,” Ronald Reagan.
At the same time, however, Oliva understands the appeal of current frontrunner Donald Trump.
“People are upset, frustrated and even angry about the direction our country is going in and Trump is speaking to that,” he said. “People are tired with the political correctness and so am I.”