By late November, Al Pirro had had enough. He decided, without consulting his wife, to take matters into his own hands. In a move that infuriated Mahoney, he went to Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and said, according to someone familiar with what took place, “Get her out. We have to find a way to make it clear to Jeanine that this is over, that the party doesn’t want her to run anymore.”
But even after Bruno publicly called on her to withdraw at the end of November, Pirro still refused to step aside. “She wasn’t going to get out just because someone told her to get out,” says a source.
Not long after Bruno’s statement, Pirro had a highly publicized private meeting with the governor during which he asked her to end her Senate campaign. But after the two-hour sit-down, Pirro went downstairs by herself, without Pataki, and said she was still running for the Senate. About ten days later, she finally quit the race.
“I think they overplayed their hand,” says Long. “Once you start thinking about getting out, you know what? Get out. If she’d said yes when she met with the governor, he would’ve walked downstairs with her and she could’ve made a graceful exit. And I think things would be better for her now.”
The Pirro fiasco has underscored the degree to which the Republicans have frittered away their power in the state. “It’s not a pretty picture,” says a Republican insider who’s had a hand in many of the party’s biggest victories. “We may be approaching the point where it’s difficult to elect any Republicans statewide. The governor is not just the governor: He’s the standard-bearer of the party, and he has a responsibility to help develop candidates and issues. He hasn’t done that. It’s been one-man rule. People were praying Golisano would get in the race because we don’t have the money to support candidates and get our message across.”
At the core of the problem, say many, is an identity crisis. “New York Republicans are really Democrats,” says Mike Long, “and New York Democrats are really extreme liberals.”
“We lose ground every election,” says Randy Daniels (ignoring the fact that the party has won the last four mayoral and last three gubernatorial elections), “because the Republican Party has no mooring. We’re trying to be Democrat lite. We’re trying to present a face to New York that they expect from the other side.”
Bill Weld is a case in point. Alfonse D’Amato throws up his hands at the prospect of Weld’s gubernatorial candidacy. “That dope,” D’Amato says when talking about Weld. “God help us if he’s the nominee. It’s a horrendous candidacy. I’m saying this to challenge him. When that dilettante finds out that not everybody’s in lockstep with him and he’s going to have opposition, he’ll run for the hills.”
Privately, Republican insiders have questioned D’Amato’s behavior. Throwing grenades at Weld is one thing—it’s not business, it’s personal. The hostility stems from Weld’s role more than a decade ago in pushing an investigation of D’Amato’s brother, Armand. But the onetime Republican boss has not exactly been supportive of the rest of the party’s candidates either. Talk has quietly circulated that he has opened a back channel to Eliot Spitzer in the hope of maintaining relationships with those in power for the benefit of his lobbying business.
When I ask Pirro about D’Amato’s lack of support, she has a response ready. “Is he still around?” she says with a slightly forced laugh and leaves it at that.
After a dizzying year as one of the lead players in a Republican comedy of errors, Pirro is working hard to remain philosophical about it all. “I’ve learned,” she says, “to go with your instincts. To go with your strengths and believe in yourself.”
And, in the first bit of luck she’s had since she fell down the political rabbit hole, it looks like the Democrats are headed for a bruising primary. “She’ll have the field to herself while the Democrats duke it out,” says her friend Mike Edelman. “You have Andrew Cuomo, Mark Green, and Richard Brodsky competing to run for attorney general. That’s nasty, nastier, and nastiest, so it should be really ugly.”
Pirro’s other piece of baggage (some might call it a steamer trunk) is her husband, or as the Post called him in a headline last summer, PIRRO'S HUGE 'ALBERT'ROSS. Will his felony conviction for tax fraud shadow her campaign for the highest law-enforcement job in the state? “These issues have been hashed and rehashed and rejected by the voters,” Pirro says. “New Yorkers are smart. They’ll look at the records of all the candidates and see that I’m the only one with 30 years in law enforcement.”