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Long IslandPolitics

NY Conservatives back Lazio for governor

Republican Rick Lazio addresses reporters in Bay Ridge

Republican Rick Lazio addresses reporters in Bay Ridge Saturday after Mike Long, left, Chairman of the state Conservative Party announced the party will back Lazio as candidate for governor. (March 20, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday/Mahala Gaylord

Leaders of the state Conservative Party on Saturday gave their critical backing to Republican Rick Lazio for governor.

The overwhelming support of leaders at a meeting of the party in Brooklyn boosts Lazio’s campaign a day after two challengers arose to fight him for the Republican nomination.

State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long says Lazio won by a 5-to-1 margin, although conservative Democrat Steve Levy said he still will fight for the party’s line at its June convention. A spokesman for the other contender, Republican Carl Paladino, said the Conservative leaders chose “a weak candidate who’s a certain loser.”

Lazio, a former congressman from Long Island, lost badly to Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2000 Senate race.

Long, however, noted Lazio is the best candidate to overhaul Albany.

“He is a commonsense conservative with a long record of standing up for conservative principles,” Long said. “Rick is exactly the person we need in Albany to fight for the people of New York. He’s not just calling for change, he’s calling for fundamentally changing the very way Albany does business.

“He will restore fiscal sanity, get New York back in the business of job creation, and drain the ethical swamp,” Long said.

No Republican has won statewide in New York without the Conservative Party endorsement.

Lazio faces challenges for the Republican line from Levy, the Suffolk County executive who is running as a Republican; and Paladino, who said he’ll commit $10 million of his own money to the campaign. Paladino, a Buffalo businessman, had rushed an appeal to Conservative leaders late in the week seeking their support.

“It’s a huge win for me,” Lazio told The Associated Press. “This is an essential, critical line for Republicans to win.”

On social issues important to the Conservative Party, Lazio supports a woman’s right to choose abortion, but opposes late term abortions and government funding of abortions. He also opposes gay marriage, but supports civil unions for gay couples.

“These are all important issues, but the most important issue for most New Yorkers is saving the state from bankruptcy, lowering our taxes and creating jobs,” Lazio said.

The party also cites the fiscal crisis facing the state as its overriding issue this campaign. Few candidates in New York flatly oppose abortion as many Conservative leaders do.

A week ago, the process was expected to be much simpler. Lazio already had secured personal, nonbinding endorsements of many Republican and Conservative leaders. But on Friday, Levy announced his candidacy as a Republican and gained the endorsement of state GOP Chairman Ed Cox, President Richard Nixon’s son-in-law. Also on Friday, Paladino released a video appeal on YouTube aimed at Conservative leaders attending Saturday’s session, saying he was “mad as hell” at Albany and that he alone fully shares their fiscal and social views.

Levy, however, said he still will fight for the Conservative line at the party’s convention, where delegates still could choose another candidate over the wishes of the leaders.

The tally, without giving greater weight to more populous counties, is merely a recommendation and “has little meaning until a designee is officially chosen at the convention in June,” said Rene Babich, Levy’s spokeswoman. “We anticipate major defections, as was the case with the Republican Party.”

Paladino spokesman Michael Caputo said Paladino will purse his plan to organize a ballot line based on the principles of the Republican tea party movement of fiscal and social conservatives. He said Saturday’s decision was the result of a feud between Long and Cox, who backs Levy.

In what is becoming an unpredictable ride for usually staid and proper Republican campaigns, Lazio had only about $600,000 in his campaign as of the January filings compared to $4 million for Levy. Besides committing $10 million, Paladino says his backers include billionaire B. Thomas Golisano, the philanthropist who has been willing to spend millions on campaigns to change the makeup of state government.

But Saturday’s Conservative endorsement is expected to open Republican and Conservative wallets to go with the political support at the important county level Lazio has amassed since he formally announced his campaign in September.

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