Rudy's Role Reversal

The Mayor's Flip-Flop on Aiding Vacco Recharges His GOP Enemies

The Giuliani-for-Senate campaign hit a bump in the road last week when the mayor blocked the use of city cops in Dennis Vacco's suit challenging the results of the attorney general race.

State GOP leaders reportedly saw Giuliani's actions as a self-serving reversal prompted by Ray Harding, the Liberal Party leader close to Eliot Spitzer, the Democrat who benefited from Giuliani's refusal to allow cops to knock on the doors of thousands of voters whose legality Vacco questioned.

Ironically, Vacco and state GOP boss Bill Powers took their lead on this strategy from Giuliani himself, who publicly declared as recently as 1993 that "it's clear there was voter fraud in the 1989 election," when he lost his first mayoral contest to David Dinkins.

The recent Vacco complaints mimic allegations long promulgated by Giuliani— namely, that illegal immigrants and other minorities abused the franchise in 1989. Indeed, pushed by Giuliani's assertion that "substantial questions about the integrity of the ballot" existed, the Department of Investigation conducted a still-secret probe of the same sort of voter-fraud charges Vacco is now making.

The mayor was so convinced that widespread fraud occurred in black and Latino districts that he got Powers to fund a million-dollar election- day operation in 1993, flooding those polling sites with lawyers and off-duty cops and firemen to try to prevent a repeat of 1989. Nonetheless, Randy Levine, the deputy mayor who was then a Giuliani campaign official, told reporters that, "just as we expected," there was "a massive pattern of fraud and intimidation" in the 1993 election as well.

GOP sources say Giuliani recently "pumped up" the Vacco forces to challenge the fraud, then pulled the rug out from underneath them when they tried to use a state law successfully employed in Albany and elsewhere to get cops to check suspect voters. These sources believe that Harding got Giuliani to back away from his initial public indication that the administration would allow cops to check 10,000 voters identified by Vacco's lawyers.

Harding, who gave Spitzer the Liberal line and hugged him at a Waldorf victory party in early December, has collected $160,000 in contributions from the candidate's family and campaign committee since August.

Harding's ballot line could be very important to Giuliani in 2000, when the mayor seems certain to seek the Senate seat vacated by Pat Moynihan. Harding could either give the mayor the line or try to split the opposition to Giuliani by nominating a well-known candidate other than the Democrat in the race, as he did in this year's gubernatorial race. Giuliani, of course, has run on Harding's line three times and employs both of Harding's sons in high-level administration positions.

Giuliani's conduct has reignited the long-simmering hostility to him in some quarters of the state party, advancing the cause of the two candidates most likely to challenge him in 2000, Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro and Suffolk congressman Rick Lazio. While Giuliani has already been proclaimed the sure winner by the same pundits who picked Vacco and Al D'Amato this year, the mayor could face a daunting primary in a party where the city vote has wavered between 10 and 14 percent in the four statewide races since 1980. Lazio and Pirro come from the three-county suburban ring that accounts for as much as 31 percent of the primary vote.

In this year's gubernatorial contest, Nassau's 242,609 GOP vote for George Pataki was more than twice his total in Queens, where the biggest Republican vote in the city regularly occurs. In addition to the dominance of the suburban vote within the party, the Pataki total in the five upstate counties of Erie, Monroe, Onondaga, Orange, and Albany exceeds the city vote. Private polls indicate that Giuliani may be popular in the suburbs (at least when he's not matched against a suburban Republican), but his pro-Cuomo junket upstate in 1994 certainly boomeranged.

Lazio's $1.8 million war chest far exceeds the $178,541 that Giuliani has in the only campaign committee he's organized that could properly be used to finance a Senate run. In fact, Giuliani has only $471,994 in his two federal and one state committees, a fraction of the $1.8 million he had on hand at this juncture in 1994, at the start of his first mayoral term. Since Giuliani's fundraising in 1997 depended on corporate givers, as well as a relatively small number of big individual donors who exceeded the federal $1000 primary limit, it's not at all clear that the mayor has the broad base of noncorporate supporters necessary for a Senate campaign.

Pirro is so close to Pataki that she joined the governor, D'Amato, and their inner circle at the Puerto Rico vacation that immediately followed the November election and Moynihan's announcement that he would not run. She told the Voicethat she would "never say never" about a possible 2000 run. Sources close to her and to the state party say she is definitely interested, as is Lazio, who was such a Newt Gingrich ally that he will be odd man out in the new alignment around Speaker Robert Livingston.

Other offshoots of the already-percolating Senate campaign, as well as the never-ending AG race, include:

P Post-Rudy maneuvering— should he make it to the Senate— has focused on what can be done to change the charter-mandated line of succession. As it is now, Mark Green would take over as mayor by January 2001, and would run as an incumbent that November for a full term.

Harding, who's closely aligned with mayoral wannabe Alan Hevesi, has publicly acknowledged that he's looking at ways to block Green. What no one's noticed except lawyers in Peter Vallone's office, however, is that under state law, Vallone would succeed Green as Public Advocate, giving the term-limited council speaker a comfortable niche he could conceivably occupy for the next nine years. If so, that makes the likelihood of Vallone using his considerable powers to aid a succession change doubtful. It also means that two powerful city Dems, Green and Vallone, may have a stake in the mayor's elevation to the Senate.

The stunning success of two new progressive parties, Working Families and Green, both of which gained ballot status for the first time in this election, also complicates the Senate race. If Harding does the predictable, and lends his line in 2000 directly or indirectly to Giuliani, he'll further diminish the Libs' already dubious progressive credentials, but this time in comparison with parties that may support Giuliani's Democratic opponent.

Spitzer's just-filed campaign disclosure forms add $2.2 million to the loans he'd already made to his 1998 campaign, bringing his total this year and in 1994 to an astounding $12.4 million. Since he has conceded that his father was playing a role in paying off these record-setting bank loans— despite state laws severely limiting his father's legal contributions— it was somewhat surprising to see Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau embracing Spitzer at the Waldorf victory party. Spitzer was once a bureau chief in Morgy's office, but the D.A. should be investigating the charges against Spitzer that even the Timesconceded had merit in an editorial endorsing him.

Morgenthau's conflict suggests that either a special prosecutor or Albany District Attorney Sol Greenberg, who was elected last year on the Democratic and Republican lines, should examine what appear to be violations of state election laws as well as other statutes.

The final bizarre note on Harding's recent gubernatorial candidate, Betsy McCaughey Ross, is that husband Wilbur, who pulled his big bucks out of her primary race and filed for divorce the day after the election, mysteriously donated $237,000 to the Libs on October 20, right before his wife got the 50,000 votes necessary to maintain the party's ballot status. Despite all of Harding's public denunciations of him for supposedly abandoning Betsy's campaign, Wilbur became the party's biggest donor.

Marjory Tolub, the nurse whose husband, Walter, is the judge on a pending lawsuit filed by Wilbur Ross's first wife, gave $1500 to the Libs on November 19. She's been a donor to the party since Harding put Walter Tolub on the bench in 1989, and even her husband's handling of a case involving Harding's most generous benefactor hasn't prompted a recusal. Judge Tolub is up for reelection next year, and needs Harding's support.

Research: Will Johnson, David Kihara, David Shaftel, and Nicole White

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