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ON POLITICS / AROUND THE ISLAND / POLITICS & POWER / Conservatives Able To Shake Things Up

For nearly two decades, Nassau Conservatives could have

been labeled the "Me-Too" party, political lap dogs who largely handed out

their party's endorsements to a line of county Republicans. But lately things

have gone topsy-turvy.

Last spring, the county Conservative Party, much to the embarrassment of

the Nassau GOP, basically forced Republicans to accept their candidate for

county executive, millionaire Bruce Bent, who went on to lose badly to Democrat

Thomas Suozzi in the general election.

Then when Suozzi took office, Nassau Conservative chairman Roger Bogstad

[CORRECTION: Roger Bogsted is Conservative Party chairman in Nassau County. His

last name was misspelled yesterday in a story and caption. pg. A02 NS 5/3/02]

remained in his post as the county's $90,000-a-year consumer affairs

commissioner, even though he had staunchly backed Bent against Suozzi.

Yet in the special election for the Assembly in February,

Conservative-backed Republican businessman David McDonough got 527 votes on the

minor party's line - almost twice his margin of victory.

"The Conservatives used to align themselves almost exclusively with the

Republicans because they were the only game in town," said Richard Kessel,

chairman of the Long Island Power Authority and the Nassau Interim Financial

Authority and a former Democratic candidate for Nassau County executive. "But

now there are two card players and they are smart enough to place bets with

both."

For Conservatives, the new landscape provides more chances to maximize

their political leverage.

"There seems to be renewed interest in us from both sides of the aisle,"

said the 45-year-old Bogstad, who took over as party leader a year ago. "I

don't think you can take the Conservative Party for granted anymore."

The Conservative Party was formed in the early 1960s as a reaction to

liberal Republicans like Sen. Jacob Javits and then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.

Major party leaders at first tried to ignore them and imposed a ban on minor

party cross-endorsement deals. But after Watergate, Republicans clung to the

minor party endorsement as a political life preserver and later as a security

blanket in close races.

The Nassau Conservatives now number about 10,000 registered voters and at

times can attract several times that number in countywide elections.

Until last year, Nassau Republicans had a long- term relationship with

former county Conservative leader Jack O'Leary, who worked in the county

attorney's office and usually worked hand in hand with GOP

officials."Obviously, I don't know Mr. Bogstad as well as Mr. O'Leary, but we

appear to be communicating well," Mondello said.

However, party insiders say Mondello, still smarting from the

Conservatives' end run with Bent, views Bogstad with suspicion, largely because

he is working for the Suozzi administration.

However, Bogstad said the Conservative Party will still tilt more

Republican, but not blindly so.

"The Democratic Party is still the party of Bill and Hillary and we

couldn't support candidates with those ideas," Bogstad said. "But on the local

level we could see some good conservative Democratic candidates."

Bogstad also says the Democrats as a party organization have moved right.

"I don't think there's any argument that [Nassau Democratic chairman] Jay

Jacobs is more moderate" than his predecessors Larry Aaronson and Assemb.

Thomas DiNapoli (D-Thomaston).

Some, however, say the Conservatives are not interested in philosophy but

only patronage. "They sell out to everyone," said Stanley Klein, a political

science professor at C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University. "Some consider

them political cross-dressers."

However, Jacobs and Bogstad maintain the Conservative leader was kept in

his consumer post on merit.

Bogstad said he has dramatically increased retail fine revenues and brought

his department, which had a $831,000 deficit when he took over, into a revenue

producer for the county.

Yet, about a half-dozen of Bogstad's 35 consumer affairs workers are

Conservatives and party member Joanne McGarry took his old post in traffic

safety though she retreated to a $78,400-a-year civil service job title just

before Suozzi took office. McGarry is a niece of former party leader Cliff

Ricchio.

Some say Suozzi is smart in keeping Bogstad; that way, he doesn't create an

enemy. "Keeping Bogstad means keeping the lines of communication open," said

Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick), adding that it makes it harder for the

party leader to a oppose Suozzi at re-election time.

In the short term, some political insiders say the easiest place for such

Democratic-Conservative cooperation is in upcoming judicial races, where issues

don't usually go beyond law and order. Among those considered for

cross-endorsement is Democratic District Court Judge Kenneth Gartner.

But Denenberg, who represents a heavily Republican district, also hopes it

might lead to the Conservatives giving Democratic lawmakers "a fair shot" at

their endorsement, something he has sought in the past without success. Just as

the Democrats kept Bogstad on, "Conservatives should be looking at the bottom

line of who's done a good job," Denenberg said.

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