New York State's Fringe Parties

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:56

    The lesser parties also have their hopefuls. If effort counted in life, Tom Loughlin, former reporter, publisher, motorcycle racer and Independence Party county chairman from Utica, should be nominated for U.S. senator by some party?any party. God knows he has tried them all. On April 29, 2000, he sought the Libertarian nomination. Instead, they nominated John Clifton, a Navy veteran and drug counselor. Mr. Loughlin then veered left, claiming he sought the Green designation. They will hold a September 12 primary between Mark Dunau, Ronnie Dugger and "Grandpa" Al Lewis, still coasting off his appearance in the Munsters television series more than a generation ago. Veering right in early June, Mr. Loughlin brought his road show to the Right to Life Party.

    Their state convention at the Comfort Inn in Albany was unlike most. For one thing, much to one observer's disappointment, the Comfort Inn has no bar. Inside the convention hall, Mr. Loughlin unfolded his banners, including an heroic photo-poster of himself as a 32nd-degree Mason and Knight Commander of the Knights Templar, plumed cocked hat and all. Loughlin, pleasant, peripatetic, longwinded, looks like an actor playing Teddy, the eccentric nephew, in a touring company of Arsenic and Old Lace.

    In the absence of an eye-opener, one observer headed for the coffee table. At this point, Louis Wein, the party's 1990 candidate for governor and now one of several candidates for U.S. senator, walked up and stuck out his hand. Mr. Wein is about 60. He is roughly 6 feet, 4 inches tall, balding, powerfully built and extremely energetic. He wore a tailored suit, tan shoes and aviator glasses.

    Meanwhile, Abe Hirschfeld's motor home rolled up, covered with banners and posters of the great man. The 80-year-old developer is also running for Senate. By 9:30 a.m., five senatorial hopefuls were working the room. Unlike Liberal Party boss Raymond Harding?who shakes down Democrats and Republicans alike to find places for his party faithful?Kenneth Diem, the Right to Life state chairman, has no patronage, jobs, contracts or swag, the stuff that makes political life worth living. Hence the absence of sycophants as he goes through his papers at the dais. He calls the meeting to order and introduces Robert Walsh, the party's 1994 gubernatorial nominee. Walsh, handsome and white-haired, looks and sounds like central casting's idea of a statesman. He belts home the Pledge of Allegiance, adding "born and unborn" at the end.

    One might reflect that the pro-life movement's problem is burnout and cynicism after nearly 30 years of trying to reverse Roe v. Wade. These people believed what was preached to them about the absolute sanctity of human life and tried to back it up in practice. Many of those present have protested abortion since the state Legislature legalized it in 1971; some have been jailed. A handful endured the West Hartford, CT, demonstrations of April and June 1989, where allegedly police removed their badges and name tags before beating, kicking and choking nonviolent protesters and indecently frisking women before dragging them into the jail by their hair. Videotapes of the incidents, which show police beating sitting protesters over the head with nightsticks, seemed excessive at the time. Now that police regularly beat and gas demonstrators of all kinds for exercising the First Amendment, it seems almost ordinary.

    The incident received little, if any, media coverage. Outside the religious press, only Nat Hentoff wrote about it. The protesters' civil rights suit against West Hartford, after a decade of procedural motions, will come to trial later this year.

    The right-to-life movement is torn between moderates, who believe that access to a President George W. Bush is more important than quibbling about his equivocation on abortion, and the activists. As one orator thundered, "We loved Reagan, and we got Sandra Day O'Connor! We supported D'Amato three times, and he only backed pro-choice candidates! I've had enough!"

    There is also tension between local elements of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and of the party. Some hierarchs have suggested that Lazio, though pro-choice, is not an enemy to the pro-life movement, unlike Mrs. Clinton. The party activists do not quite see it this way. They insist that politicians taking clear positions on abortion?to them, the murder of innocent children?is far more important than fine calculations of the lesser of two evils. The glib ecclesiastical response that a Catholic politician who supports abortion is ipso facto excommunicated meets only contempt among people who see George Pataki and Rudolph Giuliani enjoying photo opportunities with archbishops. As for Diem: "Lazio says, 'I support Roe v. Wade.' And as for Hillary, well, there's nothing to say."

    Diem then begins introducing the candidates. Louis Wein polled 160,000 votes as the Right to Life candidate for governor in 1990 and never recovered from it. A flamboyant speaker, he introduced himself as a lifelong Republican, an entrepreneur (bankrupt only once) and retired Marine reserve colonel. He claimed he had 800 volunteers ready to carry his petitions for a Republican Senate primary against Lazio. He further insisted he would receive enough votes at the Independence Party's state convention to enter the Independence Party primary, and might be their official nominee. He said that in 1990 he was the first Right to Life gubernatorial candidate to get coverage in every newspaper in the state. However, those whose memories go back 10 years may recall that Pierre Rinfret, the Republican nominee, was so unqualified that the Conservative candidate, Herbert London, nearly came in second. Anyone running for governor who could put out a press release would have been covered. Similarly, Wein noted with pride that Mario Cuomo had said he would be a good governor. Cuomo, of course, puffed his minor right-wing opponents to weaken his major ones.

    Mr. Loughlin first set up a video player on the dais. Then he opened his mouth. This was a mistake. For a former biker, Mr. Loughlin spoke with avuncular, even narcotic, pomposity. One thought of Warren G. Harding, whose oratory was, as Woodrow Wilson's Treasury secretary, William Gibbs McAdoo, put it, "an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea," before recalling that Harding at least could turn out a good speech. Referring to himself as "a potential public servant," Loughlin continued, "The chairman spoke of victories. I am delighted to have concord with such strivings." He described his reflections on abortion as, "Yeah, I've been growing into this thing." He closed with, "I could comfortably, but with zeal, say that if I receive your nomination, I can go forward with resiliency. I will never lie to this party; I will never deceive you. If elected, you will find me your most ardent supporter." It was not exactly William Jennings Bryan and the Cross of Gold.

    Then he spent about a minute fussing around the video monitor, murmuring, "Come on, thing, work," until he grinned triumphantly. The tape consisted largely of Tom Loughlin's greatest hits: political television commercials from his Oneida County campaigns. Airtime is cheap up there.

    Another aspirant, Leroy Wilson from Jamestown, a retired contractor, wearing a red, white and blue tie with a pattern of galloping Paul Reveres, read from a prepared text. His unusual knowledge of government stems from his experience on the Jamestown Board of Education knowledge focus group. He continued, "I have studied historical facts and contemplated upon them. This will encourage people to vote." When asked about campaign financing, he replied, "Well, I think with $2000, I'll have a good shot." He pointed to a fellow who had ridden to the convention with him from Jamestown. "My good friend Mike Trussault will give me a hand." Mr. Trussault smiled, but did not take out his checkbook.

    No one questioned Abe Hirschfeld's ability to finance a campaign. Some questioned the developer's ability to stay out of jail. Abe has run for the U.S. Senate, president of the City Council, Manhattan borough president, Congress and state comptroller. He has never won. As he began speaking, I recalled an old story that he had taught classes in broken English. "Good afternoon, I am Abe Hirschfeld. I've been in dis country 40 years and I still sound like I'm comink next Dhursday." He unrolled a horrifying poster of an aborted child, post-procedure, and continued, "Ve vill bring dhe murder of unborn children to dhe forefront of dis campaign. I vill allocate a significant portion of my campaign ads to make the public aware of the horrible tragedy of abortion." He continued, "I am a builder. I created jobs for thousands. Even here in Albany, I built a garage on State St. and the whole city started booming. I vill work with you, spend my money, I believe a majority of the people believe in right to life. Thank you all."

    "Abe," someone asked, "there's rumors about potential legal problems." This seemed a kind way of asking about Hirschfeld's indictment for attempted murder. Abe paused. Abe smiled. "Dot's a good question," he replied. Hirschfeld was convicted on June 16, guilty of second degree criminal solicitation.

    The last man standing was John Adefope. Tall, broad-shouldered, with a deep, clear voice and shaved skull, Adefope is the party's Kings County chairman. He was the only African-American in the room. He recited his qualifications: "First, I was born in Brooklyn?" He looked at the audience and said, "Hey, guys, I thought I was going to get some cheering out of that." He confessed a lack of knowledge of foreign policy, saying, "I admit there are things I have to learn?need to learn?but thank God, I have time." Of course, one might note that thinking one can learn about foreign affairs while waging a statewide campaign is optimistic.

    Then the convention voted by paper ballot. As the votes were being tallied, Diem introduced Howard Phillips. He left the political mainstream when he resigned from the Nixon White House over principle?surprising then, unbelievable now. In 1992 and 1996, Phillips ran for president as the candidate of the U.S. Taxpayers Party; the Right to Life Party nominated him in New York for his '96 run. He is running again this year, even while trying to persuade Alan Keyes, probably this year's most eloquent and intelligent presidential candidate, to bolt the GOP and take his place. Phillips spoke forcefully and succinctly, which was quite refreshing after hearing Loughlin. Wein was endorsed, but Adefope polled enough votes to force a primary. Hirschfeld, Loughlin and Wilson did not.

    Two days later, Hirschfeld, Loughlin and Wein, who had each assured the Right to Lifers of his strong support within the Independence Party, went to the struggle of ignorant armies that is an Independence Party state convention. By the end of the day, that party had a two-way primary between Hon. Jeffrey Graham, a former mayor of Watertown and present radio talk-show host and tavern owner, and Mr. Jeff Beller, a retired union official. Neither Hirschfeld, Loughlin nor Wein had enough votes to enter a primary, let alone win the nomination.