The Future of N.Y. Politics: II

Brass Tacks

Governor Nelson Rockefeller's apparent forthcoming defeat has not yet elicited much open comment. An interesting exception is a letter sent earlier this year to Senator Javits by State Senator John Hughes of Syracuse. Hughes, the senior Republican in the Senate and a conservative, urged Javits to run for Governor to prevent "a defeat for the Republican Party from which it would not soon recover." Hughes certainly would not have written the letter and acknowledged it publicly if he were not convinced that Nelson Rockefeller is going to lose very badly indeed.

Javits replied coldly and made a point of supporting the Governor's reelection. But there may be a spontaneous Dump Rockefeller movement at the 1966 nominating convention, even without Javits' and other Republican liberals' support; it will originate, if at all, among Republicans from the area where the Governor's popularity has been plummeting most quickly: upstate.

The Upstaters' discontent is not ideological; they simply don't like to lose. And in a state where legislators are afraid to liberalize an eighteenth-century divorce law for fear of their constituents' disapproval, Governor Rockefeller's remarriage all but assures that he will never win public office again. Any Democrat who has been faithful to his wife can beat him.

Some time late next summer, then, the several hundred men who will be delegates to the Democratic state convention will in all likelihood choose the next Governor of New York. A much smaller group of men will determine whom the delegation will choose.

Who will these men be? That is the question that all the warriors in the jungle that is New York Democratic politics have been trying to settle.

Several Upstate and suburban chieftains, spurned by Mayor Wagner, were eager to invite Robert Kennedy to the state. He was glad to come, but has yet to reward them for their early fealty. Then the same leaders battled Mayor Wagner over the legislative leadership early this year; each side was more concerned with its own victory than with the image of the Democratic Party. The skirmish ended with Mayor Wagner on top. His prize was not so much legislative patronage and a palatable tax plan as the destruction of the power of his enemy, Stanley Steingut, Kings County (Brooklyn) leader.

Steingut and his ally Charles Buckley of the Bronx had their revenge in the mayoral primary when they defeated Wagner's friend Paul Screvane with their own candidate Abraham Beame. The Brooklyn organization, and with it the borough's convention votes, ready to fall into the Mayor's hands, now came more firmly under Steingut's control. When John Lindsay beat Beame, the situation became even more uncertain. At present no one can say who controls the big blocs of convention votes that will choose the next Governor.

It is possible to see that some politicians do not control them. Mayor Wagner, for example has always been in trouble in Manhattan, amidst a crossfire from old De Sapio buddies and Reformers. The Queens organization is due to be taken over by City Council President-elect Frank OConnor, leaving the Mayor only a scattering of sure convention votes.

O'Connor, on the other hand, will probably have three boroughs' delegations sewed up: Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. How he will get the rest is another question, but he showed himself capable of clever maneuvering when he abandoned the mayor's race and agreed to take the number two spot on the Beame Team. That is, he got out of a race with a tough primary and a tough November election and jumped into a primary he won by a mile and a general election in which he easily (by 436,000 votes, while Lindsay was winning by 136,000) won an office from which he could run for Governor. O'Connor has pointedly refused to make the usual promise to serve the full four-year term.

Any candidate--dark horses include Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., Congressman Samuel Stratton, and Nassau County Executive Eugene Nickerson--will have to take into account the influence of New York's junior Senator. Robert Kennedy has no single bloc of loyal convention delegates, and he is making no effort to build one. But there is every reason to believe that Kennedy will try to pass the word at the right time to whomever be considers most acceptable.

The New York Democrats are thrashing around, preparing for a statewide victory they have not really earned. The well-oiled New York Republican machine, perhaps the most brainy and certainly the richest state political party, is dissolving for reasons beyond its control. Nelson Rockefeller's remarriage will cost the Republicans the Governorship, and reapportionment will put the legislature beyond their reach. Their only hope is John V. Lindsay, who will face a tough fight for reelection in 1969, and who has no opening for higher office in 1966, 1968 (unless Javits retires or runs for Vice-President), 1970 (when Robert Kennedy will be leading the Democratic ticket), or 1972 (when no Senator or Governor will be elected). In the meantime, New York faces the unusual prospect of a Republican Mayor and a Democratic Governor and Legislature.