State’s Minor Parties May Have Major Impact

Speculation concerning the political intentions of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani seems both pointless and tasteless in the aftermath of his announcement that he has been diagnosed with cancer. It is appropriate only to wish the Mayor a complete recovery, and to observe that he will have to make a decision very soon if his party is to have any hope of defeating Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Leaving aside the complicating question of the Mayor’s illness, however, that Republican hope already has been clouded by the confused and confusing interventions of New York’s minor parties.

Mrs. Clinton has pulled ahead in most recent surveys, but that is only the crudest indication of what may happen months from now. Those polls, which pit the Mayor against the First Lady in a hypothetical two-way Senate race, cannot measure the impact of the minor parties. And that omission diminishes the predictive value of the polling data, particularly when so many respondents have expressed a desire to vote for none of the above.

What happens if-as now seems certain-the Senate race attracts third, fourth and fifth candidates stressing special-interest issues? How will Mr. Giuliani cope with the apparent defection of the Conservative Party from his cause? How can Mrs. Clinton win without the backing of the Liberal Party? When a large group of voters likes neither candidate, what role will unknowns and also-rans play on the ballot lines maintained by factions of the right and left?

A hint of how complicated things may become before November came with the recent announcement that Jack Essenberg, an upstate electronics consultant, has won the latest round of his legal battle for control of the Independence Party. The Independence Party represents the New York adherents of the Reform Party, many of whom chafe under the wacky leadership of H. Ross Perot and his apparatus; the New York branch is also the home of the bizarre “leftists” formerly associated with the New Alliance Party and led by Lenora Fulani.

Even if its leading activists are slightly cracked, the party has an attractive name and a prominent ballot position. In fact, it’s now the third-largest party in New York.

While struggling to maintain his position as party chairman, Mr. Essenberg has declared that he is currently “neutral” in the Senate race. He recently praised Mrs. Clinton for her rhetorical repudiation of Ms. Fulani and Ms. Fulani’s endorsed candidate for the Reform Party presidential nomination, Patrick J. Buchanan. But Mr. Essenberg’s legal costs are being subsidized by Donald J. Trump, the former wannabe-presidential-candidate and Reform Party meddler-and Mr. Trump is a declared supporter of Mr. Giuliani.

That should mean the Mayor can depend on the Independence Party’s support. State election law is designed to give an almost dictatorial power over minor party ballot positions to party bosses like Mr. Essenberg. The archaic Wilson-Pakula Act bars any candidate who isn’t a registered member of such a party from running in its primary or on its line without the express permission of the party leadership. So Mr. Essenberg (or perhaps his benefactor Mr. Trump) can probably preclude any challenger-such as Mrs. Clinton or even Ms. Fulani-from entering an Independence Party primary against the Mayor.

That’s precisely the problem confronted by Mr. Giuliani over in the Conservative Party, where boss Michael Long appears ready to nominate literally anybody but the Mayor or the First Lady. Giuliani campaign aides claim that they will avoid the Wilson-Pakula strictures by mounting a write-in primary against Mr. Long’s designated candidate. Perhaps Mr. Giuliani could succeed in that costly and time-consuming effort if, as seems likely, Mr. Long selects former Representative Joseph DioGuardi (an anti-abortion zealot and perennial gadfly who is Westchester County’s version of Harold Stassen). But the result could be to position him further to the right than he wants to be, particularly since the Mayor also hopes to run on the Liberal Party line.

That would make Mr. Giuliani the Republican-Conservative-Liberal-Independence candidate. In that case Mr. DioGuardi might still be running on the Right-to-Life Party line, while Mrs. Clinton will certainly have the nomination of the new, little-known but well-organized Working Families Party.

That line, representing a coalition of major labor unions and grassroots community organizations, could have a surprising impact on this election. To blacks, Latinos and leftish whites who want to defeat Mr. Giuliani without endorsing the New Democrat politics of Mrs. Clinton, the Working Families Party may be attractive-as it may also be to thousands of union members upstate who disagree with the Clinton administration’s trade policy.

Sending such messages-usually while cross-endorsing a “lesser evil”-was once the raison d’être of third parties in New York. Now that most of them are patronage troughs, personal fiefdoms and political loony wards, a principled alternative could revive that honorable tradition-and make a difference at the margin. State’s Minor Parties May Have Major Impact