When Jacob K. Javits won his last term as U.S. senator back in 1974, few imagined his victory set a precedent that would guide New York State politics to this day.
That’s because Javits, a mainstay of the liberal “Rockefeller Republicans,” remains the last member of the GOP (along with Attorney General Louis J. Lefkowitz that same year) to win statewide office without support of the tiny but influential Conservative Party.
Now Joel A. Giambra, the former Erie County executive, launches his Republican campaign for governor with barely a whisper of enthusiasm from the state’s top minor party. Its powerful state chairman, Michael R. Long of Brooklyn, flatly rejects Giambra who, since leaving the Rath County Office Building, has supported a host of liberal Democrats, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“I just can’t wrap my head around anyone wanting to run for governor or any Republican who ultimately possesses the same point of view as the current governor,” Long said recently. “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between them.”
Long, who has ruled the New York Conservative Party for three decades, remains especially cognizant of Giambra’s significant donations to Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie, New York Mayor Bill deBlasio and 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton – all Democrats. He also sees a candidate favoring abortion rights, same sex marriage, gun control and marijuana legalization.
“Clearly, he’s a non-starter,” Long declared.
The chairman said he maintains a friendly relationship with Giambra and has granted the candidate’s request for a meeting in Brooklyn on Wednesday.
“I’ll meet with the president of North Korea,” he quipped.
Adding to his challenge, Giambra faces an equally daunting task of winning over a New York GOP that these days finds itself more in tune with Donald J. Trump than Javits or former Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller.
But Giambra is making inroads. Significantly, he has intrigued Ralph C. Lorigo, the Erie County Conservative chairman and state vice chairman who is a powerful voice in the New York party.
Lorigo is not committing to anything, but said a few days ago that he has discussed the race with Giambra and is “open” to supporting him. The local chairman’s status at this point represents only a crack in a tightly slammed Conservative door, but it still is a crack.
“I’m not happy that he’s a Hillary supporter,” Lorigo said of Giambra, “but I’m open to it if it means beating Cuomo.
“I don’t need someone to be 100 percent in line with Conservatives,” he added.
Giambra, who met in New York last week with a skeptical state GOP Chairman Edward F. Cox, would not discuss his efforts. But spokesman Tony Farina said Cox congratulated Giambra for his plan to address New York City’s mass transit problems.
He also said Giambra is buoyed by Lorigo’s initial willingness to consider the candidacy and that the candidate will continue to make his case at the party’s annual Albany conference later this month and with Conservative leaders around the state.
“I think Mike would be open as we move along to someone who can win and adheres to a good percentage of our values,” Lorigo said of Long.
Long and Lorigo emphasize they respect each other’s position and ultimately will work together. But the state chairman also noted that even though Lorigo will control a significant amount of the party’s weighted vote at its convention, it represents only a portion.
“Maybe he can run for governor of Erie County,” Long said of Giambra.
Seasoned observers of the state’s Republican politics say anything can happen. Political consultant Michael R. Caputo of East Aurora, who managed Carl P. Paladino’s Republican gubernatorial campaign in 2010, pointed out that Long also never embraced Paladino. Only after Paladino trounced party nominee Rick A. Lazio in the 2010 GOP primary did Long come around to produce a unified ticket, Caputo recalled.
“The Conservative Party is a necessary endorsement for any statewide Republican candidate who wants to win,” he said. “Some would say even that’s not enough.”