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The Right Stuff

George Pataki, watch your back: Tom Golisano wants to bring true Republican conservatism to the governor's mansion, and he's willing to spend Bloomberg-style to get there.

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Why am I asking you to consider Tom Golisano, who has run for governor twice already without having much impact and whose current third try seems, to the casual observer, less like a serious campaign than like a manifestation of some uncheckable compulsive disorder?

Because I can assure you that George Pataki is considering him. In a big way.

Cutting to the chase: Golisano is running, or wants to run, against Pataki in not one but two different minor-party primaries. He will also create a new minor party of his own to ensure that should he lose those primaries, he will be on the general-election ballot no matter what. The founder of his own payroll-check business, he is a billionaire who swears he'll spend at least $75 million doing this. (We now behold the impact of the Bloomberg Precedent, which has evidently erased any sense that rich men should at least exercise some decency and restraint when trying to buy an office.) In spending fractions of that amount in his two previous tries -- and, by the way, in running slipshod, unprofessional campaigns -- Golisano got 4 and 8 percent of the vote, respectively.

So do the math. Is it conceivable that he could hit 10 percent? Or 12, or even 15? Okay, let's say 12. Pataki is way ahead of Andrew Cuomo and Carl McCall now, but the race will tighten, because races always do. It may not tighten enough. But Golisano's presence means it doesn't need to tighten that much. If he hits 12, the Democrat could win this thing with a mere 45 percent of the vote. And in this state, a Democrat gets 42 for breathing.

Believe me, George Pataki is definitely considering all this.

If you ask Roger Stone, Golisano is going to get not 12 percent but 36 or 38, and win. Golisano has retained Stone, the foppishly coutured conservative consultant who rose to fame as a key strategist on Ronald Reagan's campaigns, to run this race, which makes this the first Golisano campaign to be overseen by an actual political pro. And Stone means business.

Why he means business is an interesting question. Stone detests George Pataki, owing to a tussle he had with the state Lobbying Commission over some hard-hitting public-interest radio spots Stone made against casino gambling at a time when Pataki was pushing the issue. The commission ruled that the ads, which Stone produced on behalf of Donald Trump, constituted an unlawful, secretive lobbying effort on Trump's part. Stone and his attorney, Judd Burstein, were dying to litigate it on First Amendment grounds. Trump wanted to settle. Stone agreed to a $100,000 settlement with no admission of wrongdoing, and Trump paid it.

So Stone says things like this: "This was their theory. If a state legislator has the radio on in the car and hears this ad on his way to the capitol, you've influenced him, and that's lobbying. I mean, fuck you!"

And this, about Pataki's economic-development czar: "It was a raw effort to get us to shut up about the fact that Charlie Gargano is a low-life." He goes on to make accusations that I can't print unless I want to expose this magazine to potential legal action. Suffice it to say he's pissed.

So it's about personal animosity. But Stone is also an ideologue, and in the broader sense, this is about fissures in the Republican superstructure that the rest of us rarely have a chance to see. Usually, Republicans and conservatives -- and Conservatives, as in the party -- adhere tenaciously to the lesser-evil theory; however much they may dislike something their guy has done, the job is to put on a good face and at all costs keep the stinking Democrat out of office. I have always admired the way they understand this: Win the friggin' election, then argue. Democrats can't do this because people on the far left are genetically predisposed against any kind of discipline (except of course Communists, but they don't count anymore), and liberals don't have it in them to play enforcer.

Conservatives, then, tolerate moderation -- if only as a strategic maneuver. And Pataki has certainly tested them on this score. He cuts his deal with Dennis Rivera. He drinks in the endorsement of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa Jr. Or he sidles up to Lenora Fulani, the Louis Farrakhan ally who took over the Independence Party and engineered its support of Pataki. This, by the way, is a breathtaking alliance for which Pataki has paid a small price so far. Any Democrat who got this close to Fulani would have been savaged in the papers. Ironically, only the Post has really zinged Pataki on this; the News and the Times have largely punted.

And yet none of this has cost the governor a thing on his right flank. Pataki is the nominee of the Conservative Party as well as the Republican, and Conservative leader Mike Long says that "while I may not love everything George Pataki does, on balance the state is in far better shape than it was eight years ago."

Stone's theory of the race is that there exists a tipping point at which conservative voters abandon lesser-evilism and that enough of them can be persuaded -- $75 million can do a lot of persuading -- of Pataki's apostasy. "How about," he says, "a mailing that's headlined THESE ARE GEORGE PATAKI'S FRIENDS. And on the cover you have Al Sharpton, whom Pataki agrees with on military exercises in Puerto Rico. Inside you have Lenora Fulani, Dennis Rivera, and Jimmy Hoffa. That might work, no?"

It might. It depends on Golisano himself. "Why vote for Tom Golisano?" asks a skeptical Norman Adler, a consultant who's not involved in the governor's race. Good question. People have to get to know him. The money will take care of that, but he needs more than good ads. He must have something resembling a platform. What we have so far are generalities -- lower taxes, gun rights, no billion-dollar health-care deals (although he is pro-choice, with some qualifications).

Long asserts that "if he's been involved in conservative politics, I haven't seen it," and charges that Golisano "is working with the Democrats to try and bring the governor down." Given that the Pataki side will push hard on the argument that a vote for Golisano is a vote for Cuomo/McCall -- and it is a plausible argument -- he must speak and act in a way that presents at least the illusion that he's in this to win. Or that a Pataki win, given what Pataki has become, is not really a Republican win at all, and that only Golisano is upholding the principles of conservatism that Pataki, in pursuit of his ambassadorship or the vice-presidency or whatever it is he thinks he's going to be some day, has cashiered.

We don't know yet whether Golisano can do this. We do know that, prodded by his salivating consultant, he sounds more serious about it this time around. The experts have predicted that this year's gubernatorial skirmishes will all take place on the left, between the two Democrats. But it's starting to look as if we might see some on the right as well.

E-mail: tomasky@aol.com


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