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
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
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.