The New York Tories


third-party rabble-rouser Rick Lazio

A curious wrinkle in the New York gubernatorial race: Rick Lazio, who lost the Republican nomination to Carl Paladino last week, is still on the ballot as the candidate of the Conservative Party. What makes this odd is that the Conservative Party exists mostly for the purpose of pushing the Republicans to the right, sometimes endorsing the GOP nominee and sometimes advancing a more conservative alternative. In this case, the Republicans nominated the more right-wing candidate and the CP is backing the guy who's closer to the center.

Dan McCarthy explains: "The Conservative Party thought Lazio would win the Republican nomination and preemptively nominated him for the CP line as well—the better to garner votes for the CP in November and presumably to curry favor with Lazio and the Repubs also. This cynical strategy has backfired: now if Lazio folds his campaign, which is realistically what one would expect, the CP will have a hard time getting 50,000 votes on its gubernatorial line—that's the threshold a party has to meet to get automatic ballot access the next time around."

I have no love for Lazio (an establishment hack) or for Paladino (a guy who wants to use eminent domain to block the Park51 project, and who has proposed a kooky plan to house welfare recipients in former prisons). The Democrat isn't appealing either. If I were a New Yorker, I'd probably cast a protest vote for the Libertarian candidate, or maybe the Manhattan madam. But I hate to see a third party lose its ballot status—especially in a state like New York, where ballot fusion is legal and smaller parties thus have more influence (read: more chances to cause trouble). So I hope the CP pulls through this.

Even if Lazio exits—and it's not yet certain that he will—that doesn't mean the Conservatives will be stuck with an inactive candidate on their ballot line. The tricky thing is finding a substitute who can get those 50,000 votes. Party chair Mike Long has told the Daily News that he isn't eager to endorse Paladino. The Dennis Hopper lookalike "strikes a chord on lots of issues that we stand for and believe in," Long explains, but party leaders "think, quite frankly, he is really irresponsible in his demeanor, in his character." We'll see if they stick to that assessment if their automatic ballot berth is on the line.