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The Point: Hotel politics

Nassau Republicans gather at the Garden City Hotel

Nassau Republicans gather at the Garden City Hotel to hear election returns on Nov. 7, 1967. The state GOP plans to hold its spring nominating convention at the hotel. Credit: Newsday/Stan Wolfson

The state GOP’s choice to hold its spring nominating convention at the Garden City Hotel will hardly be the first time this storied location is the site of political fanfare and intrigue.

The hotel building has gone through many iterations over nearly a century and a half, but its footprint has hosted the likes of Vice President Richard Nixon, who in 1958 attended the locale’s Theodore Roosevelt Centennial Dinner. In 1952, the hotel was home to an "L.I. kickoff meet" supporting GOP presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower, when the turnout was so large that the session had to be shifted from the Palm Room to "the spacious main ballroom," according to Newsday.

The hotel’s "gilt chandeliers" and "banner and bunting bedecked ballroom" often turned up in Newsday’s postwar pages when the county’s formidable Republican Party gathered there.

"The framework of Nassau’s political picture will be molded tonight when the Nassau County Republican Committee convenes in the Garden City Hotel," Newsday reported in 1949.

The site was once home to Nassau GOP headquarters, GOP leader Joseph Cairo told The Point Thursday. Cairo recalled a rainy annual dinner for the party in 1971 where tables overflowed from the ballroom to a tent behind the now-torn-down hotel, and even beyond. Seating was done by area, Cairo said. Uniondale was prominently placed when local boy Joseph Margiotta was chair, while Cairo (North Valley Stream) and fellow future-county-party-chair Joseph Mondello (Levittown West) were seated somewhere circa back-of-tent and mud.

"We were held in not very high esteem back then," Cairo said.

The grand, distinctive old hotel was often renovated, once burned, and demolished in the 1970s, but a new edition was built about a decade later. In 2006 it was part of the state GOP’s convention, when former Massachusetts governor William Weld and political journeyman John Faso were battling for the GOP nod.

The big gathering took place at Hofstra University, but politicos took up a block of rooms at the hotel, which was also home to wine-and-cheese receptions and "open-bar hospitality suites," according to Newsday.

That sort of thing seemed to be on Weld’s mind when he was arriving at the hotel that spring, fresh off a Rockville Centre fundraiser ("Six figures in 45 minutes," he declared). In order to woo delegates, he said he had to "hold up my end."

"That's why I've got to get up to Room 803 for my own hospitality suite," he said.