New Yorkers are not only nominating presidential candidates in the state primary next week; they’re choosing party delegates for what may be the first contested national conventions in decades. Yet, as intriguing as it will be to watch Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton battle for delegates congressional district by congressional district, the Republicans are holding their first-ever winner-take-all primary, which will spotlight all the tensions within a diminished and troubled state party.
In fact, judging by recent polls, most of New York’s party honchos may not even make it to the September convention in Minneapolis, whether the presidential nomination is still up for grabs or not. That’s because the GOP establishment opted for Rudy Giuliani months ago—and if John McCain winds up winning, virtually all of the county GOP chairs and Republican state senators, for example, could be out in the cold at their own national confab. That’s hardly the scenario the party bosses imagined when they chose a winner-take-all format after McCain defeated their choice, George
W. Bush, in several congressional districts in 2000,
taking 26 delegates in what would become the state’s last GOP primary to apportion the delegates by proportional representation.
Still, because of some rules-juggling that occurred after 2000, it’s something of a misnomer to call the new system “winner-take-all,” since only 87 of the state’s 101 delegates are up for grabs on Super Tuesday. The other 14 at-large delegates are free to vote any way they choose at the convention, and 11 of them will be formally named at a state committee meeting in May. State chairman Joe Mondello—whose arm-twisting for Giuliani is the reason the county chairs all lined up behind him—will control the selection; he and the two national-committee representatives, who have also endorsed Giuliani, will automatically get the other three seats at the convention.
Mondello is said to have already quietly doled out most of those remaining at-large designations to top Giuliani supporters like Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and former state party chair Bill Powers, neither of whom are running as delegates. Ex–U.S. senator Al D’Amato—who recently endorsed John McCain—is also not running as a delegate, even though his wife, brother, son, daughter, and four members of his lobbying firm are delegate candidates for Fred Thompson, the original D’Amato choice. A state-committee spokesman won’t say that most of the at-large delegates have been selected, but it’s safe to assume that the absence of big names like Bruno, Powers, and D’Amato on the delegate lists—as well as former governor George Pataki, who has thus far remained neutral—is an indication that they have all been promised at-large designation. Beyond this exclusive club of so-called superdelegates, however, in the event of a McCain win in the primary, the rest of the 174 delegates and alternates would be drawn from the list of mostly obscure candidates in the 29 congressional districts submitted by the McCain campaign to the State Board of Elections at the end of last year. That would amount to a silent coup, dumping the party fixtures who have roamed convention floors for aeons.
Mitt Romney, meanwhile, trails badly in the New York polls. But if he gets a bounce in Florida and ends up winning here, the state GOP would have to send a virtually anonymous group of delegates to the convention. One state-party operative told the Voice that Romney “culled his delegates from lists of even the smallest contributors.” He’s had no office address or operation in New York. Jeff Buley, a longtime Republican lawyer and lobbyist here, was a paid consultant to Romney’s campaign and reportedly helped put together his delegates list. Besides Buley himself, the most prominent member is former Massachusetts governor William Weld. Romney has issued press releases about support committees from Alaska to Delaware, but not in New York. In addition to his dismal numbers in this state, he faces the possibility that Giuliani might pull out after a Florida rout and endorse McCain—a door that the onetime national front-runner has left slightly ajar in recent days.
A McCain win in New York might also eventually change the makeup of the state party leadership. Manhattan attorney Ed Cox, the son-in-law of former president Richard Nixon who is heading the McCain effort in New York, is said to be considering a run for state chair should McCain win New York, become the nominee, and get elected in November. Mondello, who also heads the Nassau County GOP, was re-elected by the 62 county chairs last September for a one-year term. Asked if he’d seek the party post, Cox wouldn’t directly answer the question: “I have the McCain campaign, the State University of New York board of trustees, my law practice, and the League of Conservation Voters, which I chair,” he said. “I have enough to worry about now.”
Cox has a personal bond with McCain, having met him in Washington in 1973, when McCain was finally released from a Vietnam prison camp and welcomed at the Nixon White House. Cox says that his wife, Tricia Nixon-Cox, made appearances at McCain campaign stops in Iowa, and McCain introduced her by saying: “I wouldn’t be here but for her father.” Cox and his 28-year-old son Chris put the McCain organization together in New York, and it’s no coincidence that two of its honorary chairs—Henry Kissinger and Pete Peterson—are former members of the Nixon cabinet. John Carley, who was Nixon’s wife’s driver and is now a senior vice president of Cendant Corporation, is also a McCain delegate.
The more typical McCain delegates, however, include a licensed sightseer from Queens, the daughter of a long-dead Brooklyn GOP leader, and a former Democratic state senator from the Bronx. Illustrating just how far removed they are from the existing party power structure, the list for McCain’s New York Leadership Team supplied to reporters last week listed 48 members (almost all of whom are delegate candidates), and used the word “former” 21 times. McCain’s “leaders” even include a former town supervisor from minuscule upstate Charlton and a former president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association.
Only one party chair, Chemung County’s John Meier, stood up to the statewide pressure for Giuliani to endorse the Arizona senator. Not a single one of the state’s 32 Republican senators backed McCain, and only two assemblymen, Phil Boyle and Dan Burling, are listed on his committee. Binghampton’s Tom Libous is one of 15 senators running as a Giuliani delegate, but two of his relatives, Nancy and Mike Libous, are on the McCain slate, making him the only member of the Bruno-dominated GOP conference in the senate to have at least a toe in another camp. The state’s most prominent “former,” George Pataki, survived a lunch with Giuliani without endorsing him and has remained neutral, but Pataki’s personal attorney, Richard Farren, and his onetime counsel in state government and closest friend, Michael Finnegan, are running as McCain delegates. The widow and son of ex-senator Ron Stafford, who was Pataki’s strongest ally in the legislature, are also on the McCain ticket, but Cox says that’s because he sits with Kay Stafford on the SUNY board.
The Sergeants Benevolent Association, a city union that is also a client of Cox’s law firm, has six McCain delegates, including its president, Ed Mullins. The Irish-American Republicans Club lays claim to six more delegate slots, including one for its executive director, Grant Lally. Dubbed “the Wild Geese,” Lally and many of his compatriots charged down to Florida on George Bush’s behalf during the 2000 brouhaha over the voter recount, and, according to Cox, they’ve trekked to New Hampshire and South Carolina for McCain already. Chris Callaghan, the bow-tied Republican candidate for state comptroller in 2006 who raised the ethics issues that eventually forced Alan Hevesi from office, is a McCain delegate from Joe Bruno’s home base in Saratoga County—a badge of courage that Callaghan wore proudly in an interview with the Voice months ago, when Giuliani was still riding high.
Theodore Roosevelt IV, who chaired the League of Conservation Voters before Cox, is an odd McCain delegate, having supported John Kerry in 2004. He recast his great-grandfather’s famous quote and declared at Kerry’s largest Manhattan fundraiser that Bush “carries a big stick and doesn’t bother to speak.” Even stranger is the delegate candidacy of former upstate congressman Amory Houghton Jr., one of only six Republicans in the House to vote against the Iraq War. In fact, even Kissinger has said that he didn’t think a military victory was possible in Iraq, though McCain seldom misses a chance to promise one on the campaign trail.
More consistent with McCain’s pro-war and big-stick policies is Long Island delegate and proud neocon Mark Broxmeyer, the longtime chairman of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), whose board included Dick Cheney, John Bolton, and Douglas Feith before the Bush administration took office. (Still remaining on the board are Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, and James Woolsey, other architects of the Iraq War.) Broxmeyer, who orchestrated a series of lectures by Ahmad Chalabi in October 2002 to drum up support for the impending invasion, told the Voice: “We don’t need change now in Washington.”
Another JINSA board member, Munz Kazmir, is on McCain’s metro-area finance committee, and four members of the JINSA advisory committee serve on a McCain national-security panel. The owner of a number of New Jersey health companies over the years, Kazmir paid $26,000 to settle state charges that he’d billed hospitals for the use of unlicensed respiratory therapists. (For his part, JINSA’s Broxmeyer—a major developer—resigned in 2006 from the board of his alma mater, Hofstra University, after the school’s housing-rights clinic sued him in a dispute with his Latino tenants.)
McCain has also inherited a group of supporters rebounding from bouts with Giuliani. D’Amato, the legendary $500,000-a-phone-call lobbyist, said years ago that his role in appointing Giuliani as the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan was “the biggest mistake I ever made,” and vowed that he’d never “want to see him in a higher political position.” Giuliani tried to put D’Amato in jail, and even though another federal prosecutor convicted D’Amato’s brother (in a case that was later overturned), D’Amato blamed Rudy.
Lew Eisenberg, who chaired the Port Authority during all the years that Giuliani waged war against it, is a major figure on the McCain finance committee. McCain delegate John Fleming was a cop on Giuliani’s NYPD detail who ran for state senate in 2006 and couldn’t get the former mayor to show up at a fundraiser. Anne-marie McAvoy, a co-chair of Women for McCain, ran for comptroller on Giuliani’s ticket in 1997 and was used on the campaign bus as a decoy look-alike for Giuliani’s then wife, Donna Hanover, who refused to appear with him because of his ongoing affair with his press aide. Another co-chair of the women’s group, Noeline Cuker, is the wife of Eliot Cuker, once Rudy’s close confidant, who reportedly broke with him after he tried to cajole Cuker into telling a fabricated version of how Giuliani and Judi Nathan launched their affair.
There are plenty of eyebrow-raising delegates on Giuliani’s slate as well. Former Staten Island borough president Guy Molinari is a co-chair of the state Giuliani committee. He and his lobbying partner, Robert Scamardella, are running for delegate and alternate despite the fact that they represented Interstate Industrial, the allegedly mob-tied company at the very center of the Bernie Kerik scandal. So is Jonathan Ballan, the longtime law partner of Liberal Party boss Ray Harding, whose son Russell was convicted of looting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city agency he ran. Charles Moerdler, a prominent city lawyer who manages the firm that represented former Bronx Democratic boss Stanley Friedman in the case that propelled Giuliani to the mayoralty, is also a delegate. So is John Kiernan, a partner at the lobbying firm demonized by Giuliani as a mayoral candidate.
Fred Brown, a Bronx delegate for Giuliani and former school-board member, was convicted of using the school district’s printing press to produce a 100-page political journal in the ’80s. Asked by the Voice about the 13 liens and judgments against him totaling more than $100,430—including three from the IRS for $32,986—Brown said he didn’t know what they were about, adding that he was scheduled “to meet with the IRS in February.” Brown conceded that he lives at 355 South End Avenue in Battery Park City, even though he is running as a delegate from the address he’s registered at in the Bronx. “My [previous] apartment at 375 South End was destroyed on 9/11,” he explained.
Brown was awarded substantial compensation by the politically wired New York State Crime Victims Board for injuries he claimed to have sustained fleeing his apartment on 9/11. A source close to the board told the iVoice that Brown was compensated for mental trauma. Without denying that he’d received counseling for trauma, the 72-year-old Brown insisted that he also suffered physical injury, saying that he “ran beyond my endurance” and that his “leg muscle locked.” He said he was “dodging body parts” and that a woman “running with me died”—precisely what the source says he cited to explain his trauma. “I’m still on blood-pressure medication,” he added. “I don’t remember how much I was paid.” The New York State Crime Victims Board—which was then chaired by Joan Cusack, the longtime companion of Staten Island Borough President Jim Molinaro—said it couldn’t release the particulars of any individual case.
Brown is one of several Bronx delegates of questionable pedigree. Another is county chair Jay Savino, whose father was convicted by Giuliani when he was a prosecutor. Last year, the city’s Department of Investigation launched a probe of Savino and other Bronx GOP players, even raiding the Board of Elections, where Savino had been a commissioner. One of the charges still under investigation involves patronage practices at the board, where Savino engineered a job for his college fraternity brother (and sometime Sopranos mobster) Anthony Ribustello, a Giuliani alternate.
Mario Bruno, a Molinari sidekick who held several posts in the Giuliani administration, is the Giuliani campaign’s New York State executive director, running the operation statewide. In 2004, the city settled a lawsuit and paid $140,000 to a former staffer who had worked under Bruno, and who alleged that at a 2000 staff meeting—while Giuliani was mayor—she accused Bruno of improperly planning to use a million-dollar grant for “partisan political purposes, including campaigning for Republican candidates.” He admitted that he told her, “If you fuck with me, I will burn your house down and knock up your dog.” Bruno later said that he was just joking.
Giuliani also has as many relatives on his delegates list—cousin Irene Halligan and uncle Rudolph V. Giuliani—as he does 9/11 survivors: Elizabeth Hatton, his executive assistant for decades, whose firefighter husband died during the attack, and Ken Haskell, whose two brothers also perished. A firefighter like his brothers, Haskell has been quoted in news accounts responding to the many attacks on Giuliani. But these reports haven’t mentioned that Haskell is also on the payroll of Long Island congressman Peter King, a top Giuliani spokesman and “homeland security advisor” for his campaign.
Even Tom Ognibene is a Giuliani delegate, though the former city councilman ran against Mike Bloomberg in 2005, blasting him as a “hypocrite.” Ognibene claimed in one debate that Bloomberg was not an “honorable” man, and his presence as a Giuliani delegate suggests that the ties between the two mayors have finally frayed.