By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Mike Long spends six days a week behind the counter of his family liquor store on 5th Avenue in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. The Conservative Party he's built into a statewide force is headquartered around the corner on 78th Street, a one-minute walk for this vigorous, 58-year-old ex-Marine who calls himself a pragmatic "revolutionary." Two blocks away is the modest rowhouse where Long has raised nine children.
Ever since George Pataki became the first governor elected on the 36-year-old Conservative line, Long has been pointing to the 328,605 votes his party delivered in 1994. He will remind anyone within earshot that his votes were the margin of victory over Mario Cuomo, a man Long once baited into a little-known, single-punch, losing fistfight. On October 27, Long will host a $250-a-head cocktail party at the Sheraton Centre, and the governor and Senator D'Amato--both of whom are posing as reelection moderates--will be there, luring thousands into the coffers of a party that is as pro-gun and pro-tobacco as it is anti-choice and anti-gay.
While Pataki woos the Times in search of its editorial embrace, his first term administration has been a hiring hall for Long's legions, with Conservatives prominently placed, at one time or another, at the Port Authority, City University, the School Construction Authority (SCA), the Housing Finance Agency (HFA), the Workers' Compensation Board, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), the State Mortgage Agency (SONYMA), and the Parole Board.
Scandal has often followed the party's patronage trail, the latest example occurring at the parole board. Two weeks ago, Sean McSherry, a longtime Conservative whose father Mike sat on the party's state advisory board until his death in 1997, was indicted as part of a federal probe of alleged parole trade-offs for Pataki campaign contributions. The McSherry family has made 50 contributions to the party since 1994, totaling $8258. In addition to maintaining a bungalow near Long's on Breezy Point, Mike McSherry owned the building at 523 Third Avenue in Manhattan, where Mike Long's two sons, James and Matthew, run a bar called Third and Long.
Sean McSherry was initially named to the 19-member board by Cuomo in 1989, as part of a deal with the Republican-controlled senate. Chris Mega, the state senator from Bay Ridge at the time who's close to Long, reportedly suggested McSherry. Another parole board member, Irene Platt from Manhattan, is a Republican, but so tied to the Conservatives that she and her husband have made 12 donations to the party in recent years, totaling $4000. Her husband probated the wills of both of McSherry's parents last year. Though Platt's term expired in 1995, she is still on the board.
Earlier this year, another scandal involving Conservatives hit the press when the negligence of a party-connected cabal at the SCA was linked to the accidental death of an Asian American teenager on a school job site. In addition, U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter is investigating the award of LIPA's $7.5 billion in bond underwriting, with Long allies at both ends of the deal--the largest in the nation's history.
A Voice review of the hundreds of thousands in contributions raised by Long since 1994, especially compared with the paltry sums that preceded Pataki's win, demonstrates the financial overlay between the party and the state government it helped put in place. Dollar after dollar comes from state vendors, especially those who do business with the agencies where Conservatives have landed:At least a dozen Port Authority businesses, and one union, made their first party contributions after former Conservative mayoral candidate George Marlin took over the authority in February 1995, tallying over $201,000 in donations. One company, American Stevedoring, which runs a Brooklyn containerport owned by the authority and has enlisted Long in a campaign to build a harbor freight tunnel to track goods from its piers to New Jersey, has donated an astonishing $113,850. The elevator maintenance firm with the contract for 245 elevators at the World Trade Center, A.C.E., has also seen its generosity skyrocket.
Others in line at the party trough include Duty Free International, which opened a 5000-foot expansion at JFK and controls the highly competitive duty-free market at two authority airports and New Connecticut Limo, which has a permit to provide limousine service to all three authority airports. Marine Shipping Line and Continental Terminals on piers 5 and 7 in Brooklyn, as well as the Newark-based Lansdell Protective and Staten Island's Howland Hook Containerport, leased facilities from the authority at the time of their contributions. Howland, like American Stevedoring, also gets millions in operating subsidies from a variety of public sources, including the authority.
A supplier that services authority containerports, Phoenix Marine, also became a donor. While an executive for several related upstate railroad firms that gave to the party denied they did business with the authority, but The Virginian Pilotreported last year that the firms were part of a Canadian-led coalition of lines seeking "rail access to the Port of New York and New Jersey."One mob-tied company, Quadrozzi Concrete, gave $3000, starting with $1500 in November 1996, at the very moment that Marlin approved the no-bid, discounted sale of a 43-acre, authority-owned grain terminal to the firm. John Quadrozzi, who was awaiting sentencing for making payoffs to the Luchese crime family when the deal closed, was allowed to buy the site even though he was barred from doing business by another state agency, as well as the federal government. The law firm that represented Quadrozzi on the transaction, which was approved by Marlin, donated another $500.