It is an unusual situation in New York when someone who last held elective office in 1983 and is affiliated with neither the Democratic nor the Republican Parties can dominate the headlines and top the television and radio news.
But that’s precisely what Mike Long did three days ago, when he announced that, after thirty years, he was stepping down as state chairman of the New York Conservative Party.
“Clearly this was my life,” Long told Newsmax on Wednesday, noting that the 57-year-old third party he has long headed is considered a key partner with the Republicans. Its cross-endorsement has long been essential to Republicans capturing statewide or U.S. House seats in New York.
Long, who turns 79 on February 1, said that he had been thinking about retirement “and it took me a year get up the courage to step away. But it was time to move on and let someone else take charge.”
But Long is already missed. Hours after his surprise announcement, veteran Rep. Peter King, R.-NY, tweeted that Long’s decision “is a loss for government and politics. Mike has been a true leader and man of unsurpassed integrity and commitment to principle. I am proud to call him my friend.”
Lifelong Brooklynite Long, past owner of candy and liquor stores, seems the archetypal New York “street kid” embodied on screen by James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. He dropped out of high school in the 12th grade to join the Marine Corps, then came home to launch his small enterprises and, with wife Eileen, raise nine children.
But politics beckoned the young Long and his brand of politics were definitely not those of New York’s premier Republican at the time — liberal Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. Rather than register as a Republican, Long joined the fledgling Conservative Party, launched in 1962 by attorneys Kieran O’Dougherty and Dan Mahoney to protest Rockefeller’s grip on the GOP.
Within a few years, the Conservatives established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. In a race that drew national attention, columnist William F. Buckley, Jr. in 1965 became the first Conservative nominee for mayor of New York and drew 15 percent of the vote against two major party contenders.
A year later, Conservative Party gubernatorial nominee Paul Adams, a little-known college professor with a Hitler-style mustache, got enough votes to give the party “Row C” on the Empire State ballot — the third line below the major parties.
“I worked in both of those campaigns,” recalled Long of his days coming up in the Conservative Party, “and in 1970, when Jim Buckley [older brother of Bill] made history by getting elected U.S. Senator on the Conservative line, we had a big event for him in front of our ice cream parlor. We had a huge crowd and a big band.”
Long noted that as the Conservative Party was beginning to become a factor in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, there were few rules governing electioneering. Merchants donated storefronts for headquarters, volunteers were a more potent element than the embryonic class of “consultants,” and there were no limits or reporting requirements on contributions.
“You could accomplish a lot more under those circumstances,” he emphasizes.
New York is one of five states that permits cross-endorsement--the candidate of one party appearing on more than one ballot line and the votes collected on all of the ballots counted aggregately for the candidate.
Since 1974, every Republican nominee for governor has carried the Conservative line and the last New York Republican to win a U.S. House seat without Conservative blessing was Sherwood D. Boehlert, who held the Utica-area seat from 1982-2008. (“And Boehlert supported the Democrat who beat [Republican Conservative Rep.] Claudia Tenney for his old district last year, so we had his number a long time ago,” said Long).
The Republican presidential ticket in New York has also had the Conservative line all but once since 1964. The late Bill Carney of Suffolk County became the only registered Conservative to serve in Congress (1978-86) and Serph Maltese, who preceded Long as state chairman, was the only Conservative to serve in the state senate.
Long himself is the lone registered Conservative ever to serve on the New York City Council (1981-83).
“I thank Chairman Long for his thirty years of service leading the Conservative Party and the many more years he dedicated to fighting for the conservative values of less taxation, limited government, and common sense,” State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, R.-Staten Island, told us, “I’m proud to call him a constituent and friend and look forward to working with him in other capacities.”
Long, whose nine children have given him twenty-three grandchildren (“and don’t forget three great grandchildren!”), won’t say what those other capacities are.
“Let’s just say I won’t be driving the bus anymore,” he told us with a laugh, “But I’ll be riding in it for sure.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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