Mike Long, the tough-talking Brooklynite ruling New York’s Conservative Party since 1988, will have a lot to say about this year’s Republican candidate for governor against incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo.
Though he counts a mere 146,379 members on the statewide Conservative roster, Long ensures that New York’s most influential minor party functions exactly as its founders intended back in 1962: acting as a check on the state GOP’s moderate “Rockefeller Republicans.” Even billionaires like Donald Trump must play by his rules.
For the most part, Conservatives fall in line behind Republican statewide candidates. And their influence is obvious, since no Republican candidate for statewide office has won without Conservative support since 1974.
So it was important to check in with Long a few days ago to get his take on three big names dominating recent political headlines: Trump, Rob Astorino and Carl Paladino.
Here are a few Long quotes regarding the GOP field, beginning with Astorino and his recent establishment of an “Astorino for Governor” committee:
“Rob Astorino is laying the groundwork, I think, to kick off a campaign for governor. I guess you could call it a decisive move – getting closer to becoming a bona fide candidate.”
From now on, every step taken by Astorino – the Westchester County executive – lessens the possibility that Trump will carry the GOP flag this year. That’s because Trump has made it clear to Republicans that he wants a “clear path” to the party nomination, without competing at a convention and certainly not in a primary.
His critics call it the “silver platter approach.” Trump probably would not quibble over the words. The parties accept his terms, or he resumes what he calls “a very nice life.”
Long on Trump’s “clear path” approach: “I’ve spoken to Donald Trump and he has made it clear he would run only if the decks are totally clear. I tried to tell him that’s not how this operates. I would think that based on his own conversations, he is not going to run, especially as Rob Astorino goes forward.”
A critical portion of the clear path Trump seeks includes Conservative agreement – a virtual requirement for any chance of success. And now Long appears to shun the crowd laying down palm branches for The Donald’s arrival – another serious impediment to Trump’s efforts.
On Paladino’s threat to run on the Conservative line should Trump back off: “Carl is a good friend … and is not necessarily opposed to Rob. I think Rob and Carl, on issue after issue, are basically the same – in style they are totally different.
“My hope is that Carl and I will be together on whatever he decides as we go down the road.”
Supreme Being Long also reigns over any Paladino scenario. That’s because while Paladino could conceivably muster 25 percent of the Conservative State Convention vote to qualify for the ballot, and maybe even win a Conservative primary, Long controls the vote to authorize a non-member of the party to run on its line.
Jumping on the Astorino bandwagon, however, also poses risks for Long. Most polls show Cuomo demolishing Astorino, with even staunch Republicans questioning whether the county executive can muster anywhere near the governor’s current $33 million campaign treasury. Though polls also show Trump lagging, at least there is no question about money or name recognition for the billionaire developer and TV star.
Paladino supporters like Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph Lorigo insist the Buffalonian probably saved the Conservative Party from oblivion in 2010 with a gubernatorial campaign that regained Row C on the ballot. They point to an expected hard charge by another minor party – Working Families – to ride a Cuomo wave onto the coveted third line. The party needs Paladino, he says.
But everyone in the process also recognizes that the votes remain with the chairman. And as it has been for more than two decades, Mike Long will again call the shots in the New York Conservative Party.