The New York City Young Republican club split in two so long ago—all the way back in 1991—that the story of the schism is institutional legend. It had to do with state affiliation and interpersonal rivalries; the details (recounted by The Observer here) are sordid and ultimately trivial. They now maintain separate web sites—nyyrc.com, which is affiliated with the state G.O.P., and nyyrc.org—containing slightly differing accounts of the same history.
The .org group claims 500-600 members, the .com a thousand. Though accusations of fraud have been made by both sides, the current leaders have long since stopped rationalizing the clubs’ independent existence; it was just something that happened that no one got around to fixing.
“There was never any sense of the two organizations not coming together,” says Jason Weingartner, who headed the state-affiliated group from 2001 to 2003 and is now executive director of the New York Republican County Committee. “It’s a vestige of a past that no one even knows now.”
According to the groups’ leaders, rapprochement is at hand. New presidents elected in 2007 are in merger talks; they have members well-versed in the corporate versions of such maneuvers to sort out the logistics. Neither leader has a timeline, and specifics are scarce. But initiative, at least, is there—with Republican strength at a low ebb, combining forces would make them a more relevant force in helping to get candidates on ballots, raising their profiles, and lobbying for institutional support. It would also make things easier for potential supporters.
“Right now, I think most of them just get confused,” says Daniel Peterson, president of the club that isn’t affiliated with the state party, but which maintains legal ownership of the club’s name and logo. “We are a minority party in the city. The last thing we want to do is confuse people.”
The stumbling block this time, though, won’t be logistics. It probably won’t even be personalities, which kept a wedge between the groups for so long. Rather, it’s competition between visions of what the party should be.
Lynn Krogh, the 28-year-old-leader of the state-affiliated group, has an energy that overwhelms people who aren’t used to her. She’s got a full-time job as communications director for architect Daniel Libeskind, and she’s also running unopposed for the chairmanship of the state Young Republicans, a post once held by Weingartner, who is her fiancée. After emailing for about a week and a half, The Observer only scored a phone interview because she was sick and home from work.
Like Weingartner, Krogh is more party-booster than ideologue. As such, her club doesn’t endorse in primaries, raised no objections to Mayor Michael Bloomberg seeking the Republican line for his reelection campaign, and has no particular policy initiatives. The handful of members gathered at the club’s May Social at Joshua Tree on 46th Street (“Rad Jams all night long,” read the e-mail announcement. “It’s gonna be the Shiz Nits!”) were diverse, young, and professional, focused on drinking, not debating.
Kristine Nalbone—the club’s public relations chair, glowing in a hot pink dress with a small silver cross necklace—became more involved when she was laid off from her PR job, and now helps coordinate club activities like kickball with the Young Democrats and sending cookies to soldiers. She talked of Iraq (“Now it’s just a more friendly and inviting place”) taxes (“nobody’s taxes should be raised in a recession”) and her opposition to universal healthcare (“That’s the beauty of our country—we are not a socialist nation.”) According to Krogh, all those views—and their opposites—are totally welcome.
“I am not one who will ever stand up in front of an organization and tell them what to do,” she said over the phone, hoarse but rapid. “That’s what being Republican is about! We don’t tell people what to do!”
Therein lies the distinction.
“I thought that was kind of silly,” said Peterson, 37, about Krogh’s policy of not endorsing in primary races.
He says that staying true to firm conservative ideals is the only way to rally the party.
“We can be a big tent,” he said. “But we have to stand by our core principles. If we’re going to alienate people from our club, well fine. If you’re not for it, vote Democrat.”
Peterson’s club took a vehement stance against Bloomberg’s run at the Republican line. His members tend to be on the older side, and often more socially conservative. Peterson himself, a lease administrator at Time Equities, went unregistered for 15 years and has a pronounced libertarian streak, joining the G.O.P. only to run for city council in 2005. The issues he checks off as priorities like a high school textbook’s definition of conservatism: lower taxes, smaller government. Kick-start the economy by cutting the cost of doing business. Hold politicians accountable for things like “lulu accounts,” the stipends city council members receive for heading up committees.
For Krogh, organization comes before issues.
“It is about the ideas,” she said, when pressed for the policies that will carry the party forward. “But at the same time, realistically speaking, you need the people and the organization to back it up.”
And that means just doing whatever it takes to get people involved. Both clubs count the Tax Day Tea Party, which brought out thousands for a vaguely directed exercise in mass frustration, as a success. Weingartner, whose other job is fund-raising consulting for Cathy Blaney Associates, cites the emergence of groups like the Hip Hop Republicans and Conservative Punks—which speak to the African-American and white rocker communities respectively—as the way to bring the same message to more people.
“They don’t look the same, they don’t act the same, they just want the same thing that everyone else wants,” says Weingartner, a Queens native. “They just want to live their own lives, essentially.” While recruiting new candidates to challenge Democrats in races up and down the ticket, Weingartner’s favorites for the upcoming gubernatorial election include some familiar names: Rudy Giuliani—“He has the ability to transform that which was considered untransformable”—and former Congressman Rick Lazio.
Saul Farber, one of the three young candidates that Krogh’s club backed heavily in the November election, is the poster child for her and Weingartner’s gospel of inclusivity. Right after graduating from New York University, the 23-year-old challenged a 38-year incumbent for state Assembly in a district in Chelsea and Murray Hill, managing a respectable 18 percent of the vote in an area where only nine percent of voters are registered Republican. And really, Farber is barely recognizable as a Republican: he’s pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, calls himself a “progressive,” and even dates a Democrat. Only on certain issues, like solving the MTA’s fiscal problems by privatizing the whole system, does he show his conservative stripes.
“It’s time to modernize,” Farber says. “It’s the only way to show the voters of New York that we are not a party of the old guard, a, and b, we’re not archaic in our beliefs.”
Farber plans to start at New York Law in the fall, and meanwhile is working at a taxi company and plotting his next campaign—a state office, almost certainly in 2010. Now as a Republican district leader, his philosophy of outreach revolves around the least common denominator, or things that all conservatives can agree on. That, he said, should be the approach for merging the two clubs, so long divided. Kind of like merging two synagogues, the Jewish South Floridian analogizes, one Reform and one Conservative.
“It’s important that people see that you have your stuff together, because you need your house in order to really make moves,” Farber said.
Still, the reunification—which would require a fusion of finances and philosophy, as well as (presumably) a single leader—is still just a glimmer in the club presidents’ eyes. Krogh declined to speak in detail about the state of negotiations; if it happens, it happens.
Weingartner took a half-hearted stab at a prediction: “I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said. “Very cautiously optimistic.”