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9th August

First Published in The New York Sun, August 9, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

Michael Bloomberg won the Republican nomination for mayor last week, having knocked his final opponent, a former council member, Thomas Ognibene, off the September primary ballot due to the lack of adequate signatures on his designating petitions. Mr. Ognibene promises to challenge the decision in federal court, but it is unlikely that he will prevail. He will look for a reprise of the 2000 court decision that ordered Senator McCain back on the GOP presidential primary ballot.This is a long shot at best.

Failing a miracle, this can only be seen as a huge setback for New York Republicans on the right. It demonstrates how far the party has moved back to its liberal Dewey-Rockefeller roots after a generation as a legitimately conservative voice.
In 1965,William Buckley ran for mayor on the then new Conservative Party line, articulating ideas such as workfare that finally came to fruition a generation later during the Giuliani administration. Four years later, in 1969, a conservative candidate, state Senator, John Marchi, of Staten Island, defeated the incumbent Republican mayor, John Lindsay, for the GOP nomination. Lindsay prevailed in the general election, but the setback ultimately led him to leave his party for the Democrats.

James Buckley actually won a U.S. Senate seat as a Conservative in a threeway race in 1970, only to have the seat reclaimed for the Democrats by Daniel Patrick Moynihan six years later.

Elections of moderate Democrats such as Moynihan and Edward Koch as mayor in 1977 demonstrate how the direction of the Democrats to the center from the left followed the movement of the Republicans to the right. Both Moynihan and Mr. Koch defeated the diva of New York’s left wing, Bella Abzug, in primary races.
It was the victory of the conservative forces for the hearts and minds of New York Republicans that led to the stunning defeat of Senator Javits at the hands of Alphonse D’Amato in 1980, and the elections of Rudolph Giuliani as mayor in 1993 and George Pataki as governor in 1994. Just 10 years ago, the
Republican Party was riding high in this bluest of blue states. Today they face a total wipeout.

New York State’s sagging economy is partly to blame, causing a population loss of 1 million in traditional GOP upstate strongholds. Financial scandals in the once Republican suburbs have turned voters to the Democrats in the name of reform. But the lack of partybuilding resolve on the part of Republican office holders such as Mr.Pataki and Mr. Giuliani have taken a toll as well.

So now even a legitimate conservative like Mr. Ognibene lacks the infrastructure to assemble enough signatures to win a spot on the ballot.The ultimate indignity for him may come when the Liberal Party, under the stewardship of the former parks commissioner, Henry Stern, qualifies the mayor for the party’s ballot line, which, under current state law, would mean that the Liberal Party will share Column A with the Republicans.

The New York County Republican chair, James Ortenzio, is unconcerned. “I’m comfortable in an alliance with Henry Stern in support of the mayor’s re-election. This is not a permanent relationship, it just has to do with our shared belief that Mayor Bloomberg’s re-election is critical to the city. People should know that the Liberal Party has a long record of moderation, as demonstrated by the critical support they gave Rudy Giuliani.”

The mayor can now run as a pseudo (or perhaps a real) Democrat with little concern that he will be subject to serious criticism from his right flank. The November competition will most probably be a contest to see who can move further to the left, the mayor, or his Democratic opponent.

Not that he is by any measure a conservative, Rep. Anthony Weiner is the only Democratic candidate who could run against Mr. Bloomberg from philosophical ground that is perhaps slightly to the mayor’s right. But Mr. Weiner’s campaign has not yet caught fire.

Fernando Ferrer would be wise to stay away from New York One’s “Road to City Hall” program. Every time he’s on he seems to dig a hole for himself.On Friday, under intense questioning by host Davidson Goldin, Mr. Ferrer acknowledged he now supports Mr. Bloomberg’s $400 property tax rebate, an idea Mr.Ferrer derided just last year.

Worse yet, Mr. Goldin dug up Amadou Diallo once again, hammering the former Bronx borough president repeatedly about the flip-flop that should be ancient history by now. But it won’t be, until the Democrats name their candidate. Despite the back-and-forth dialogue, Mr. Ferrer will not clarify his remarks and say what he really believes. This is what makes the flip-flop argument resonate so easily, as the Bloomberg forces proved with their quick and effective retort on the tax rebate, characterizing this as yet another flip.
It would seem that this leaves an opening for the Manhattan borough president, C.Viriginia Fields, to raise the Diallo matter again in debate, legitimately trying to pin down on which side of the fence Mr. Ferrer sits. This tactic pushed her into contention a few months back. Her recent silence, characteristic of the decent sort of person she is, has not paid off politically. Nice guys (and girls) all too often finish last.

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

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