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11th August

First Published in The New York Sun, August 11, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

Boy, was I right when I wrote the other day that the joining of the Republican and Liberal ballot lines on Column A on behalf of Mayor Bloomberg was the “final indignity” for the former council member, Thomas Ognibene. After reading my column on Tuesday, Mr. Ognibene,who despite his failure to win a spot on the Republican primary ballot in September,will still carry the Conservative Party standard into November, did indeed explode in anger.

Mr. Ognibene called for the resignation of the New York County Republican chairman, James Ortenzio, after I reported that Mr. Ortenzio told me that he was “comfortable” in an alliance with Liberal Party chief Henry Stern on behalf of the mayor.
“Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Ortenzio are betraying the principles of the Republican Party, they are betraying the principles of party loyalty,and they are betraying the trust placed in them by the moderate-conservative base of the Republican Party,” said Mr. Ognibene, who presented a novel solution to what he feels are the political identity problems of the mayor’s Republican supporters.

“Since Mr.Bloomberg and Mr.Ortenzio clearly embody extreme liberal ideals, I am sending them both a change of party card with the hope that they, like John Lindsay, will do the honorable thing and resign from the Republican Party.”

After losing the Republican primary to a Staten Island state senator, John Marchi, in 1969, Lindsay marched hard to the left and won the backing of a large number of Democratic defectors, winning re-election despite the setback in the primary. Ultimately, Lindsay changed his registration to Democratic, and ran an abortive race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972.

Mr. Ognibene pledged that he will continue his fight for a spot on the September GOP primary ballot.“I’m going to federal court to fight for a chance to represent real Republicans in September’s primary. Despite the mayor’s backroom bargain to keep me off the ballot, I believe that all New Yorkers deserve to choose between something other than left-wing liberal ideologies in November.”

Few would challenge Mr.Bloomberg’s liberal bona fides. But the Liberal Party, retorts Mr. Stern, the party’s chair, is not the place where extreme “left-wing” ideologies reside.

Mr. Stern notes that his party was founded in 1944 by the “right wing” of the old American Labor Party, which was formed in the 1930s as a vehicle to promote the Democratic president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the Republican mayor, Fiorello La Guardia. The schism between the ALP and the Liberal Party mirrored that in the organized labor movement, which at the time was divided into two factions, one aggressively anti-communist, the other tolerant of the far left extremists of the day.

“Far from being a left-wing party,” asserts Mr. Stern, also the city’s former Parks Commissioner, “the Liberal Party sits firmly in the center of New York politics.” He noted that the party (and its predecessor, the ALP before the split) historically endorsed more Republicans than Democrats, and when the party cross-endorsed with Republicans, as they are attempting to do with the incumbent mayor, they enjoyed their greatest success, helping to elect La Guardia, Lindsay, and Giuliani. Only one Democratic mayoral candidate won with Liberal Party help: Robert Wagner Jr., in 1957 and 1961.

Mr. Stern’s challenge as party chair is to restore his party to a recognized line on the ballot.That will mean that the Liberals must poll at least 50,000 votes for their candidate for governor next year. The party’s ballot line was lost when their candidate in the 2002 election, Andrew Cuomo, prematurely withdrew.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ognibene’s candidacy seems energized by his ballot access ordeal. But this new energy comes a month or so too late.

On the ground, it seems that things are going swimmingly for Fernando Ferrer. None of his opponents have caught fire and he announces new endorsements on a seemingly daily basis.Yet according to the Marist Poll, released Tuesday, Mr. Ferrer is actually losing ground, apparently to a fifth candidate named “undecided.” Conventional wisdom is that this number should be dwindling, not growing, at this stage of the campaign.It is imperative for Mr.Ferrer to win 40% of the vote in the first round of the primary if he is to have any shot at defeating Mr. Bloomberg, whose numbers remain impressively high. Mr. Ferrer is still 10 points shy, according to the folks at Marist.

One interesting analysis is that even staunch Democrats view the re-election of Mr. Bloomberg as inevitable. This is the kind of perception that drives down voter turnout.

Ultimately, the undecided vote disappears on Election Day.As much as many of us might like the option,“none of the above” is not a choice. In the September primary, today’s undecideds may vote for Mr. Ferrer, may split evenly between the candidates, (bad news for the Ferrer camp, good news for Virginia Fields), or may move to one of the two candidates now bringing up the rear — as happened in 1977 when Edward Koch’s stretch run propelled him ahead of a field of Democratic super-stars.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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