Giuliani a Closet Liberal?
The latest flap over Rudy Giuliani's political past requires a long reach back into the complexities of New York State politics. As in most states, it's an ugly, personal battle, with parties and people attempting to settle old scores one election at a time.
New questions about Giuliani come courtesy of Mitt Romney's campaign, which has distributed a 1993 TV news clip of the former mayor in an effort to paint him as a "small L" liberal. The Romney campaign released the clip Tuesday, the same day Giuliani started airing a radio ad claiming he's the "worst nightmare" of the liberal MoveOn.org group.
The 1993 clip from NY1 shows then-mayoral candidate Giuliani meeting with members of the New York State (big "L") Liberal Party on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
"He's doing his best to remind West Side liberals, that he does hold the Liberal line on the ballot," the reporter says.
"They can send me a signal and vote for me on the Liberal line," Giuliani says.
Huh? The Romney camp doesn't provide the rest of the story, to provide context of who "they" are and what "signal" they're supposed to send to Giuliani. This deserves some context, and historical perspective.
Watch the clip here, but read on below:
Understand that in New York State, minor parties matter. In last year's statewide elections, Empire State voters could choose from candidates from the Democratic, Republican, Independence, Conservative, and Working Families parties. A state political party must meet a 50,000-vote threshold in gubernatorial elections in order to appear on the ballot for the next four years.
A New York Democrat or Republican running in a primary often reaches out to the minor parties for a few reasons: First, to prove to his party's base, and other skeptics that the candidate can build a coalition, and attract support from parties on the ideological fringe. Second, to assure himself a spot on the November statewide ballot, regardless of whether he wins his party's primary. For example, when Andrew Cuomo challenged Carl McCall for the 2002 Democratic nomination for governor, he earned the Liberal Party nomination, assuring himself a spot on the November ballot. Cuomo dropped out of the race before the Democratic primary however, and while he still appeared on the Liberal Party ballot, he did not actively campaign, and the party failed to meet the 50,000-vote threshold.
Flash back to 1989: The Liberal Party endorses Giuliani over incumbent mayor Edward I. Koch (D), who was in a four-way Democratic primary. Koch, who many considered racially divisive, loses the primary to David Dinkins. As Washington Post alum Michael Powell reported in the New York Times back in July, Giuliani had considered building a Black-White Catholic coalition of voters to beat Koch in the general election. The Liberal Party took a lot of grief for supporting Giuliani, but the party had poor relations with Koch, and decided to support someone else. The theory, according to observers, was that Giuliani would run in the tradition of Fiorello H. LaGuardia, or John Lindsay, mayoral candidates that crossed party lines and ideology to build a winning coalition.
When Dinkins won the Democratic primary however, most blacks began supporting Dinkins, ending Giuliani's hope for a Black-White Catholic coaltion. He then ran to the right, attacking Dinkins by, among other things, running an ad in a Jewish newspaper that called him "a Jesse Jackson Democrat." Dinkins won the 1989 race, and avoided reconciliation with the Liberal Party.
The Liberal Party endorsed Giuliani again in 1993. This does not mean he ran a "small L" liberal campaign, however. Sure, Giuliani was pro-choice, and pro-gay rights, but so are most New York Republicans, and a majority of New York voters. Giuliani needed the Liberal Party support in order to build a broad enough coalition to win, and the Liberal Party saw no one else to support.
According to one long time New York political observer, Giuliani ran as an "urban conservative" in 1989, and 1993. He was tough on law and order issues, corruption, and ethics, but also pro-gay rights, and pro-choice.
"If it wasn't for the Byzantine nature of New York politics in 1993, Giuliani would have run as a Republican-Conservative, not as a Republican-Liberal," the observer says. "But because of Dinkins' efforts to render the Liberal Party out of existence, the Liberal Party had nowhere to go but Giuliani."
Why did Giuliani not seek the Conservative Party nomination? That party endorsed businessman Ron Lauder in 1989, after Lauder lost to Giuliani in the GOP primary. It left its ballot blank in 1993, and 1997, instead of backing Giuliani. Problem is, the Conservative Party was closely aligned with Alfonse D'Amato, a Giuliani rival, who eventually helped elect George Pataki as New York governor in 1994, while Giuliani backed Democrat Mario Cuomo. On principle, the party also did not want to nominate a candidate already supported by the Liberal Party. The decision to leave the ballot blank in 1993 and 1997 however was considered a silent endorsement of Giuliani's tactics, and record. (The Giuliani campaign also reminds us that columnist George Will has stated that Giuliani's "eight years as Mayor of New York were the most successful episode of conservative governance in this country in the last 50 years.")
So yes, Giuliani embraced liberal beliefs on abortion, and gay rights, and earned the support of the Liberal Party, but needed to do so in order to win. The Romney campaign is obviously trying to remind Republicans, and the press, that Giuliani also embraced liberal viewpoints, and wooed more moderate or liberal voters in order to win, just as the former governor once did. But the "flip flopper," "liberal" tags seem to be sticking more to Romney than Giuliani these days, and with the emergence of Fred Thompson, the Romney campaign must simultaneously fend off his threat and maintain its early leads in Iowa and New Hampshire, in order to win next year.
-- Ed O'Keefe
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