Forty-eight years ago, outraged that the Republican Party was turning to Republican-in-Name-Only John Lindsay as its candidate for mayor of New York, conservatives in the party rallied to columnist William F. Buckley and the young Conservative Party of New York in the race for City Hall.
Buckley won only 12.9 percent of the vote and a third-place finish, but the Conservative Party, which had been founded only three years before Buckley’s bid, arrived as a force in New York politics.
Four years later, the Conservative Party again tussled with Lindsay. The party’s standard-bearer, conservative state Sen. John Marchi, defeated the mayor in the Republican primary, forcing Lindsay to win re-election in a three-way race as the nominee of the small Liberal Party.
All of that is dust today. For all the influence Buckley, Marchi, and the Conservative Party had on the New York Republican Party, often by emphasizing conservative stands on social issues, it holds little sway today.
With New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg completing his tenure, most of the major GOP hopefuls now running for nomination to succeed him embrace liberal stands on gay marriage and abortion, positions which would spell suicide for Republican candidates in most parts of the country.
The two bona-fide Republicans who are running for mayor are liberals by virtually every standard.
Joe Lhota, former Metropolitan Transit Authority boss, has raised $700,000 and is considered the front-runner. But he could run into problems in the form of billionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, whose son-in-law is New York lawyer Christopher Cox — grandson of Richard Nixon.
Catsimatidis, who has spread his wealth to campaigns in the past, has the backing of the Manhattan and Queens GOP chairmen, former Republican Gov. George Pataki, and New York State Senate Leader Dean Skelos.
Two of the other leading hopefuls for the GOP nod for mayor have won elective office as Democrats.
Former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. is also a past Obama administration official, but this has not stopped Brooklyn GOP Chairman Craig Eaton from backing him for his party’s mayoral nod. Malcolm Smith is a Democratic state senator from Queens, but is allied with Republican senators in Albany.
Under the Empire State’s complex election law, each of those Democrats would need a “Wilson Pakula” — the law requiring the backing of a certain percentage of party leaders for the candidate of one party to seek nomination of another — in order to enter the Republican sweepstakes.
So where is the Conservative Party of New York, which was such a major player in moving the Republicans in Gotham to the right in the 1960s and ’70s?
The Conservative Party, which recovered the third line (Row C) on the state ballot after the Independence Party held it for many years, seems likely to wind up with Lhota or Catsimatidis as its candidate, a far cry from when the party insisted on conservative positions on social issues.
Twenty years ago, Conservative Party State Chairman Mike Long held several lengthy lunches with GOP mayoral hopeful Rudy Giuliani and repeatedly told the prosecutor that his stands on abortion, gun control and other “red meat” issues meant he was not going to get the Conservative line.
Sure enough, the Conservative Party gave its mayoral nod to George Marlin, later head of the city’s Port Authority, and Giuliani won on the Republican and Liberal lines. In 2000, when Giuliani was briefly a U.S. Senate hopeful, he again sought the Conservative line and was again told by Long he need not apply.
Concerns about social issues no longer seem to be a litmus test for Mike Long and the Conservative Party in this year’s mayoral race, after a dismal showing four years ago when the party’s nominee received only 1.7 percent of the vote.
Recalling a recent Republican candidates’ debate at the 92nd Street YMCA, historian David Pietrusza told me: “Mike has previously told the press that Catsimatidis, Lhota, and [long-shot contender] George McDonald are all under consideration for nomination. He also said Lhota’s advocacy of gay marriage and marijuana reform are not a big deal in his consideration. That ‘he’s got the libertarian streak but we'll deal with it.’”
With Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus recently calling on GOP leaders not to “divide and subtract people from our party” for differing with the platform on issues like gay marriage, New York Republicans, and now apparently even the Conservative Party, seem to have taken that admonition to heart.
John Gizzi is the former political editor for Human Events, working for the conservative weekly from 1979 to 2013. Gizzi is a recipient of the William A. Rusher Award for Journalistic Excellence, was named Journalist of the Year by the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2002, and has appeared on hundreds of radio and TV talk shows.
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