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Conservative Party Weighs in New York's Nastiest Primary Race

Conservative Party Weighs in New York's Nastiest Primary Race
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By Sunday, 22 May 2016 08:11 AM Current | Bio | Archive

In recent weeks, national Democrats have been hungrily eyeing New York’s upstate 19th District as one of the very few of the 27 U.S. House Districts relinquished by a Republican that they can pick up this fall.

With Republican Rep. Chris Gibson calling it quits after three terms, Democrats have a well-known candidate in Zephyr Teachout. Two years ago, Fordham Law School Prof. Teachout challenged Gov. Andrew Cuomo from the left in the Democratic primary and drew an unusually strong 34 percent of the vote.

Few dismiss the scenario of her winning in the fall. This is in large part because of what pundits are increasingly dubbing the nastiest Republican primary of all [June 28] between former State Assembly GOP Leader John Faso and wealthy businessman and political newcomer Andrew Heaney.

"It's been brickbats on both sides in the race," historian David Pietrusza, who knows all things New York, told me, "and the winner will come out pretty bloodied."

A past GOP nominee for state comptroller in 2002 and governor in ’06, Kinderhook attorney Faso has long been the "keeper of the flame" for conservative causes ranging from the pro-life effort to reducing state spending. In private practice for more than a decade, Faso has long volunteered to help other Republicans get elected and has the endorsement of most GOP elected and party officials in the 19th District.

"And the fact that he has always had to fight with a Democratic majority in the Assembly and an increasing Democratic leaning statewide makes John even more of a leader," New York Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long told me. Earlier this year, the Conservative Party resoundingly gave its "Row C" ballot line to Faso.

With the exception of moderate former Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, who retired in 2006, no Republican since the 1970’s has been elected to Congress from the Empire State without the Conservative line.

Faso also has the November ballot lines of the Independence Party (the legacy of Ross Perot’s third-party presidential candidacy in 1992) and the Reform Party (the extra ballot vehicle for 2014 GOP gubernatorial nominee Rob Astorino).

A resident of the 19th District for two-and-one-half years, Harvard Business School graduate and small business owner Heaney is running as a Trump-style political outsider with business acumen. Asked on what issues he disagrees with opponent Faso, Heaney told me: "Reform. I want ethics reform — term limits for Members of Congress — and a lifetime ban on lobbying for former Members of Congress. When 70 percent of congressmen retire and then go into lobbying their onetime colleagues, you have a corrupt system."

Heaney added that he has pledged to limit himself to three terms in Congress.

Recalling how he campaigned on a platform of term limits for state officials and legislators when he ran for governor in 2006, Faso said that "I still support term limits, but I just don’t feel they are the panacea. California’s strict term limits on legislators are a good example of what I mean."

In underscoring Heaney’s case against lobbying, a "Super PAC" supporting the candidate has slammed Faso for his work as a lobbyist and charged that his former firm "was fined one of the highest pay-to-play lobbying firms in New York State history."

"This is blatantly false," Faso said, noting that the attack on his former firm was initially made by his longtime nemesis Cuomo, "As an employee, I was not a party to any settlement and I never represented any client — paid or unpaid — before the state pension fund. Those are the facts. This entire matter was nothing more than Andrew Cuomo's vindictive effort to smear my reputation."

This attack on Faso recently prompted a rare salvo from Conservative Chairman Long, who almost never gets involved in a Republican primary. In a sharply-worded letter to Heaney, Long denounced what he called "the tactics and fabrications you are using against John" that "go beyond the accepted limits of political argument."

"Knock it off," Long wrote Heaney.

Long and Faso have also hit hard at Heaney for a controversial $2300 donation he made in October 2007 to Democrat Barack Obama.

"I don’t back away from it," Heaney told me, "Look, I have always wanted to stop Hillary Clinton and even raised money for Rudy Giuliani before he got out of the Senate race when she was elected in 2000. I felt Obama was the weakest of the Democratic candidates."

He added that he has contributed to "many conservative Republicans, such as [former Pennsylvania Sen.] Rick Santorum."

Heaney’s explanation aside, a history of support for the current president has historically been a "kiss of death" in Republican primaries. In Pennsylvania’s 2010 Senate primary, businessman Steve Welch had the backing of then-Gov. Tom Corbett and the GOP state executive committee. But his admission that he had briefly switched his registration to vote for Obama in the ’08 presidential primary (to protest George W. Bush’s spending policies, he claimed) did not wear well with voters and Welch was badly beaten.

"No matter who wins the Republican nomination," Pietrusza predicted, "Teachout will be a media darling — although Andrew Cuomo will certainly shy his allies away from aiding her too much—if at all."

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In recent weeks, national Democrats have been hungrily eyeing New York's upstate 19th Districtas one of the very few of the 27 U.S. House Districts relinquished by a Republican that they can pick up this fall. With Republican Rep. Chris Gibson calling it quits after three...
gizzi, ny, congress, gibson, john faso andrew heaney. zephry teachout
Sunday, 22 May 2016 08:11 AM
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