Jewish World Review Aug. 19, 1999 /7 Elul 5759
These days New York is rife with opportunities for D'Amato. Hillary Clinton is using the state to launch a campaign for the Senate, and many Republicans, in New York and across the country, are desperate to have Rudy Giuliani challenge her, believing the popular New York mayor is the opponent most likely to beat her. Nevertheless, Rick Lazio, a Republican congressman from Long Island, wanted to challenge Giuliani in the primary. Which raised a problem. The GOP primary takes place less than two months before the general election, and, Republicans feared, having to defeat Lazio would rob Giuliani of precious energy and time that he would need to beat Hillary.
Enter D'Amato. He and Giuliani have had a famously adversarial relationship for years. In 1994, Giuliani deepened the rift by portraying then gubernatorial candidate George Pataki as a hapless D'Amato lackey. Last year, they reconciled long enough for Giuliani to enthusiastically campaign for D'Amato's reelection. When Giuliani began making noises about a Senate candidacy, Republicans assumed D'Amato would quickly endorse him.
Instead, D'Amato began flirting with Lazio. Most Republicans suspected this was pure mischief, given D'Amato's previous distaste for the fourth-term congressman, who, D'Amato felt, didn't show him enough respect. All the same, national Republican figures were alarmed. They recently dispatched one of D'Amato's old buddies from the Senate, Pete Domenici, to meet with him and suggest he back Giuliani. Several top New York Republicans and emissaries from the Bush campaign made the same suggestion.
Here's what resulted: On August 3, D'Amato initiated a meeting with Giuliani and told him that for the good of the party he needed to make peace with Governor Pataki. (One catalyst for this meeting was a Neal Travis column in that morning's New York Post, which quoted the governor touting Lazio.) Giuliani then made nice with Pataki, and, afterwards, D'Amato went to work on the governor to return the favor. On August 6, Pataki announced his support for Giuliani and urged Lazio to withdraw. Lazio, suddenly lacking the support of his two patrons, Pataki and D'Amato, reluctantly announced on August 11 he was suspending his campaign. Having stage-managed this remarkable turn of events, D'Amato now has to ensure that Giuliani does, in fact, decide to run. And that's supposed to happen by the end of the month.
This flurry of activity is not surprising for D'Amato."If there is something political happening," says GOP Rep. Tom Reynolds,"he's going to be in the middle of it." The best illustration of D'Amato's kingmaking power came in 1994, when he made a little-known state senator named Pataki the Republican gubernatorial challenger to Mario Cuomo. D'Amato's willingness to intervene has even been seen in small-town elections, when friends or foes were running for office."He always wanted to know what was happening in every little hamlet throughout the state," says Guy Molinari, Staten Island's borough president and a former D'Amato housemate in Washington.
These activities not only earn D'Amato far more than the $136,000 he was paid as a senator. They keep him right where he wants to be: in the thick of New York's combustible politics. A sympathetic GOP operative notes the irony:"The guy is a defeated senator, and yet he's still essential to Pataki's political future, Giuliani's political future, and is keeping the state alive for Bush."
There are many reasons why D'Amato remains hugely influential, but two stand out. First, everyone in the state knows Pataki remains indebted to him for his 1994 victory."He handpicked George to run for governor," says Molinari, "and I don't think George will forget that." What's more, Pataki has little passion for the nitty-gritty of local Republican politics, leaving a vacuum D'Amato is happy to fill.
The second source of D'Amato's power is . . . D'Amato. Having spent 18 years constructing, and lording it over, New York's Republican party, he still commands loyalty from many of his subjects. (Joel Siegel of the New York Daily News has described D'Amato as the state GOP's"rabbi emeritus.") He is, for example, in regular contact with Joe Bruno, the majority leader of the state senate, and William Powers, the chairman of the state GOP. D'Amato has close allies in the congressional delegation as well. As for the 62 county Republican chairmen, Guy Molinari estimates that up to one-third of them are D'Amato acolytes. Most important of all, D'Amato is peerless when it comes to collecting campaign cash.
Now that D'Amato has brought a temporary peace to the conflict-ridden New
York Republicans, it's natural to wonder whether he will get back in the
ring. GOP operatives say it's unlikely, though just days after his departure
from the Senate, D'Amato admitted to the New York Times that running again
was not something he was"actively pursuing or planning, but it's an option.
. . . In politics, change is on an hourly basis." One Republican friend of
D'Amato hinted to me that a senior job in the next Bush administration is
more likely. What kind of job, I asked?"What else? U.S. ambassador to
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