Call it the Ross Perot movement without Ross Perot.
Maybe it's the way frustrated voters are reacting to gridlock, budget deficits, high taxes and entrenched politicians.
Whatever, some prominent people dissatisfied with the way Democrats and Republicans are running things in the state are taking the first steps toward a new political party -- the Independence Party.
They plan to begin their first serious local recruiting efforts this week.
Starting with a news conference Monday and an organizational meeting Thursday in the Hearthstone Manor in Depew, a group of predominantly Rochester-area residents led by pollster Gordon S. Black will begin organizing Western New Yorkers into what they hope will be a powerful new voting bloc. They want to begin with a candidate for governor this year.
"Our objective is not short term; our objective is to start a full scale, centrist, reform party to break the logjam in Albany," said Black, who has a national reputation for political polling.
"Once we get ballot access, we'll register as many people as possible with the intention of running for local office in '95 and being a much more powerful force in '96."
So far, the name most associated with an Independence gubernatorial candidacy is Richard M. Rosenbaum, the Rochester attorney and former state GOP chairman who is waging a maverick primary campaign for the Republican nomination.
"I would be proud to be their standard bearer," Rosenbaum said. "I view the Independence Party as an important political source that reflects a shift in voter attitudes. I'm seriously interested in their support."
Black is supported by some other major names in this state and Northeast business circles, such as Laurance S. Rockefeller, nephew of Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller; B. Thomas Golisano of the Paychex payroll services firm; and Gov. Lowell P. Weicker of Connecticut.
Spurred by many of the Perot supporters who believe they must channel their philosophies directly into the political process, the Independence Party organizers say their success in Rochester and other areas can be duplicated in Erie County -- where Perot captured 27 percent of the 1992 presidential vote.
"There is no affiliation with United We Stand America (the Perot good government group)," explained Laureen Oliver, an accountant who is the Independence Party's chairwoman for Monroe County. "But the philosophy is much the same.
"United We Stand America is trying to do it within the two-party system," Ms. Oliver continued, "but we found that elected officials just aren't listening."
As a result, Black and company are attempting to build on the voter feedback he found in 1992 as Perot's chief pollster.
Tracking voter surveys from as far back as 1937, Black found that those willing to vote for a third-party candidate rose from 13 percent to more than 60 percent now.
Even though third parties generally have coalesced around fringe elements or single issues, he thinks there is now enough dissatisfaction among voters to rally around a "centrist" party bent on reform.
"I came to the realization in the mid to late '80s that Americans were becoming absolutely and explosively dissatisfied with their governments," Black said.
"They looked and saw their cities going downhill, an unmanageable deficit, and politicians entrenched in office while talking out of both sides of their mouths."
Black agrees that the new party could appeal to those who were intrigued by Perot's message, but not necessarily by Perot.
So the effort is forming around such ideas as reducing the deficit, open elections without involvement of political action committees, reduction of welfare dependence and a "restored urban life," Black said.
But third- or minor-party efforts traditionally have failed or appeared as minor blips on the political screen over the years, with most attracting a "fringe element."
The claim of a "centrist" party should be viewed skeptically because Black's polling process could produce a centrist "mean" resulting from right and left wing fringe voters, according to James W. Moor, professor of political science at St. Bonaventure University.
"Sometimes pollsters get more attached to their computers than they do the sensibilities of people," Moor said. "In Perot's case, though, he traveled around the country and knew the people were ticked."
Moor also pointed out that third-party issues, once they start gaining steam, have been co-opted by the Democrats and Republicans.
He noted, for example, that "moderate" Southern Democrats like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have hinted at some of the ideas once preached by George Wallace.
"The problem with the current one is you're calling into question some things that are much more basic than simply segregation laws," he said.
Still, Moor said Perot's ability to attract 20 million votes across the country in 1992, combined with continuing problems of crime, education and budget deficits, could produce a "watershed time" in U.S. history that could spell success for the Independence movement.
"It's extremely frustrating to see what is currently going on in a country with such an accumulation of wealth that even Japan is a distant second, and still not have any political structures to allow things to occur differently," he said. "What we have now is a structure that severely limits political will."
Black said he already has begun a mailing about his organizing activities to 1,200 community leaders and businesses throughout Erie County and plans major radio advertising to publicize his efforts.
"We have to pick up those people who believe our message is correct," he said.
"I think people know the argument is right. I back it up with enough facts and figures that if you take me on, you better take me on with reality."