Conservative Party Threatens Bias Bill


Senators’ need for extra votes said to fuel opposition; No love lost between Polonetsky and successor.

The New York State Conservative Party is emerging as an 800-pound gorilla among opponents of a state bias crime bill. Advocates of the bill have been told by key members of the Republican-controlled state Senate that they would support the bill if not for the objections of the Conservative Party.Opposition to treating crimes more severely if motivated by bigotry was No. 12 of 25 “legislative priorities” for 1998 recently listed by the party.

“The vast majority of [Republican] state senators run on both the Republican and Conservative lines,” says Howard Katz, coordinator of the New York State Bias Crime Bill Coalition and associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. “The Conservative Party has always rated the bias crimes bill [as] an actual determination about whether or not they’ll give you their line in the fall election.”

The Conservative line can be an insurance policy in a tight election. In 1994, it played a key role in Gov. George Pataki’s 1994 victory over Mario Cuomo. Pataki received 328,000 votes on the Conservative line, winning the election by 190,000. The party claims about 175,000 New York members.

Although Pataki faces a likely cakewalk to re-election this fall, the Conservative line could increase his victory margin and, perhaps, his prospects for national office.One year ago, Pataki unveiled his own version of the bill, lamenting that New York is one of only 10 U.S. states which have not enacted bias crime laws. He has since reiterated to Jewish leaders that passing the bill was a priority.

The Conservative Party’s chairman, Michael Long, said he “didn’t see any reason why [Pataki] wouldn’t be renominated to run on the Conservative party line this year,” despite his stated support of the bias crime bill.

“We’re not a single-issue party,” he said. “We take a look at overall performance.”

Ilene Long, Pataki’s spokeswoman in New York City, also downplayed the rift. “The governor and the Conservative party have a difference of opinion,” she said. Ilene Long is the daughter of Michael Long.

If speculation by Assembly Democrats is true, the Conservative Party has no reason to object to Pataki’s stance on the bill. They accuse him of playing a shell game, boosting the bill publicly while taking no action privately. Jewish advocates of the bill have also complained that he has not reached out to his former Senate colleagues or Majority Leader Joseph Bruno to schedule a vote.

“Gov. Pataki needs to take a much stronger stance with the state Senate to get this legislature voted into law,” says Todd Richman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress’s Metropolitan Region.Replied Ilene Long: “The governor has done what he needs to do in proposing the legislation. He will sign it into law when it passes.”

# Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jules Polonetsky was basking in good publicity last week, taking on the high price of Valentines’ Day roses. But the successor to his Brooklyn assembly district wasn’t sending him any flowers.

“I really feel that his divisiveness will take some doing to overcome,” said Adele Cohen, who won a special election for the vacant Brighton Beach and Coney Island seat on Feb. 3. Cohen faulted Polonetsky’s handling of a state security contract with a Nation of Islam group in a public housing project, saying he should have quietly resolved the issue. Polonetsky fired back that Cohen needed to learn to stand against bigotry “if she wants to succeed as an elected official.”

Also last week, Cohen was kicked out of the Coney Island office Polonetsky shared with Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Councilman Howard Lasher, whom Cohen tried to unseat in November, calling him a “lackluster legislator.”

“Mr. Lasher made it clear he didn’t want to share space with me,” she said.

Lasher doesn’t seem to be getting much use out of his part of the office. Repeated calls there were referred to his Manhattan law office. He did not respond to messages left there.

A Lasher staff member and former district leader, Gloria Hacken, said Cohen is certain to face a primary challenger in September. “You can count on that,” she said.

# It’s comeuppance time for those who profited from the Holocaust, and politicians all over town are jockeying for position on the restitution efforts.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx) has drafted a bill that would force insurance companies that sold policies to Holocaust survivors to pay the victims or their heirs. A similar bill is before the state Assembly sponsored by Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). Republican Sen. Alfonse D’Amato is working on a bill to help owners of looted art recover their property from museums. State Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) has a similar bill. And City Comptroller Alan Hevesi publishes a newsletter on efforts to recoup funds from Swiss Banks.

“The Holocaust is a very popular political issue,” says consultant Norman Adler. “And it’s kind of cost-free. They get to take a strong stand on something people care about that has no downside. How can you be in favor of the Holocaust?”