Mike Long: Fighting the Good Fight

The New York Times recently reported that Empire State elites are fulminating because of the “single most potent and immovable obstacle to the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York,” Conservative Party Chairman Michael R. Long.

Long, who has led the forty-eight-year-old party since 1988, has made it clear to Albany legislators that, when it comes to getting the Conservative endorsement, one of the real breakers is traditional marriage: “You say ‘I’m not for traditional marriage’ you’re not going to get an endorsement.  It’s as simple as that.”

Mike Long – Roman Catholic, Knight of St. Gregory, Marine, neighborhood entrepreneur, and father of nine – is one of Brooklyn’s “Street Corner Conservatives,” who believe the neighborhood is as much a state of mind as it is a dwelling.  G.K. Chesterton’s description of the guardian of the neighborhood in The Man Who Was Thursday fits Long:  “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 gentlemen. . . . But he did feel himself as the ambassador of all these common and kindly people in the street.”

Long was an ambassador for the folks in his neighborhood.  He has been president of the Cypress Hills Businessman’s Association, head of the Blessed Sacrament Holy Name Society, a vice president of his parish council, executive secretary of the Cypress Hills Civic Association, an executive member of the Cypress Hills-Woodhaven Association, an officer of the Boy Scouts of America and of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a school-board member, and the chairman of the Committee to Restore Respect, Honor, and Dignity to Policemen.

These are the kinds of things that, presumably, the Second Vatican Council had in mind when it spoke of “empowering the laity” and encouraged lay people to bring Catholic principles into the secular realm.

But the political epiphany of Long’s life took place when he attended a Goldwater rally at Madison Square Garden in 1964.  The enthusiasm was infectious, and Long decided then and there he had to be actively involved in politics.

He registered for the first time – as a Republican – and joined the local GOP club.  He realized very quickly, though, that the local pols were more interested in playing cards than in working to elect Goldwater or in pursuing principle.  Disgusted, he decided to re-register as a member of the fledging Conservative Party.

Mike Long: Catholic man of the people

Long, who became president of the Cypress Hills Conservative Club and later the party’s Brooklyn chairman, was an activist in William F. Buckley Jr.’s 1965 N.Y.C. mayoral race and played a significant role in the 1970 U.S. senatorial victory of Conservative James Buckley, a crucial pro-life crusader and Catholic member of Congress.           

Long’s activism went beyond civic-mindedness – at times he could be downright militant.  In 1977, for instance, he had his first run-in with Mario Cuomo – a Catholic who introduced public confusion about the Catholic role in politics, especially with respect to abortion, over many years – at a mayoral forum at Fort Hamilton High School in Brooklyn.  Candidate Cuomo was boasting that his “Neighborhood Preservation Party” was the only New York political party to have a platform.  Mike Long interjected that Cuomo was wrong, and reminded him that the Conservative Party had a platform. 

When Cuomo told him he was wrong, Long yelled to him, “You’re a liar!”  What followed was basically a schoolyard brawl.  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.”

Long and his Party faithful have since fought many battles in New York’s culture wars.  Beginning in 1969, the Party’s platform has strongly and consistently affirmed pro-life protections for the unborn, the elderly, and the infirm.

In early 1998, Mike Long attended an Albany meeting of select pro-lifers called by New York State Catholic Conference.  There were several arguments made at this gathering about the wisdom of continuing to fight for a vote in the assembly to outlaw partial-birth abortion. Some said the effort should be abandoned because the ban was at least seventy votes short of what was needed to discharge the bill from committee.  Others reasoned that a continued pursuit of a hopeless cause might anger Speaker Silver to a point at which aid to Catholic hospitals could be jeopardized. 

Long angrily made it clear that the Catholic Conference and others were free to do whatever they chose, but that the Conservative Party would continue the fight – alone if necessary – to force a discharge vote.  In the end, Long prevailed, and the big pro-life push, though unsuccessful, proceeded.

This year, Long has been making phone calls to Republican senators reminding them that legalizing same-sex unions would undermine an institution that is “part of the rock of our society.”  He has cautioned them that if they have any respect for Conservative Party endorsement, they should think twice before supporting the bill.  Because Republicans control the state senate by only two seats, they know that if they lose Conservative Party support by voting for the measure, they risk losing their majority in the 2012 elections.

Long will not accept any compromises on two issues:  partial birth abortion and same-sex marriage.  “I can’t go around making everything a deal breaker,” says Long, “But there are certain things that you have to stand for.  If we don’t stand for this, then why are we in business?”


Capital Area Readers of TCT Take Note:

George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is the author of The American Catholic Voter and Sons of St. Patrick, written with Brad Miner. His most recent book is Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man.