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SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

IO_Endorsementsmby Karl Grossman

Is it time for the major parties in Suffolk County to again initiate a cross-endorsement ban barring election deals with minor parties? I’d say yes.
In 1972, then Suffolk Republican Chairman Edwin M. “Buzz” Schwenk and Suffolk Democratic Chairman Dominic Baranello launched a ban on such deals. They said that minor parties were having an undue influence on who was nominated by the major parties to run for office.
Especially the Conservative Party, founded in New York State in 1962 and very powerful then and now in Suffolk, was demanding more and more of its members be chosen to run as cross-endorsed major party candidates in return for Conservative cross-endorsement of other major party nominees.
It was a case, the long-time party leaders Schwenk and Baranello said jointly, of the “tail wagging the dog.”
By entering into a cross-endorsement ban, they were not in any way talking about precluding the Conservative Party or any minor party from running its own candidates. But Messrs. Schwenk and Baranello were holding that cross-endorsement deal-making between the major and minor parties needed to end charging it was warping the political process.
Unfortunately, the ban broke down after a few years. Two key factors: there was the desire of the then most powerful Republican in Suffolk, State Assemblyman Perry B. Duryea, Jr. to run for governor of New York; and the Watergate scandal which resulted in the resignation in 1974 of Republican Richard Nixon as president and the criminal convictions of many of his lieutenants, had dramatically hurt the GOP in Suffolk and elsewhere in the nation.
Mr. Duryea, of Montauk, was State Assembly speaker between 1969 and 1974 when the GOP lost its State Assembly majority, this attributed to Watergate. When he ran for governor in 1978 against Democrat incumbent Hugh Carey, Mr. Duryea felt he needed that extra vote margin which Conservative Party backing could provide.
In return for Mr. Duryea getting Conservative Party endorsement, the Suffolk Conservative Party insisted that the Suffolk GOP run a Conservative, William Carney, for Congress in the lst C.D. that same year. Mr. Carney was criticized as not having the credentials for a Congressional run. Nevertheless, he ran and won the seat, while Mr. Duryea lost the gubernatorial race.
As a congressman, Mr. Carney became highly unpopular, particularly over his staunch support for building nuclear power plants in Suffolk. Many were planned and the Shoreham plant was completed, although stopped from going into commercial operation by broad public and governmental opposition and decommissioned. In the face of his voter problems, Mr. Carney didn’t run for re-election in 1986, leaving Congress to become a lobbyist for the nuclear industry.
Meanwhile, the Suffolk cross-endorsement ban was gone.
The extra 10-11 percent of votes expected to be received by a major party candidate by being cross-endorsed by the Conservative Party has made a big difference in many races. However, it’s an advantage that has cut both ways. It has mostly helped Republican candidates, but last year, for example, it was the Suffolk Democratic Party which made a cross-endorsement deal with the Conservative Party covering a number of countywide judicial races.
A situation with some similarity to that involving the Conservative Party in Suffolk concerns a party on the other end of the political spectrum—the Liberal Party—in New York City and the state. Former state Liberal Party leader Raymond Harding pleaded guilty in 2009 to taking nearly $1 million in a corruption scandal involving state comptroller Alan Hevesi, a Democrat who Mr. Harding had his party endorse. Earlier, Harding’s two sons were given top positions in the city administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani after Mr. Harding engineered Liberal Party endorsement of the far-from-liberal Republican Giuliani.
Minor parties can be a good thing in providing a vehicle for those wrongly cut out by major parties. In Riverhead Town last year, for example, incumbent Town Supervisor Sean Walter lost in a primary his bid to run for re-election on the GOP ticket. His opposition to having the Suffolk Police Department expand into Riverhead caused county police unions to pour money into the campaign against him. So he ran on the Conservative Party ticket—and won.
But overall being a “tail wagging the dog” is less than politically healthy.

Filed in: Suffolk Closeup

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