The New York Political Circus

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From the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, September 1994.

For political
junkies like myself there is nothing quite so bracing as the tangle,
the complexity, the ethnopolitics, the back-stabbing, and the downright
sleaze of New York politics in an election year. The state elections
law establish, for each primary, a state convention in late May,
or early June, followed by a primary in September. A party convention
endorsement carries more than moral or financial clout; one crucial
clause mandates that a losing candidate for a state post gets automatically
on the ballot in the party’s September primary, provided
that he gets at least 25 percent of the vote at the convention.
Getting anything less than the magic 25 percent means that the poor
candidate can only get on the primary ballot via petition, a route
which, in New York, has been deliberately made arcane and extremely
difficult by the state’s ruling political class. Going the petition
route costs a great deal of time, money, and energy, and only someone
with the unlimited funds or support of Ross Perot in 1992 never
has to worry about the process.

1994 is an
election year for all the major New York posts: governor and lieutenant-governor,
comptroller, and attorney-general in the executive branch, and U.S.
senator. All these plum jobs are now in Democrat hands, and the
Republicans, rising up throughout the nation in this horrible Age
of Clinton, have been feeling their oats this year. Unfortunately,
as usual, the New York Republicans quickly began their traditional
mode of shooting themselves in the foot.

There have
long been not two but four major (or at least quasi-major) parties
in New York. In addition to the Democrats and Republicans, there
is the Liberal Party, founded by Jewish Social Democrats in the
Ladies Garment Workers and Hat Workers Unions after World War II
to provide a left-Democrat alternative to the Communist-dominated
(now defunct) American Labor Party; and the Conservative Party,
founded by the Buckley family to form a principled conservative
opposition to the then Rockefeller-dominated, leftist Republican
party. Ever since, the Conservative Party, now dominated by Brooklyn
Conservative head Michael Long, has been struggling between principle
and pragmatism, with the latter, of course, all too often winning
out.

This year seemed
to present a golden opportunity to topple the famed three-term governor:
the smart, eloquent, witty, alert, thin-skinned pretend-philosopher
and left Catholic lay theologian Mario Cuomo. A disciple of the
late left-heretical French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin, Mario is
the well-known expounder of the view that America (the world?) is
an organic “family.” The result is the sort of collectivist ideology
one might expect from that kind of world-outlook.

Mario, however,
has palled in office; New Yorkers are tired of Mario, of his lousy
performance, the rampant crime, the high taxes and spending, the
visible decay of New York in his twelve years of office. His coy
and evasive performance in every national election finally irritated
and exhausted his supporters after he finally pulled out of the
presidential race in 1992. The Republicans sensed victory, and their
theme at this year’s convention is the plausible “It’s all Mario’s
fault.”

In 1988, however,
Mario seemed vulnerable too, and the Republicans kicked away any
chance of toppling him by alienating their natural allies, the Conservatives,
by nominating the unknown and tom-fool leftish economist and former
adviser to President Nixon, Pierre Rinfret. Rinfret, the only Nixon
adviser who actually believed in price controls, proved to
be a clown and a disaster on the stump, and as a result he barely
edged out the Conservative nominee, Jewish academic Dr. Herbert
London.

The 1994 lesson
for Republicans, and for Conservatives, seemed clear: unity against
Mario. But, on deeper look, the question is not so simple. For both
parties, the question soon became: Unity at what price? How much
principle would have to be abandoned?

Unity turned
out not to be easy to achieve. For one thing, the two major Republican
leaders, both Italo-Americans: U.S. Senator Alfonse D’Amato, and
State Senate Majority Leader Ralph Marino, are ferocious enemies.
D’Amato, the abrasive product of the notorious Margiotta machine
of Nassau County, is the leader of the center-right of the party.
As the champion of conservative forces, however, D’Amato is, to
say the least, a weak reed; if ever there was a politician who fit
the word “opportunist” D’Amato would be it. Marino, for his part,
is the leader of the Republican left; a close friend of the governor,
he might well be termed a “Mario Cuomo Republican.”

As the Republican
convention approached in late May, it was clear that the D’Amato
machine was in charge of the delegates. Unfortunately, however,
D’Amato could come up only with a hand-picked unknown, State Senator
George Pataki of Peekskill. Running hard against Pataki was Herb
London, appealing to the conservative elements of the party, and
fresh from his sterling campaign in 1988. One of the critical issues
in the New York right is the vexed abortion question; D’Amato had
been pledged against abortion, but, his finger characteristically
to the wind, he has begun to move leftward on the issue. Pataki,
an economic conservative and a Hungarian-American Catholic, is pro-choice
but opposed to taxpayer funding of abortions. London, an Orthodox
Jew, is strongly anti-abortion.

Herb London
came into the Republican convention with a pledge of something like
35 percent of the votes. If D’Amato had only treated his opposition
with respect, he would have gotten the 65-70 percent of the delegates
for Pataki, and allowed London to get his merited automatic spot
on the primary ballot. But since no one, including his own state
Senatorial constituents, had ever heard of Pataki, D’Amato didn’t
want to take the chance. As a result, D’Amato and his machine played
hardball, exercising an unseemly display of political muscle, and
managed in 24 hours to jimmy London’s votes down to just
below 25 percent. It was reminiscent of one of Clinton’s one-voters,
and all hands denounced D’Amato for being “thuggish,” “disgusting,”
etc. Displays of political muscle should never be that blatant,
for then they become counterproductive.

Herb
London was justifiably livid. He felt he had been robbed, and he
denounced D’Amato and the convention in no uncertain terms. But
if London was permanently alienated, what would happen to the Conservative
alliance (Conservatives were coming up with their convention
in early June). London was threatening to run for governor on the
Conservative ticket.

Something had
to be done, but to D’Amato that something was all too narrow: buy
off Herb London and thereby corral the Conservative Party line.
I don’t know what D’Amato had his henchmen tell London in the next
24 hours. It must have been a wild time, for at the end of it, Herb
London had taken his place as a happy nominee for comptroller on
the Republican ticket for the fall. There had, of course, never
been a smidgen of interest displayed by London in the comptroller’s
spot; on the contrary, the popular Assemblyman James Faso had been
running for the comptroller position for a year, and expected to
get it. Poor Jimmy Faso was induced to take the fall, and to withdraw
gracefully from the comptroller’s nomination on London’s behalf.

The rest of
the ticket engineered by D’Amato, however, was a slap in the face
to the conservative principles, if not the Conservative Party. Shifting
dramatically leftward, D’Amato decided to discover…Women! Or is
it “Womyn”? Sex! For U.S. Senate against Daniel Patrick Moynihan
(more later), D’Amato put up Bernadette Castro, who has no political
experience, and is only known to the public for her longtime Castro
convertible sofabed commercials. Castro favors not only abortion,
but also taxpayer funding, and gay rights. While putting up for
attorney-general the little-known Italo-American U.S. Attorney for
Buffalo Dennis Vacco, D’Amato’s major publicity coup was selecting
for lieutenant-governor under Pataki, the beautiful blond bombshell
Dr. Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey.

The conservativish
Murdoch-run tabloid New York Post went ga-ga at this choice.
Grabbing the heaven-sent opportunity to combine its two favorite
things: Sex and conservatism, the Post ran a large picture
of Betsy replete in clinging evening gown (from Vanity Fair),
and the choice was particularly heralded by Post sob sister
Andrea Peyser, who gushed all over the page: She’s beautiful! She’s
blond! She’s sexy! She’s brainy! Isn’t it wonderful how the Republicans
have become mature, and now realize that brains and beauty can go
together? And on and on.

The Brains
of La McCaughey was attested to by the fact that she has a Ph.D.
in political science (Ooh! Wow!), and is also a certified brainy
free-market economist. The certification came from the fact that
Betsy Baby is on the staff of the left-libertarian/neocon Manhattan
Institute, a New York think-tank. Not only that: Betsy wrote a celebrated
article in the New Republic, attacking the Clintonian health
plan for imposing price controls and medical rationing, and criminalizing
the free choice of doctors by patients, whenever such choice breaks
the decrees of the Clintonian Health authorities. McCaughey won
the accolade of drawing bitter attacks by the White House, which
McCaughey and Manhattan Institute justifiably treated as a badge
of honor.

Brains, beauty,
and free-markets too; ethno-religiously, McCaughey, like the colorless
and virtually unknown incumbent Lieutenant-Governor, Stan Lundine,
is an authentic WASP. The difference is that Lundine is a WASP from
Upstate New York, where WASPs indeed abound, whereas Betsy is an
Episcopalian from New York City, where such folk are virtually on
the endangered species list. No one knew Betsy’s views on social
matters, but everyone assumed she took the Pataki line of pro-choice
but anti-taxpayer funding, thus, she seemed to fit the new ideal
Image for a Republican of the 1990s: “economic conservative” but
(moderately) social liberal. All this and a blond too!

Thus, two WOMYN
had gotten key slots on the Republican ticket, and the hordes of
militant Democrat womyn looked at the looming Democrat ticket and
they were not pleased. Cuomo, an Italian male; Lundine, a male WASP;
Carl McCall for comptroller, a black male from Harlem; and of course
Moynihan, Irish Catholic male from Manhattan, for U.S. Senate. Where
in the world were the WOMYN in their Democrat heartland? The only
possible female spot was for attorney-general. After the hapless
Bronx-based Attorney-General Bob Abrams had resigned to run for
Senate and was roundly beaten by D’Amato, Cuomo appointed a fellow-Democrat
hack from the Bronx, the undistinguished Assemblyman Oliver Koppell.
Koppell, of course, had every intention to run for re-election,
but he was opposed at the Democrat convention by two left dissidents.
One was Queens U.S. Attorney Charles Hynes, an Irish Catholic who
had won notoriety by persecuting alleged “white racism” in the Howard
Beach incident. The other was a WOMYN, if not perhaps a woman,
the beloved Jewish ultra-left-lesbian activist State Senator Karen
Burstein from Nassau County, formerly from New York City. As a leftist
and as a lesbian, and also in possession of an androgynous personality,
La Burstein had a lot of brownie points going for her; and the organized
WOMYN were demanding her nomination.

In its own
quiet way, however, the Cuomo machine at the Democrat convention
proved every bit as ruthless as the D’Amato crew among the Republicans.
Charlie Hynes threw his support to La Burstein, who came into the
convention, once again, with a pledge of about 25 percent of the
vote; but once again, come the vote, she got slightly excruciatingly
under the magic 25.

It was now
left for the Conservatives to have their convention in early
June. Among the Conservatives, it was Michael Long’s turn to wield
the Bludgeon. Long had determined upon unity under Pataki, and now
that Herb London had caved in, nominating the entire Pataki ticket
seemed easy. (Except that the Conservatives refused to swallow La
Castro, and selected instead Henry Hewes, senatorial candidate of
the small single-issue Right to Life Party, which often functions
as the conscience of the Conservatives on abortion matters. The
Right-to-Lifers pose no real challenge to the Conservatives, however;
if anything, their leadership is left-liberal on all questions except
abortion.)

The principled
opposition among the Conservatives was led by Thomas Cook, head
of the Rochester party, as well as several other upstate county
leaders. Cook looked desperately around for someone to run against
Pataki. Michael Long, denouncing Cook’s opposition, waded in with
absurd rhetorical overkill. Cook, he thundered, suffered from a
“Napoleonic complex,” and Cook ruled by “force, fraud, and terror.”
Come again? Among the conservatives? Finally, after several
biggies such as former Republican state chairman J. Patrick Barrett
refused to run, Cook and Company fell back to support the unknown
Robert Relph from upstate Watertown. Relph did get the requisite
25 percent of the delegates, however, and so at least there will
be a primary challenge among the Conservatives.

Thus, the lines
were drawn, although how many people will be able to make the petition
route won’t be known until later. Richard Rosenbaum, former New
York State Republican chairman and the booming, bald voice of Rockefeller
Republicanism for many years, and long hated by conservatives in
the party, issued left-wing denunciations of the Republicans, and
threatens to go the petition route for governor.

We are left
with the beauteous La McCaughey. Exactly how free-market,
how much of an “economic conservative,” is she? The answer, despite
her Manhattan Institute credentials, is not very. Allegedly Our
Gal against Clintonian Health, her phoniness as a free-marketeer
was revealed by our own Lew Rockwell on a conservative panel on
health. For Betsy turns out to be a strong supporter of the
crucial plank of Clintonian Health: guaranteed universal access.
In other words, her criticisms in the New Republic article
were peripheral, not central. In fact, she was stunned that anyone
such as Lew was, in this day and age, opposed to guaranteed universal
access, i.e., opposed to socialized medicine. Betsy went so far
as to accuse our Lew of “lacking compassion,” which is, of course,
the ultimate charge of every statist scoundrel.

If Betsy McCaughey’s
“economic conservatism” is mostly malarkey, how much of a “social
liberal” is she really? Republican leaders were stunned in early
June to find out that the beautiful Betsy did not exactly take the
moderate Pataki line on abortion. On the contrary: they found, to
their horror, that Betsy is strongly in favor of taxpayer funding
for abortions. So once again: “economic conservative, social liberal”
turns out to be a formula that merely provides a convenient camouflage
for…our old buddy, left-liberalism, with an updated, blond and
evening-gown patina.

At this writing,
Pataki and the Conservatives are livid. Fred Dicker, the New
York Post’s expert on New York politics, writes (June 6) that
McCaughey has struck political professionals as a “prima donna”
and “even more narcissistic than most politicians.” Will it all
be smoothed over? Will McCaughey back down? Or will she be dumped
from the ticket after all the Hoopla?

And what of
Daniel Patrick Moynihan? I don’t want to disillusion any idealistic
readers, but Moynihan is set for life in his senatorial position.
Why? Because he is a centrist Irish Catholic, touched with the requisite
bit of blarney, neatly fueled by Irish whiskey. Centrist Irish Catholic
Democrats who have the advantage of incumbency cannot lose in a
state-wide race in New York. In his first race for Senate, Moynihan
beat out the then leader of the Democrat ultra-left, the loud-mouthed,
big-hatted Jewish Congresswoman Bella Abzug by a very small margin.
Once he squeaked through the primary, however, Moynihan was as good
as elected, and this has continued ever since. Why? Because left-wing
Jews vote heavily in the Democratic primary; centrist Irish and
Italian Catholics are generally evenly split between Democrat and
Republicans; blacks and Puerto Ricans vote overwhelmingly Democrat
but don’t bother voting in primaries; and Upstate WASPs constitute
the mass base of the Republican party in the state. Once Moynihan
got past Abzug, the Irish and Italians, who constitute the wing
vote in the state, were bound to vote heavily for a centrist Catholic,
and the pattern has continued to this day. In 1988, the Republicans
put up virtually no campaign against Moynihan, and it is only the
new liberal-WOMYN ticket that got them to surface this year. But
in the senatorial race, it won’t matter a bit. Unfortunately, Moynihan
and his rococo rhetoric are a permanent fixture in the U.S. Senate.

There is nothing
quite like New York in a year where a governor and senator are both
at stake. One decision made by all the biggies in both parties:
that they would not challenge petitions to get on the September
primary ballot by candidates who were muscled out of the minimum
25 percent needed at the May convention to get automatically on
the ballot. Why did the leaders of both parties make this decision?
A sudden attack of fairness? Not hardly. Undoubtedly because it
would look bad to the public in a tight election year.

In the latest
New York Post poll (Aug. 10), Cuomo has a 9-point lead over
Pataki (46-37) but this is by no means fatal, since a hefty 17 percent
are listed as undecided, and Pataki’s name recognition is still
very low. Old-time Rockefeller Republican Richard Rosenbaum is running
against Pataki in the primary by petition route, and the policy
of no-challenge assures him of a ballot spot. Rosenbaum is clearly
a stalking horse for Cuomo, timing his attacks on Pataki to coincide
with the Cuomo line. Although he has virtually no chance of beating
Pataki, Rosenbaum has adopted a cunning strategy to embarrass the
front-runner. Under the tutelage of prominent conservative political
strategist Dick Morris, Rosenbaum has maneuvered sharply to the
right of Pataki: advocating very large tax cuts, budget cuts,
and substantial privatization; and then calling for Pataki to unveil
his own undoubtedly puny program.

On the other
hand, the pull-out of Howard Stern from the race on the Libertarian
Party ticket will probably mean a several percentage points edge
to Pataki. In the polls, Stern ranged from 5-to-12 percent of the
vote, most of which probably came from Pataki.

In the senatorial
race, “the Rev.” Al Sharpton, clownish black radical, was muscled
below his 25 percent in his challenge to Democrat Senator Daniel
Patrick (“Pat”) Moynihan. Sharpton is running against Pat in the
primary, and with the newfound “tolerance” permeating the state,
the bonafides of his primary petitions will not be challenged. There
is no problem for Moynihan: his poll lead is a phenomenal 78-to-12
over Sharpton. But there is more involved. Sharpton is threatening,
after losing the primary, to set up his own “third party” Freedom
Party, to run someone against Cuomo in November; in particular,
Sharpton expressly desires to punish the Liberal Party for endorsing
Giuliano for mayor last year against his beloved Mayor Dinkins.
Sharpton wants Cuomo to repudiate the Liberal endorsement this year;
of which there is a chance of a snowball in Hell. Moynihan is safe
whatever happens; but if Sharpton actually gets the Freedom Party
on the ballot, black defections from the Democracy may just cost
Mario the governor’s mansion.

Another fascinating
race is for attorney-general of New York State. Bob Abrams, previous
holder of the office, fell on his sword in opposing Al D’Amato for
senator; he later resigned, and his place was taken by appointment
only last December by veteran Bronx party hack G. Oliver Koppell.
Since Koppell is running for election to legitimize his recent appointment,
few people know who he is, and his most formidable primary challenger
(under the no-challenge rule) is the tough, abrasive, ultra-leftish
lesbian Jewess, former assemblyman and former Family Court Judge
Karen S. Burstein. Burstein has a unique style of grass-roots campaigning,
a style that could only hope to succeed in sado-masochistic New
York City. Burstein stands near a subway station, and stretches
out her hand to greet the passing voter. When, as usually happens
in New York, the mark rushed by refusing to acknowledge the intruder,
La Burstein denounces him! “You know, that’s rude,” she snaps. “Would
it hurt to shake a hand?” she yells out. Finally, Burstein proclaims
to a reporter that as attorney general, she will be obliged to transform
human nature: “I’ve got to get these people better prepared as human
beings. As attorney-general, I’ve got to do something about this
absence of civility.” And you’re the one to do this transforming
eh babe? That’s all New York needs: another “politics of meaning,”
a Jewish version of Hillary Rodham.

The
latest A-G poll in the Democrat primary rates the race as very close:
Koppell at 22 percent, Burstein at 19, and “anti-racist” Brooklyn
D.A. Charles Hynes at 14 percent. Unknown former Asst. D.A. Eliot
Spitzer, who’s been running a lot of ads on TV, is only getting
l percent of the poll so far, perhaps the least productive TV campaign
ads in memory. The undecided vote is very high at 44 percent. Whoever
wins the primary will face former Buffalo U.S. Attorney Dennis Vacco
in the general election.

The final statewide
race is over comptroller; here, Manhattan black incumbent Carl McCail,
will face Republican Conservative Herb London. So far, in the early
going, McCall is leading London by only five percent, 27 to 22.

Finally, former
New York Republican chairman, the self-made millionaire (Avis) J.
Patrick Barrett, has been denouncing the antics of the D’Amato machine
at the convention, and has threatened to refuse to back Pataki,
even if he wins the primary. Strange behavior for a recent Republican
party chairman! But that’s New York.

 

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