Mike Long, chairman of the Conservative party of New York, has announced he would retire from the post he has held for 30 years.
The 79-year-old Long, who disclosed his plans Jan. 28, is the quintessential “street corner conservative.”
Born in Brooklyn, Long returned home in 1961 after a three-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, a fervent anti-Communist ready to lead the home guard.
The political epiphany in Long’s life took place when he attended the great Goldwater Rally at Madison Square Garden in 1964. The enthusiasm at the rally was infectious, and Long decided then and there he had to be actively involved in politics.
Long became a member of the fledgling Conservative Party that was founded in 1962. In 1965, he took over as chairman of the Cypress Hills Conservative Club and became a worker in William F. Buckley’s famous campaign for mayor of New York City.
He also had a key role in helping elect James L. Buckley — who ran solely on the Conservative Party line — to the U.S. Senate in 1970.
That election cemented a coalition of inner-city ethnic Democrats and rural and suburban Republicans, all of whom were disgusted with excessive taxation and runaway government spending and championed traditional cultural beliefs.
Long stayed active in the Brooklyn Conservative Party and was elected county chairman in 1972. The following year, he was elevated to vice chairman of the state Conservative party.
Long was truly an old-fashioned political street fighter. In 1977, for example, he had a run-in with a Democratic candidate for mayor at a forum at Fort Hamilton High School in Brooklyn. The candidate was Mario Cuomo.
Cuomo was boasting that his Neighborhood Preservation Party was the only political party in New York to have a platform. Hearing this, Long interjected that Cuomo was wrong, and reminded him that the Conservative Party has a platform. When Cuomo told him he was wrong, Long yelled at him, “You’re a liar!”
What followed was a scene one would ordinarily expect to see in a schoolyard brawl: a pushing match. Long recalls: “Mario and I sneered at one another and began pushing back and forth. He pushed me through swinging doors and I pulled him along with me. The cops didn’t know me, but they certainly knew the mayoral candidate, so they broke things up and searched me while Cuomo left in his car.”
“Moments later,” Long continued, “Cuomo came back in the car and called me over under some trees to chat. He apologized, and when I told him we did have a platform, Cuomo asked for copies. Next day, I had state headquarters send him a copy of every platform since the party’s inception. Later I received a note from Cuomo conceding that the Conservative Party did indeed have a platform.”
Long was elected the state party’s executive vice chairman in 1986, and two years later he was unanimously elected state chairman.
Dedicated to defeating Gov. Cuomo, Long was instrumental in putting together the political coalition that elected a little-known Republican-Conservative state senator from Poughkeepsie, George Elmer Pataki, as governor in 1994
The Conservative Party provided the margin of victory for Pataki — and since then, no Republican has won a statewide race without the Conservative endorsement.
In recent years, Long preached over and over again that to energize the party’s traditional voting base, Republican-Conservative candidates must proudly promote their Conservative credentials as well as a vision for the future. His words fell on deaf ears.
And that “hide your conservatism” approach cost the Republicans control of the state Senate this past November.
For over a half century, Long has been a “street corner conservative” fighting for the folks.
When I think of Long, what comes to mind is British journalist G.K. Chesterton’s description of the guardian of the neighborhood in “The Man Who Was Thursday”: “He (finds) himself filled with a supernatural courage that came from nowhere… he did not think of himself as the representative of the corps of gentleman… But he did feel himself as the ambassador of all those common and kindly people in the street.”
Michael Long — thank you for your service.