Janison: Scandal can only hurt GOP's NYC mayoral chances

This week's federal indictment linking the Republican nomination process for New York City mayor to covert payoffs can only hurt the party's already shaky chances in November.

Damage has been done -- even with this criminal case still to be tried, even with a candidate yet to be chosen and even if the indicted State Sen. Malcolm Smith, a Queens Democrat, had no real shot as a candidate.

Republicans capture City Hall in the Democratic-dominated city only when their candidate convincingly offers voters a fresh alternative to the machine politics of the majority party -- not when the GOP comes off as a smaller machine of similar habits.

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Going back at least to Republican "fusion" Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's first win 80 years ago, the play was to create a reform coalition across the partisan divide. This fresh-blood strategy was successfully employed in 1965 by John Lindsay, in 1993 by Rudy Giuliani and in 2001 by Michael Bloomberg.

Now, the Manhattan U.S. attorney charges that two Republican Party officials and Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Bayside) trafficked in cash payoffs.

At a stage when the party would benefit from building momentum to offset Democratic advantages, the state Republican chairman was instead calling Wednesday for the ouster of two indicted city party officials.

Joseph Savino, Bronx party leader, and Vincent Tabone, the Queens vice chairman, "were entrusted to act in the best interest of the people. . . . They have violated that interest and must resign," said the chairman, Ed Cox.

The case's other three defendants are Democrats. But in the five boroughs, Democrats have nearly 70 percent of voter registration. Try counting how many times one Democrat is forced out of a local legislative office by scandal, only to be succeeded by another. They have the deeper bench. An illustration: The indicted Halloran is one of only four Republicans on the 51-member City Council.

This criminal case might exist only in New York, where cross-endorsement of candidates plays a big role in elections. As a Democrat, Smith was trying to get a majority of the GOP executive committee from the five boroughs to give him the necessary authorization to run on their party line. So Savino, Tabone and other party executives held power over Smith's ballot access.

The city's Republican Party sometimes resembles just a gated community of former Democrats. Even so, this is a clear setback for its brand.

The worst public-relations damage to the party label comes from details of conversations revealed in the indictment.

At one point, Halloran suggests "it would be wise" for Smith, if elected, to make him deputy mayor and that Smith would be expected to set aside half his key appointments for Republicans.

For his part, Tabone -- after assuring an undercover federal agent "I run the Queens County Republican Party" -- took $25,000 cash in a car from the agent on Feb. 14, the indictment says.

But first, Tabone frisked the undercover agent to determine if he was recording their conversation -- which he was, according to the indictment. Apparently Tabone didn't find the device. The rest is farcical history.