Over the years, and even in his obituary, Ray Harding was often called "the last old time party boss." While it's true that Ray had total party discipline within the Liberal Party, he achieved much of his legend through the atmospherics. In the late 20th Century, few party leaders were still subsisting on black coffee and five packs a day of unfiltered Camels. His height and immense girth also added to the legend; not to mention his brusque manner and profanity-laden speech.
Ray's real strength, however, lay in his strategic ability to see political actions four moves ahead. But for all his capabilities, Ray Harding never instilled the fear that Michael Long does. Michael Long, Chairman of the NYS Conservative Party, lacks the cigarette smoking and physical heft, but he maintains a rigidly disciplined party philosophy. So when Mike Long said he would punish the four Republican state senators who voted for marriage equality in NYS, pols paid attention. All four had run previously with Conservative Party endorsement. Yesterday's primaries in NYS provided the win-loss for Long's threat.
One of the four, Jim Alesi, withdrew early when it became clear he could not get his party's nomination. Last night the remaining three faced primary challenges organized and funded, mainly, by the Conservative Party. So how effective were Mike Long's threats? Pretty effective.
Mark Grisanti, thought most vulnerable, coasted to an easy win (he has personal issues that may yet result in a November defeat). Steve Saland is 42 votes ahead after all the votes were counted. Certainly a very serious canvassing of the ballots will be forthcoming. And Roy McDonald lost narrowly, 51%-49%. McDonald and Saland will still be on the November ballot as candidates of the Independence Party and may in fact still win, although doubtful. Should Saland eek out a victory from last night, he will still face a Conservative Party opponent in November. So how did Mike Long do?
In politics, the fear of losing can have the same effect as losing itself if the goal, which was Long's, is to instill fear. He got rid of Alesi early, caused McDonald's defeat and may still get Saland out. All four of these men had won their previous re-elections handily. I knew Mile Long somewhat back in the day. He's a funny, serious, decent man. On most issues - minus the big three: death penalty, abortion and gay marriage - I agree with him completely. Although I disagree with his gay marriage views, I was raised to admire the exercise of brute political might. Long and his party felt betrayed and sought to make these ideological Quislings pay. Moreover, he wanted to send a message to other Republicans elected with Conservative Party support not the take the party for granted. He set his mind to do that and succeeded pretty well.
From a purely political standpoint you have to greatly admire his determination and his ability to achieve a result. On gay marriage I believe him to be on the wrong side of history. Twenty years from now I think Mike Long himself will make that admission. But not tonight. The upside, even to conservatives like myself who disagree with him on gay marriage, is that when Gov. Cuomo wants to raise taxes, impose new regulations or expand state power, there will be Mike Long shaking his head No to the Republican caucuses in the Assembly and Senate. That's the positive result for those of us who found his actions tonight regrettable.