Candidates Court Conservatives (Updated)

Queens County Conservative Party Chairman Tom Long listens as mayoral candidate Paul Massey speaks to Long’s members. 4/28/17

Mayoral candidates Bo Dietl, Michel Faulkner and Paul Massey appeared in Howard Beach Thursday night, courting support at the Queens County Conservative Party Spring Dinner.  The Conservative Party will select its mayoral candidate shortly, with the  individual county organizations commencing discussions this week and a final selection expected by the end of May.  Their appearances and quest for the Conservative Party nomination had an additional subplot; Dietl’s controversial remarks on Mayor de Blasio’s wife the night before, Massey’s statement condemning those remarks and Dietl’s demand for an apology from Massey.  Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis is also seeking the Conservative Party nomination, but did not attend this dinner.

Bo Dietl addresses the Queens County Conservative Party Dinner. The audience includes rival candidates Paul Massey (far left) and Michel Faulkner (center, blue tie). 4/28/17

The Conservative Party nomination has multiple allures for the Republican and hope-to-be Republican candidates.  With the nomination to be awarded in the the next month it’s an early mark of success for the winner and with a field of modestly-known to little-known candidates a victory can provide some much needed publicity.  Perhaps most importantly, it provides an ideological imprimatur that has value in the Republican primary.  Numerically the nomination would likely have a significant impact only in an extremely close race.  (Joe Lhota drew about 25,000 votes on the Conservative line in 2013, out of 1.1 million votes cast.)

The Conservative Party does not hold a primary, but instead selects its mayoral candidate through an internal process.  Each county organization will begin the process this coming week, discussing the candidates and coming to a conclusion on who to support.  The five county leaders will then confer and, presumably, reach a consensus.   The state Conservative Party’s executive committee will then issue a Wilson-Pakula to the winner as none of the candidates are registered members of the Party.  The executive committee is expected to act on the decision of the five county leaders, without conducting its own further process on selecting a candidate.

Although the New York State Conservative Party has often backed the Republican candidate for governor, the New York City Conservative Party has rarely backed the Republican mayoral nominee.  Joe Lhota’s cross-endorsement in 2013 was the first such instance since 1985.  In addition to ideological differences, timing is also a factor in increasing the prospect of separate candidates this year.  The Conservative Party is acting long before the Republican primary in this race, so even without the ideological gaps of the Giuliani and Bloomberg years there’s a good chance that the parties end up with different candidates.  That doesn’t appear to worry the Conservatives, who see themselves and their party as wholly independent, even leading the Republicans, rather than as following the Republicans’ lead.

There’s plenty of intermingling of the Conservative and Republican Parties, however, and it was on full display Thursday night.  Republican attendees included NYC Council Member Eric Ulrich, former NYS senator Seph Maltese and Bob Turner, former member of Congress and current chairman of the Queens Republican Party, as well as the presidents of the Queens Village Republican Club and the Rockaway Republican Club and members of those clubs.  Assembly Member Michael Miller, a Democrat, also attended.

There was an added complexity Thursday night; it was the first public appearance for the candidates following Dietl’s incendiary comment about Mayor de Blasio’s wife Wednesday night.  In addition to needing to address that comment with his audience, Dietl was incensed by a critical statement issued by Massey Thursday.  He confronted Massey, demanding an apology, and separately sought to explain his comment to Faulkner.  (Details and photos are available here.)

There was not a clear favorite Thursday night, with each candidate drawing some positive reaction in their approximately 15 minute presentations.  Massey or Faulkner appeared to have more support than Dietl, however.  Several attendees expressed strong support for Nicole Malliotakis, although they’re Republicans, not Conservative Party members, and won’t have any direct role in the Conservative Party selection.

Dietl devoted a significant portion of his speech to addressing the controversy and criticism around his comment the previous night on Mayor de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, and the judge in his Board of Elections lawsuit.  He defended himself by repeatedly saying that he is not racist and apologizing to anyone he has hurt with his comments the prior night or any other time, while offering his appearance the day before with the Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson as evidence of his good character.  He described himself as a fighter who will not give up, and who continues to be motivated by helping people.  He touched on a few campaign issues, primarily the management of ACS, the Administration for Children’s Services, and homelessness.  He drew applause by declaring that “there is no shot in hell that we’re gonna continue to be a sanctuary city for criminals.”  (He didn’t dwell on the “for criminals” qualifier.)  He closed by saying that “I do like my guys that I’m running with” and praising Michel Faulkner.  He made no specific mention of Paul Massey, who Dietl had confronted and demanded an apology from just before addressing the audience.  Overall the audience listened closely and seemed to like him, but I didn’t get the sense that many would vote for him or support him in the Conservative Party selection process.

Michel Faulkner’s  speech was solid but notably less fiery than he often gives.  He was lighter on his de Blasio criticism than typical, talking more about his own biography and a broad discussion of his favorite theme; freedom.  He’s the most ideologically-aligned with the Conservative Party of the three candidates, but he comes from an evangelical/religious right background that’s not so common in New York politics.  Faulkner has often described Jerry Falwell. Sr. as a mentor and even “spiritual father.”  This evening Faulkner recounted an anecdote with Jerry Falwell, Sr. from Faulkner’s time working at Liberty University as a life changing moment.  My sense is that the audience respected him for that background, but it also sets him apart from the familiar.  Faulkner spoke of reaching people not normally reached by Republicans, such as NYCHA residents, his ability to reach the “middle class, the downtrodden, the dispossessed” but little of specific issues.  It was my impression that Faulkner began the evening with the greatest interest from Conservative Party members, but his lack of focus this evening on specific issues weakened that interest.

Paul Massey had a productive evening, generating a number of positive comments for his primarily political speech.  Although he included some biography, emphasizing his success in creating a real estate brokerage business, he primarily walked through a series of political issues.  He didn’t offer any deep level of detail, but his mentions of dealing with homelessness, improving schools, creating housing and fostering job growth were well-received.  Massey’s business success and pro-business view provide significant affinity with the Conservative and Republican parties, but the pro-choice and pro-gun control Massey’s views on some social issues creates a real drag on his Conservative Party prospects.  He succeeded in this appearance by focusing on their common ground, but it’s unclear whether those shared elements can outweigh the contrary positions as the Conservative Party selects its candidate.

Massey began with a typically harsh attack on Mayor de Blasio,  calling him “an epic, Olympic-level failure” and declaring that “I hate what he’s done to this City.”  Massey added that de Blasio “hasn’t created one job in 3 and 1/2 years.”  (More than 300,000 private sector jobs have been created in New York City during de Blasio’s term.)  Overall, however, his speech was less focused than usual on harsh de Blasio attacks.  Massey ended with a pitch that’s central to his campaign; the Republican, Conservative and Independence Parties should unify behind a single candidate and with “money pouring in” Massey is that candidate.

Stay tuned.

Video – Full Speeches:

Here are the full speeches of candidates Bo Dietl, Michel Faulkner and Paul Massey: