With the passing of longtime Conservative Party leader Michael R. Long at 82, New York’s working-class folks have lost a political champion.
Brooklyn-born Long was the quintessential “street-corner conservative.” He took guff from no one — not even the tough liberal guy from Queens, Mario Cuomo.
Running for mayor in 1977, Cuomo founded the “Neighborhood Preservation Party” to grab an extra ballot line. At a Brooklyn forum, he boasted that it was the only political party in New York to have a platform. Long quickly corrected him, noting the Conservatives have had a platform since 1962.
Cuomo told him he was wrong; Long yelled, “You’re a liar!” — and they suddenly got into a shoving match.
Cuomo pushed Long through swinging doors; Long pulled Cuomo to the ground. The cops stepped in to break up the fight.
Afterward, Cuomo called Long over to chat and they made up. And Cuomo — who had a hard time admitting he was wrong — sent Long a letter conceding the Conservative Party did indeed have a platform.
But Mike had been sticking up for his principles in New York politics ever since he returned home from a stint in the Marines in 1960, a fervent anti-Communist ready to lead the home guard. He handed out flyers for GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964; in ’65, he ran a storefront for William F. Buckley Jr., the Conservative candidate for mayor.
As the Conservatives’ Brooklyn chairman, he vigorously opposed the original RINOs (Republicans in name only) — Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, Mayor John Lindsay and Sen. Jacob Javits. In the ’69 mayoral race, he supported state Sen. John Marchi, who beat Lindsay, the darling of the left, in the Republican primary.
In 1970, he played an integral role in electing James L. Buckley (William’s brother) to the Senate solely on the Conservative Party line. In 1980, he backed Al D’Amato’s successful victory over Javits in the GOP primary and again in the general (with the incumbent on the Liberal line) that November.
From 1981 to ’83, he served on the City Council as Brooklyn’s at-large member.
Rising to state Conservative chairman in 1988, he soon made waves by refusing to cross-endorse the GOP candidate against Cuomo, obscure gadfly Pierre Rinfret, in 1990. Instead, he ran New York University professor Herbert London on the Conservative line — and Herb rocked the political establishment by drawing 827,000 votes, coming within 38,334 of outpolling the Republican.
Four years later, Long helped engineer the gubernatorial nomination of little-known GOP state Sen. George Pataki, who proceeded to oust Cuomo thanks to votes cast on the Conservative line.
It wasn’t all politics: With his brother Tom, Mike owned at various times an ice-cream parlor, a liquor store and a bar and grill. And he took his responsibilities as a Brooklyn shopkeeper very seriously, serving as president of the Cypress Hills Businessman’s Association, a school-board member, officer of several civic groups and chairman of the Committee to Restore Respect, Honor and Dignity to Policemen.
Married to Eileen, née Dougherty, for 59 years and the father of nine, Mike consistently stood for a set of principles based on Judeo-Christian ideals.
In the 1960s, he “fought the good fight” to restore prayer in public schools and to repeal New York’s Blaine Amendment, which forbids state dollars for parochial schools. He vigorously opposed abortion and same-sex marriage, denying the Conservative Party nomination to elected officials he felt sold out on these issues.
Recognizing Long’s unswerving defense of the rights of the unborn, Pope St. John Paul II named him a knight of St. Gregory — one of the highest honors a pontiff can bestow on a Catholic layman.
Having had the privilege of calling Mike Long a friend for more than 45 years, I will forever remember him as a knight guarding all the decent and hardworking people in New York’s neighborhoods.
Michael R. Long — requiescat in pace.
George J. Marlin, the 1993 Conservative Party candidate for mayor, is the author of “Fighting the Good Fight: A History of the N.Y. Conservative Party” and “Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man.”