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LifestyleColumnistsDan Janison

Party machines still matter in NYC balloting

New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio,

New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, center, gives supporters the thumbs-up after announcing that he is running for mayor on Sunday in Brooklyn. Bill de Blasio made the announcement on the sidewalk in front of his Park Slope house. (Jan. 27, 2013) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

For a New York City mayoral candidate, everything depends, first of all, on making the ballot, and secondly, on winning a relevant place on the ballot. As obvious as that may seem, it defies the continual claim from some commentators that urban political parties and machines have ceased to matter in America.

The winner of the Democratic nomination in an incumbent-free citywide election makes that candidate the favorite heading into November. On the Republican side, candidates see the need to have a minor-party alternative line that allows enrolled Democrats to "cross over" without undergoing some wider conversion. This has held true for decades.

So GOP candidate Tom Allon, president of Manhattan Media Inc., is working to revive the dormant Liberal Party label. Allon, like Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is a former Democrat who enrolled as a Republican in time to sidestep a Democratic primary. Well in advance of the race, Allon secured support from the surviving Liberal organization now headed by Martin Hassner of Rye. Allon, 50, plans to submit petition signatures to snare the nomination.

"The Liberal Party once had a great brand" that resonated in elections, Allon said yesterday. He said it was founded in the 1940s to "keep Democrats honest and to keep Republicans liberal," a view he attributed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Allon comes off as moderate-to-conservative on fiscal issues and liberal on social issues.

An Allon publication, City Hall News, published a five-part series in 2009 that dissected the unorthodox financial and reporting machinations of the Working Families Party, which drew probes and changes, but no criminal charges. The WFP was created in the 1990s with support from pro-labor-union Democrats as a third-party answer to the Rudy Giuliani-allied Liberal Party.

Tails sometimes wag dogs in politics, and whichever mayoral candidate wins the Working Families' favor this year stands to gain some ground -- not just on Election Day but within the Democratic primary. It seemed to work that way four years ago for Comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Democrats who are both running for mayor this year.

Then there's the Independence Party, which has its own distinctive -- and long controversial -- identity in the city. Bloomberg used its endorsement as his "fusion" line for GOP-averse Democrats. He also sent the party millions of dollars -- which helped pay a longtime Queens Republican operative, John Haggerty, who was later convicted of stealing campaign funds he was provided. Bloomberg testified at the high-profile trial.

This year, former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, an ex-Democrat believed interested in the GOP nod, could carry the Independence banner. In response to a call on the mayoral race, party strategist Jackie Salit sent a statement that Carrion "believes partisan politics is preventing our communities from moving forward. He came to the Independence Party of New York City for support because we're the party of non-partisanship.

"We're working together to create an independent campaign," she said, "and he is the front runner for the Independence Party's endorsement."

Further ahead, the question becomes whether the minor parties end up aligning their endorsements with major-party nominations -- or splinter the vote three or four ways. Regardless, the choices of even minor party officials could count big in an era when some would have you believe that party machinery is somehow too low-tech to matter.

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