William F. Buckley Jr., – My Political Godfather – By George J. Marlin

For me and scores of young New York conservatives in the 1960s, William F. Buckley Jr. was more than a journalist, novelist and TV personality; he was the man who fired us up to fight for our principles in the political trenches in our neighborhoods.  To Buckley’s 1965 mayoral campaign slogan, “Do you have the guts to listen?” our answer was a resounding, “Yes!”

That New York City mayoral race pitted Bill Buckley, candidate of the 3-year-old Conservative Party, against Republican-Liberal John V. Lindsay and Democrat Abraham Beame. I was one of the teenage “Street-Corner Conservatives” who handed out Buckley fliers at subway stations, bus stops and outside churches.  I was even hassled at the corner of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing, Queens by Sid Davidoff (who later served as Lindsay’s deputy mayor and went onto become the city’s leading lobbyists) for distributing Buckley literature at a Lindsay rally.

The campaign was incredibly exciting.  And thanks to a city-wide newspaper strike, the television debates, where Buckley could excel, became the prime media forum.

It’s fair to say that Buckley trounced his opponents in the numerous debates.  Lindsay, with his chiseled good looks and sonorous voice, may have sounded great when he was fully scripted, but in the debate format, which emphasized spontaneous wit and a real command of facts, he came across as dull-witted.  The four-foot-eleven accountant, Abe Beame, looked and sounded like an IRS agent discussing an income-tax audit.

Buckley was able to articulate views that professional politicians dared not express because those opinions might upset the racial, religious, or ethnic balance of their support.  Bill Buckley’s positions in the campaign hit a nerve with the neighborhood blue-collar ethnic voters, who felt themselves the victims of high taxes, rising crime and failing schools.  In Buckley, they found more than a spokesman.  They found a hero.  And polls began to reflect his popularity.  The first Herald Tribune poll published on October 7 had Beame at 45.6%, Lindsay, 35.6%, Buckley, 10.2%, with 8.6% undecided.

Mike Long, who was then chairman of Brooklyn’s Cypress Hills Conservative Club (and would later become state chairman), remembered how Buckley electrified the conservative base.  New clubs began to spring up all over Brooklyn and thousands volunteered to give out literature.  At a rally held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Buckley spoke to a crowd that overflowed into the street.  Long, who was sitting in the audience that night, recalls how the crowd went wild at the end of the rally when Buckley said, “Now back to the wars.”

“Applause, cheering, and howls went on for minutes,” Long says.  “The thousands who left the Academy of Music were so wound up they were ready to go conquer the world.”

On election night, Buckley received 341,226 votes, 13.4% of the total.  While Lindsay won the election with a plurality (45.3%) there was plenty of good news for Buckley supporters.  For the first time, the Conservative Party had outpolled the Liberal Party in the City of New York.  In the ethnic neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx, Buckley racked up 25% of the German vote, 26% of eastern Europeans, 22% of the Irish and 17% of the Italians.

The Manhattan political establishment was shocked by Buckley’s popularity in the outer boroughs.  In Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Buckley received 36.5% of the vote.  In Ridgewood, Queens, 38%; Hollis, Queens, 38%; Fox Hills-Tottenville, Staten Island, 30% and Parkchester, Bronx, 29%.

Bill Buckley’s mayoral candidacy refuted the prevailing view in liberal circles that the conservative movement consisted of nothing more than a bunch of crackpots.  He proved that the Conservative Party mattered in the electoral politics of the most left-wing city in the nation and helped regain respectability for the conservative movement nationwide.

Bill Buckley laid the groundwork for the 1970 election of his brother James, on the Conservative Party Line, to the U.S. Senate seat once held by Robert F. Kennedy.  He galvanized the neighborhood ethnic voters who provided Ronald Reagan’s Empire State margins of victory in 1980 and 1984.  Buckley was the political godfather to a generation of New York conservative political activists.  I was one of them, and I cherished his friendship and was very proud when Buckley endorsed my 1993 Conservative Party candidacy for mayor of New York City.

Speaking two weeks after the 1965 election at the National Review 10th Anniversary dinner, Barry Goldwater best described Buckley’s 1965 run for office:  “Running as a Conservative in New York City must be an interesting experience.  You’re not really a candidate.  You are a political Kamikaze…. But Bill Buckley ran a great race.  I understand at one point, Bobby Kennedy was so worried, he put Staten Island in his wife’s name.”  Buckley, he said, was the “man who lost the election but won the campaign.”

William F. Buckley Jr. – Requiescat In Pace.

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One Comment on “William F. Buckley Jr., – My Political Godfather – By George J. Marlin”

  1. Florence Maloney Says:

    Thank you for your essay on William F. Buckley, Jr. He will be missed very much.

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