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Raymond Harding, ex-Liberal Party boss, dies

An undated photo of Raymond B. Harding, a

An undated photo of Raymond B. Harding, a one time New York Liberal Party's leader. Credit: The New York Times

Raymond Harding, a political power broker who as head of the state Liberal Party helped elect some of New York's most influential leaders but who later admitted to a role in an influence-peddling scandal, died Thursday of complications from cancer. He was 77.

A force in New York politics for more than three decades, Harding played a role in electing Rudy Giuliani as mayor of New York City and Mario Cuomo as governor.

The Liberal Party lost its ballot line in 2002 when now Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pulled out of his first run for governor and the Liberals failed to secure enough signatures to stay on the ballot.

"I am very saddened by the loss of Ray Harding," Giuliani said in a statement. "Ray was a great political leader and one of the people who made it possible for me to be in a position to help reform New York City. And, for that I am eternally grateful."

Once one of the state's most influential party bosses, Harding in his later years as chairman was tarred by a scandal that brought down then-State Comptroller Alan Hevesi and other Democratic leaders.

Harding pleaded guilty in October 2010 to felony securities fraud and admitted to accepting kickbacks from investment companies doing business with the state pension fund as rewards for political favors to Hevesi.

Harding, who expressed remorse for his crime, avoided prison and was sentenced to a conditional discharge last year, provided he stayed out of trouble for a year. Hevesi is serving 1 to 4 years in state prison.

"The way Harding hurt the Liberal Party is beyond description," said Jack Olchin, of Great Neck, the party's current state chairman. Olchin is attempting to gather enough signatures to get the Liberal line back on the ballot.

Harding was born Branko Hochwald in 1935 in Herzegovina and came to the United States as a boy after his family fled the Balkans during World War II. He took his American name from a radio program, "David Harding, Counterspy."

"Ray was a loving, caring person," said Liz Harding, his wife of 55 years. "That's Ray Harding, bottom line."

A resident of New York City, Harding served as an aide to then Gov. Hugh Carey before taking the helm of the Liberal Party in 1977.

While the party generally endorsed Democrats, it also backed Republicans including Jacob Javits and Giuliani in his failed 1989 mayoral run against David Dinkins. Giuliani won the office four years later and during his tenure Harding's law firm prospered with a roster of clients who had interests in lobbying City Hall.

Harding has two sons, Robert and Russell.

Henry Stern, a former New York City parks commissioner who once ran the Liberal Party, remembered Harding as a loyal and unflinching political leader who spoke bluntly and was not overly concerned with hurting people's feelings.

"He had the instinct of an old-time leader," said Stern, now the party's first vice chairman. "You would not see him taking a poll to see what his positions were on an issue."

Services will be held Sunday at 11:45 a.m. at Riverside Chapel; 180 West 76 St., Manhattan.

With AP and Dan Janison

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