Not so long ago, the Upper East Side was the home of classic urban liberal Republicanism, personified most famously by John Lindsay in the early 1960′s and practiced by a host of less famous local legislators since then. But in recent years, the neighborhood’s Republicans fell one by one, until now there are none.
A group of young idealists, however, is hoping to begin rebuilding the party by trying their luck in the off-year City Council elections this November. Calling themselves the Urban Republicans, this group is hoping that a young mother-to-be named Jennifer Arangio will revive the party’s fortunes on the Upper East Side as she takes on Council Speaker Gifford Miller in the off-year election.
Ms. Arangio is a 33-year-old lawyer who won the party’s nomination the hard way-in an extremely rare Republican primary last month. She defeated 58-year-old Douglas G. Winston, whose bearing and background are classic East Side Republican. Mr. Winston described himself as a moderate, which is the word of choice for Republicans running in Manhattan. Tellingly, however, Ms. Arangio turned Mr. Winston’s moderation into a negative.
She and her supporters are not, suffice it to say, classic East Side Republicans. Ms. Arangio stands in contrast to the staid, patrician image of the late Bill Green, who represented the neighborhood in Congress from 1978 to 1992, and former State Senator Roy Goodman, who retired from the Legislature in 2002. They, and several Republican Council members and state lawmakers from the neighborhood, were more liberal than the national party. Indeed, when Ronald Reagan ran for the G.O.P.’s Presidential nomination in 1980, many East Side Republicans sided with George H.W. Bush, who seemed a better fit for their kind of Republicanism. Ms. Arangio and her supporters, on the other hand, proudly cite Mr. Reagan as one of their ideological role models.
“We’re trying to bring the Republican Party back to New York City,” Ms. Arangio said during a meeting with the Log Cabin Republicans, a group that promotes Republicanism within the gay and lesbian communities. Minutes later, she was asked about her position on abortion. She stepped from behind a podium, placed both hands on her curved abdomen, smiled and said, “As you can see, I’m pro-choice.” Her baby is due any day now.
Ms. Arangio stresses fiscal reform, as do her allies among the Urban Republicans. The group pushes a fiscally conservative but socially laid-back agenda in the mold set by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. That’s not surprising, given Mr. Giuliani’s success. More surprising, however, is the group’s affinity for Mr. Reagan. Their Web site promises that they will be “[b]ringing the Reagan revolution to a street corner near you.”
“It’s iconography,” explained Manhattan Republican chairman James Ortenzio. “They’re trying to associate themselves with who they consider successful Republicans. Reagan has been deified, as has Giuliani. It’s attention-getting.”
The Republicans need all the attention they can get in their former bastion. Until the early 1990′s, the area was home to Republican Council members Charles Millard and Andrew Eristoff, Republican Assemblyman John Ravitz, as well as Green and Mr. Goodman. It seemed for several years that the party had successfully groomed successors for the veteran Congressman and State Senator: Messrs. Millard, Eristoff and Ravitz were young, energetic and figured to have a bright future.
All of them, however, are now out of office. Mr. Millard went to work for Mr. Giuliani-and Mr. Miller won his seat in a special election. Mr. Eristoff soon followed Mr. Millard to the Giuliani administration, and his seat, too, switched from Republican to Democratic hands. And Mr. Ravitz tried to win a promotion to the Senate when Mr. Goodman retired, but he was defeated. (Green was beaten by Carolyn Maloney in an electoral upset in 1992.)
With the younger generation gone, Mr. Ortenzio said, “there were no natural heirs,” and the party has never recovered.
In Ms. Arangio, however, veteran Republicans see a chance for revival. “She represents just about the dominant demographic of the area: young professional, successful women,” said Mr. Ortenzio.
“She’s an up-and-comer in the party,” said a Republican consultant who asked to remain anonymous. “She’s bright, articulate, young, attractive, and she’s got a good résumé. [The Urban Republicans] have managed to excite a lot of the rank-and-file within the party. It’s a packaging effort, and a clever one.” Ms. Arangio picked up a high-level endorsement and some much-needed publicity in early October when Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed her.
Joseph Mercurio, a political consultant who worked for Mr. Millard’s campaign, is skeptical of Ms. Arangio’s chances, even in the long term. “It’s very unusual for Republicans to win in Manhattan,” he said. He noted that the primary which Ms. Arangio won attracted a very low turnout. She and her supporters, he said, “haven’t engaged the party.”
Ms. Arangio’s campaign manager, Robert Hornak, said that the Urban Republicans support “cutting taxes, streamlining government and fighting for strong policing. That’s what we’re all about.”
The question is whether the Upper East Side is ready to hear some of their arguments. For example, one real difference between Ms. Arangio and her predecessors is her opposition to rent regulation. Manhattan Republicans have generally supported this government intrusion into the private sector.
“Jennifer’s campaign will show that we can run as fiscal conservatives on the Upper East Side,” Mr. Hornak said. “For years, people said that you had to run with this lightweight Democrat agenda, and the strategy hasn’t been successful. We may never be the majority party, but the Republican Party needs to build itself up as a strong opposition party.”