Can this marriage be saved?
As all 62 Republican county chairmen get set to meet on Dec. 12, ostensibly to decide on a gubernatorial candidate, their party’s alliance with the state’s Conservatives—whose support has been critical to the G.O.P. since the 1970’s—is in jeopardy.
That’s because Governor George Pataki’s handpicked state chairman, Stephen Minarik, has backed the gubernatorial candidacy of William Weld and the U.S. Senate candidacy of Jeanine Pirro, both of whom Conservative leaders—and more than a few Republicans—find unacceptably liberal. What’s more, Mr. Minarik has stated in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t want any primaries.
Mr. Minarik’s maneuvering comes as G.O.P. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno has been boosting a gubernatorial bid by newly minted Republican Tom Golisano. The Rochester-area billionaire, a three-time Independence Party gubernatorial candidate and avid Pataki detractor, sports some support upstate, but many Republicans and Conservatives consider him as bad as Mr. Weld. Mr. Bruno apparently thinks that Mr. Golisano could help him to maintain his tenuous hold on the Senate.
The situation has alienated many Conservatives. Consider, for a moment, the possibility that the state Conservative Party might endorse Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi if he got the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next year.
Sound farfetched? While the Conservatives seldom give their nod to Democrats, even for local offices, their relationship with the G.O.P. has deteriorated to the point where such speculation has been heard in Nassau circles. Conservative Party chief Michael Long backs Mr. Suozzi’s “Fix Albany” initiative.
“The Republicans are set up for a disaster,” said Bronx County Conservative chairman William Newmark. Mr. Newmark added that Mr. Weld has “no chance” of getting the Conservative endorsement because of his support for gay marriage, among other issues.
As for Ms. Pirro, who has come under pressure from Republicans to withdraw from the Senate race in favor of a run for State Attorney General, Mr. Long pronounced her candidacy in a “meltdown.” Mr. Newmark also dismissed Ms. Pirro’s chances, saying that he was “highly offended” when, during an interview with his steering committee, she indicated that she had “to think about” whether she could support Judge Samuel Alito’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. “She’s a joke,” he said.
Mr. Long doesn’t want to tell the G.O.P. what it should do, but he wishes the Republican leaders wouldn’t jump the gun on Dec. 12—a position he shares with Mr. Bruno, who has called on his party not to take any votes on that date.
“I don’t necessarily think they have to hold the meeting,” Mr. Long told Wise Guys last week. “I don’t believe they have to come to a conclusion in this early stage of the game. Who knows if a primary is the worst thing in the world?”
Mr. Minarik, interestingly, started wavering about a Dec. 12 vote when the one gubernatorial candidate who appears to have strong support among Conservative and Republican chairmen around the state, former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso, began pushing for it.
Mr. Faso said Friday that “postponing this and waiting for the future is a prescription for winding up with a party in a condition weaker than it needs to be,” adding: “I would like to have the vote today if I could.”
Monroe County Conservative chairman Tom Cooke—a foe of Mr. Golisano and a friend of Mr. Minarik—argues that Mr. Golisano would fail as a G.O.P. candidate because of his libertarian views on social issues. Mr. Weld, he added, “has no grassroots support.” He called Mr. Faso “the savior.”
Mr. Minarik, for his part, recently sniped that Mr. Faso “is in la-la land.” Even so, Rockland County G.O.P. chairman Vincent Reda, a party vice chairman, praises Mr. Minarik’s leadership. “I believe Bill Weld is the front-runner,” he said. “He’s raised over a million dollars the first time out the door. That certainly opens some eyes.”
Mr. Reda sounded less than conciliatory about the Conservative Party.
“We’ve gotten our house in order. Perhaps they should get their house in order,” he said. “They never supported Rudy Giuliani. He went pretty far. They never supported Michael Bloomberg. He did O.K.”
It’s true: The Conservative nod doesn’t aid candidates in New York City. But it’s also true that the Republican strategy of renting the party flag to social liberal Mr. Bloomberg hasn’t generated any swells for state G.O.P. candidates.
Does the party really think that the liberal Mr. Weld would animate its rank and file? Wouldn’t a “bingo for billionaires” bid by Mr. Golisano further cheapen the party brand?
One wonders where the lame-duck Governor, his man Mr. Minarik and their antagonist Mr. Bruno are taking their party. They shouldn’t be surprised if next year the Conservative Party eschews their embrace for someone like Mr. Suozzi.