Conservatives embrace Empire State of mind

Suhail Khan Institute for Global Engagement
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Conservatives have long written-off New York as a state taken over by social-welfare liberals, union bosses, and dependents on big-government. New York lost its only Republican senator, Alfonse “pothole” D’Amato, in 1998, and after three Republican terms under George Pataki, the governorship slipped to liberals Eliot Spitzer in 2004 and then (through scandal) David Paterson in 2008. Reflecting an overall trend in the northeast, liberals won congressional seat after congressional seat in both upstate New York and the Long Island, Staten Island and other New York City suburbs. President Barack Obama’s appointment of Republican Rep. John McHugh as his Secretary of the Army appeared to spell doom for yet another Republican seat. And sure enough, Democrat candidate Bill Owens won the seat just in time to vote in favor of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s health care bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.

But on the way to Owen’s win, a funny thing happened. The Republican establishment’s hand-picked candidate State Assembly member Dierdre Scozzafava was rejected by the rank-and-file Republican primary voters in favor of Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman. Before Scozzafava dropped-out for lack of support and just as importantly funds, the conservatives in New York found themselves energized like never before. And despite Scozzafava’s spiteful endorsement of the Democratic candidate and Hoffman’s loss, the newly-galvanized conservative movement in New York has vowed to forge ahead. Hoffman will once again fight for the seat in 2010, Governor David Paterson’s and appointed-Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s support have eroded as the state continues to lose jobs opening the door to Republican wins in the next election, and a new crop of young, talented and committed conservatives are vowing to fight to take back the state.

Take Frank Scaturro, the Republican candidate for Long Island’s congressional district, for example. The son of Italian immigrants, pro-Second Amendment, pro-family, and a fiscal conservative, Scaturro is just the candidate who could defeat the liberal incumbent, Carolyn McCarthy. The renewed wind in the conservative sails didn’t just happen overnight, and it not due solely to voters’ buyer’s remorse after the 2008 election.

Conservative activists have been planning, working, and diligently rebuilding. There are, for example, two regular conservative coalition meetings in New York, one in Manhattan and another in the state capital Albany. At the meeting in Manhattan hosted by conservative activists Mallory Factor and James Higgins, for example, over two-hundred activists, elected officials and staff regularly attend each monthly meeting. As Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform, states, “Center-right Americans across the country are organizing, strategizing and working harder than ever to limit big government’s reach and to preserve their freedom. New Yorkers are no stranger to the high taxes and out-of-control spending, and its exciting to see a renewed sense of enthusiasm on a grassroots level.”

And this January, many of these very conservative grassroots activists, journalists, and leading thinkers plan to gather for first-of-a-kind leadership conference in Manhattan at the Union League Club. Organized by the conservative Harbour League, the conference promises to be a major gathering of both national and the state’s leading conservative lights. According to Harbour League President Eli Gold the event “will highlight conservative solutions to issues important to New Yorkers, and do so with a renewed passion and energy for real reform.”  Featured speakers include John Stossel, National Review’s Rich Lowry and Kate O’Bierne, New York Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long, Norquist, Roger Kimball of the New Criterion, John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, and a host of others speakers including several thinkers from New York’s own Manhattan Institute.

New York, the home of the Yankees, Kodak, the Brooklyn Bridge, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty, has always effectively been America’s (if not the free world’s) national capitol, and especially more so after the horror of 9/11. Its no wonder that, after years of liberal dominance, conservatives are re-emerging, communicating and organizing with a renewed sense of energy and vision so that, hopefully, our freedom may be preserved for generations to come.

Suhail A. Khan serves on the Board of Directors of the American Conservative Union.