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Primal Fear
Republican bigwigs wish he’d go away, but Herman Badillo is doing the party a favor by running for mayor.
Summer 2001

Republican bigwigs wish he’d go away, but Herman Badillo is doing the party a favor by running for mayor.

The New York Republican Party, long averse to primaries, has tried to muscle Herman Badillo out of the New York City mayor’s race in favor of their anointed candidate, Michael Bloomberg. But Badillo is doing the city’s listless GOP a favor by running.

Gotham’s Republicans need a jolt. After all, they’ve failed to capitalize on having a Republican in Gracie Mansion for eight years and another Republican in control of the statehouse for seven. City party leaders have fought with one another over the political equivalent of table scraps while GOP voter registration in the city has remained stubbornly flat. Embarrassingly, the party has had to scramble to field a slate of candidates in local elections this year, even though term limits, by tossing out scores of Democratic incumbents, have created what should be an unprecedented opportunity for the GOP.

A scrappy primary can re-invigorate the party and attract new voters. The GOP has at least a chance of appealing to moderate Democrats, worried by the leftward tilt of their party’s mayoral candidates. In addition, Badillo makes a convincing case that Republicans can win over more Hispanic voters: Giuliani pulled 43 percent of the city’s Hispanic vote in 1997. Moreover, approximately 10 percent of those most likely to vote in a Republican primary in the city are Hispanic.

More important, Badillo’s candidacy offers a platform for ideas that might otherwise not get a hearing in this race. With the Democrats stuck in the old urban paradigm and with Bloomberg’s thinking on issues largely shrouded in mystery, Badillo is thus far the only candidate willing to tout the ideas that have brought about Gotham’s recovery from misgovernment.

Although party leaders shrink from Badillo’s candidacy, rank-and-file Republicans relish a battle and the attention—and new voters—it could bring to the city’s GOP. "Primaries are invigorating," enthuses Robert Hornak, head of the New York Young Republican Club, which is backing Badillo. "We know it will be a contest of Republican ideas, and people will rally to the candidates. Coronations don’t energize people."

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