When mayoral candidate Joseph Lhota landed the Conservative Party endorsement on Monday, he secured a spot on the election ballot that his ex-boss, former mayor Rudy Giuliani, never got in his three citywide campaigns.
Michael Long, the Conservative state chairman, predicted it would give Lhota "a significant lift in the Republican primary by sending a clear signal that he has the 'Good Housekeeping seal of approval.' "
But some believe that in deep-blue Democratic New York City, Lhota's alliance with this third party -- founded in the 1960s to counter the liberal Republicanism of Nelson Rockefeller -- would offer him little help in the general election, or even pose a liability.
Long argues otherwise.
"When you look at what could be a three- or four-way race, those votes garnered on the Conservative line may, depending on how the Democratic primary shakes out, wind up being a very important endorsement," said the chairman. "I say it's not impossible for a candidate to win this election with 38 to 42 percent in the general election." Such a scenario could depend on Independence Party candidate Adolfo Carrion siphoning votes from the major parties.
Long acknowledges, "Joe and I don't agree on every issue." But if there is consistency between this endorsement and the Conservatives having passed on Giuliani, you'll find it in the party's longtime refusal to back any candidate who accepts the Liberal Party line. Giuliani had close ties to the late Liberal boss Ray Harding -- and used the line to draw votes from Democrats reluctant to vote Republican.
This time out, billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis, Lhota's better-funded rival for the Republican nomination, got the Liberal endorsement -- after publisher Tom Allon, who held it before him, dropped out of the mayor's race.
Today's Liberal Party is a remnant of the one founded in 1944 that lost its automatic state ballot status in 2002 and never regained it. Catsimatidis must gather thousands of petition signatures in coming weeks to put the line on the ballot, and is expected to do so.
That said, the Conservative Party -- as much as it plays a relevant role in suburban and statewide elections -- has never endorsed a winning citywide candidate except for Mayor Ed Koch's second-term run in 1981, when he also had the Democratic and Republican lines.
That gives Catsimatidis spokesman Rob Ryan an opening to say that Lhota "has joined the ranks of recent Conservative Party candidates for mayor that few remember." Catsimatidis said a month ago when the Liberals endorsed him: "Let's not forget, the only way Rudy won when he ran for mayor was by having the Republican and Liberal line."
In a city of 3.25 million registered Democrats and 510,410 Republicans, Conservative enrollees total only 21,500, according to the latest state Board of Elections figures.