Thunder on the Right


Tom Ognibene spent a decade on the City Council representing voters in Middle Village, a Queens neighborhood light-years from Mike Bloomberg’s Upper East Side. Ognibene’s constituency is conservative and middle-class, only a generation removed from Archie Bunker. His supporters celebrated Rudy Giuliani’s anti-crime achievements and welfare cuts, never worrying about the excesses or civil liberties losses that came with the package.

They are voters Bloomberg would expect to carry easily, absent a conservative like Ognibene on the ballot.

But the dimensions of the Ognibene threat are a matter of debate. It wouldn’t be the first time a stalwart conservative upset an incumbent liberal Republican mayor, à la John Marchi’s primary defeat of John Lindsay in 1969. But that race occurred in the midst of a city roiled by the Vietnam War and civil rights protests. Lindsay had staked out positions on the left on both those issues, angering rock-ribbed Republicans.

And while Bloomberg has some of that vulnerability—Republicans at the Rockaways rally attended by Ognibene railed at Bloomberg’s dis of President Bush by ignoring the inauguration—the mayor has been purposely opaque in his other views.

Whatever the mayor’s private beliefs, he has refused to criticize the White House concerning the war in Iraq. He even kept his silence when Bush refused to share information with the 9-11 Commission, which was charged with helping to solve the largest mass murder in his city’s history.

And, as the Post‘s Eric Fettmann pointed out in a column last week dismissing Ognibene’s chances, he couldn’t possibly be a match against Bloomberg’s deep pockets and name recognition. Fettman invoked the hapless candidacy of Ron Lauder in 1989, when he challenged Rudy Giuliani in the Republican primary and then tried to siphon votes away in the general election on the Conservative party line, something Ognibene hopes to do as well. The one salient fact omitted from the column was that Giuliani lost in 1989. The loss might not have been due to Lauder’s vote-getting prowess, but it had a lot to do with the pummeling that Giuliani received in that primary. That’s a threat Bloomberg’s handlers understand all too well.