Clean Break

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The New York Sun

After the press conference yesterday in which Governor Weld endorsed John Faso to be the Republican candidate for governor of New York, Messrs. Weld and Faso and a Manhattan lawyer named Edward Cox walked up Lexington Avenue to a restaurant called Ristorante Dominico. Then, we are told, they saw Senator D’Amato eating lunch, along with a woman who appeared to be Governor Pataki’s fundraiser, Cathy Blaney. Whereupon the three new leaders of the New York Republican Party turned on their heels, walked out of the restaurant, and headed over to a delightful lunch at the Union League Club, the seat in the city of Republican support for Lincoln during the Civil War.

Some of the relevant parties may deny the tale when asked about it on the record. That the story is circulating nonetheless illuminates what a change is in the air in the Republican Party in this state. Mr. D’Amato, who represents the cronyism, pay-to-play lobbying, and patronage system of the old state Republican Party, is on the outs. So is Ms. Blaney, tied to a governor, in Mr. Pataki, who for all his achievements in cleaning up the Hudson River and passing a charter school law and beginning the end of rent control in the city, nevertheless presides over a state where the state and local tax burden remains the heaviest in the nation.

On the rise is a Kinderhook lawyer named John Faso, a potential giant-slayer whom we have been watching since the days he was practicing law in upstate Hudson. Mr. Faso is serious, principled, and likable – even the New York Times, in an editorial the last time he ran for statewide office, described him as “thoughtful,” “able and decent.” These aren’t the adjectives that roll off the tongue to describe the Democrats’ designated candidate for governor, Eliot Spitzer. Between temper tantrums, Mr. Spitzer has been off grabbing national headlines by attacking the state’s flagship industry, Wall Street, while the Medicaid fraud Mr. Spitzer is supposed to be preventing costs the state’s taxpayers billions.

A Faso victory over Mr. Spitzer is, at this stage of things, a long shot. But so is this newspaper and a lot of other things we care about and admire. It was similarly implausible that Mr. Faso would defeat Mr. Weld, a well-known figure of national stature who out-fundraised Mr. Faso. Mr. Spitzer, like Mr. Weld, is famous and well-funded. But the years have taught us that there are a lot of unpredictable things in politics, perhaps, in the current instance, the possibility that the state’s Democratic voters will stay home from the polling places because the United States Senate race at the top of the 2006 ticket seems a forgone conclusion.

And while a Faso victory over Mr. Spitzer would be unexpected, New York is increasingly a city where the unexpected is happening. An overwhelmingly Democratic city has had a Republican mayor for more than 12 years. The New York City schools chancellor, himself a Democrat, is an outspoken proponent of charter schools, merit pay for principals, and accountability. Race is not the central idea in the city’s political discourse. People are making money in private-sector, non-subsidized real estate in neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant that were once thought a lost cause. Our David Lombino reported Monday that brownstones in Bed-Stuy are selling for more than $1 million.

We don’t mind saying that we were rather hoping for a primary to choose the Republican candidate. Our thinking was that it would be the best way not only to ignite a debate but also to test which candidate was most committed to supply-side, pro-growth principles. But we don’t mind saying as well that we don’t nurse doubts in respect of Mr. Faso on that score. The upset that won him the nomination at the Republican convention startled some, but it didn’t startle the upstate bedrock Republican county organizations, who have been watching him and his values and principles being tested for years. Mr. Faso is a leader with a hard-won base that has just had a taste of victory.

So now that a candidate has emerged to lead the Republicans on Republican principles of the kind inspired the Union League, maybe the unexpected will happen, the forces of change will win, and Mr. Faso will beat Mr. Spitzer. And maybe Mr. Spitzer will react the same way that Mr. Weld did when he was defeated – with class, by joining Mr. Faso in a constructive lunch full of good will and pledges to work together for the best interests of the state. Implausible, sure. Unthinkable to many; we have no illusions. But November is a long way away and a clean break has been made and experience has lately taught us that in New York the implausible sometimes happens.

Related Editorials:
Headed South, June 6, 2006
Let Faso Run, May 23, 2006
Pataki’s Last Stand, April 24, 2006
Passing the Buck, April 10, 2006
To the Primary, December 14, 2005

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