Like a spurned suitor holding a bouquet of wilted flowers, Conservative Party chairman Michael Long has publicly complained for weeks that he has yet to get a promised telephone call from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. And the strain is beginning to show: Mr. Long certainly doesn’t sound like somebody eager to consummate an unlikely, but perhaps still possible, political alliance.
“I think the Mayor’s being a little childish, kind of silly,” Mr. Long told The Observer , in his harshest comments yet about the Mayor’s unwillingness to talk about their differences, which may doom Mr. Giuliani’s chances to run a straight head-to-head campaign against Hillary Clinton in this year’s U.S. Senate race.
In recent weeks, powerful figures like state Republican Party chairman William Powers and Gov. George Pataki have worked behind the scenes to unite the Mayor and Mr. Long against Mrs. Clinton. Both have privately suggested to Mr. Giuliani that he call Mr. Long, top Republican sources told The Observer . Mr. Powers even assured Mr. Long before Christmas that Mr. Giuliani was about to call, Mr. Long said. The Conservative line is considered critical for a Republican in a close statewide race.
A confidant of Mr. Powers said the Republican chairman “has encouraged both men to have a conversation, whether it’s by phone or face to face.”
But the phone on the counter of Mr. Long’s liquor store in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, is silent. In fact, judging by recent maneuvers in both camps, any future political friendship between the two men would constitute the uneasiest of alliances. At this point, a rapprochement would likely be as unsightly as the infamous hug between Sammy Davis and a horrified Richard Nixon, circa 1970.
Indeed, there is no shortage of indications that neither man really wants to form an alliance. For one thing, Mr. Giuliani has apparently been far more solicitous toward Mr. Long’s ideological foil, Liberal Party chairman Raymond Harding. Mr. Long has repeatedly said he would withhold his support if Mr. Giuliani sought the Liberal Party line. Mr. Harding remains one of the Mayor’s most trusted advisers.
According to a Liberal Party official, Mr. Harding told members of the party’s policy committee last month that the Mayor wished to meet with them with the possible goal of winning their support.
“[Mr. Harding] fully expected or anticipated, because the Mayor said so, that [he] would seek an opportunity to present his case to be endorsed by the Liberal Party,” the official told The Observer . (Mr. Harding didn’t return a call requesting comment.)
That piece of news didn’t sit well with Mr. Long.
“You know what?” he said. “Maybe he’s more comfortable with them.… If you’re telling me he has asked for a meeting with the Liberal policy committee, that sends a clear message. He knows what my ground rules were. You cannot run for U.S. Senate and be a Liberal and a Conservative. You have to be either fish or fowl.”
“I don’t endorse Liberals,” Mr. Long continued. “He’s Liberal on lots of issues, and I certainly don’t endorse a [Liberal Party] candidate.… You can’t serve two masters in this world.”
Mr. Long has also repeatedly said he won’t endorse a candidate who is in favor of partial-birth abortion, a position Mr. Giuliani holds.
Meanwhile, Mr. Long seems to be doing his part to deepen the rift, pressing ahead with efforts to recruit another candidate. The Observer first reported in August that Mr. Long had a handful of potential Senate candidates as alternatives to Mr. Giuliani. Mr. Long declined to name them, but in recent weeks, he said, one of them had been emboldened by Mr. Giuliani’s apparent disinterest in Conservative Party support.
“One of them is clearly thinking more aggressively of making a step towards running,” Mr. Long said. Of his possible support for Mr. Giuliani, he added: “The door is starting to creak closed.”
Small but Powerful
No Republican has won statewide office without Conservative support since 1974, and the possibility exists that the party will simply spurn Mr. Giuliani and nominate its own candidate, thus splitting the anti-Clinton vote. The party’s enrollment, as of Nov. 1, was 171,910, and the Conservative line provided the margin of victory for Mr. Pataki against Democrat Mario Cuomo in 1994, giving him more than 300,000 votes.
“I can tell you, I think there’s a good potential that shortly you’re going to see another person enter into the race,” Mr. Long continued. “In my eyes [the candidate] could be a person of great stature. The person has the capacity to run an all-out Senate race.”
The worsening relations between Mr. Long and the Mayor may be yet another sign that Mr. Giuliani’s toughest challenge in the Senate race is to repair frayed relations with Mr. Pataki’s conservative allies, who have dominated state politics for nearly a decade. Indeed, given Mr. Long’s sharp comments, some insiders are speculating that the Conservative boss is tormenting Mr. Giuliani with the secret encouragement of Mr. Pataki, who has feuded endlessly with the Mayor.
But Mr. Pataki’s communications director, Zenia Mucha, dismissed such talk. “People that are speculating obviously have way too much time on their hands and have absolutely no knowledge about anything,” she told The Observer . “They really need to find another outlet for their creativity.”
Besides, Ms. Mucha insisted, Mr. Long isn’t the sort of person who would be manipulated by others. “No one tells Mike Long what to do,” she said. “They never have, and in my estimation, they never will. He’s not a person who can be intimidated in any way, shape or form.”
Either way, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Mr. Long has no intention of offering his line to Mr. Giuliani-phone call or no phone call. After all, if you really want to win over the Mayor, you don’t refer to him as “childish” or “silly”-those being epithets Mr. Giuliani regularly hurls at reporters, City Council members and other City Hall subspecies.
Indeed, there’s an irony to this public feud that has gone unnoticed. For all the agonizing among Republicans about the fight, it clearly carries hidden benefits for both politicians.
For Mr. Long, it has drawn attention to his party and allowed him to play the role of power broker who can make or break the dreams of the most ambitious pols. For Mr. Giuliani, the fight inoculates him against future efforts by Mrs. Clinton to paint him as a Newt Gingrich Republican. It reminds voters that the Mayor isn’t conservative enough for Mr. Long on abortion and other issues dear to New York voters.
So, if they do resolve their feud, Mr. Long will have garnered endless free publicity, and Mr. Giuliani, who is running for Senate in a liberal-leaning state, will have accepted the support of the Conservative Party only grudgingly and under intense pressure.
Until then, anyone interested in running on the Conservative line might contact him at Long’s Wines and Liquors on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. The number is in the book.