London Tries to Bridge N.Y.'S Gap on the Right

Article excerpt

It is more than a year until Election Day 1994, but Herbert I. London is already off and running in the race for the governorship of New York. Indeed, it would be only a slight exaggeration to say that he never stopped running after the 1990 race, in which London, on the Conservative Party ticket, made the strongest showing of any third-party gubernatorial candidate in New York in this century. Within months of that election, London, now 54, was once again traveling around the state, attending political gatherings and quietly building support.

That early start is paying off. London, who plans to formally announce his candidacy this month, has emerged as the favorite for the Conservative nomination and a strong contender for the Republican Party's as well. (New York's Conservative Party was founded in 1962 by voters dissatisfied with the policies of liberal Republicans Nelson Rockefeller and Jacob Javits; in recent years, both parties often have vied for support among the same constituency.) "He's been doing a grass roots approach, and I think it's starting to work," says Michael R. Long, chairman of the Conservative Party.

Although he is a registered Republican, London is more conservative than most members of the party, and he delights in skirmishing with them on the issues. Yet as an educator -- he founded New York University's Gallatin Division, an experimental school he describes as "a nontraditional program organized around very traditional books" -- he adopted a hands-off management style that helped him maintain smooth relations with faculty and students who did not share his political views. Currently a professor at NYU, he writes a six-page newsletter, the London Letter, wherein he discusses topics ranging from Bosnia to "grunge" fashion. If elected governor, he might continue Mario Cuomo's penchant for philosophical reflection. "I think intellectual ruminations are desirable from people in public life who have something to say," he says.

Even before the general election, however, London may face stiff competition from other Republicans seeking to unseat an incumbent Democrat. Among those who have expressed interest are Jon S. Fossel, a former state assemblyman, and Evan G. Galbraith, a former ambassador to France. Overshadowing the field is Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, one of the state's -- and nation's -- best-known politicians, who has placed his own odds of entering the race at "50-50 or better."

D'Amato was reelected in November to a third term, after pledging that the 1992 Senate race would be "the last time I run for public office." Hours after winning the election, he withdrew that promise, noting, "In this business, you never say never." The possibility that he will run for governor, many observers believe, has caused other Republicans to pause in making their own political decisions. "Right now, D'Amato is sort of freezing the field, while he decides what he will do," says Lee Miringoff , director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, a nonpartisan research organization in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

London claims to be unfazed by the prospect of a D'Amato candidacy. "I'm going to go out and do everything in my power to win support from Republican leaders across the state" he says, "notwithstanding Al D'Amato's extraordinary power and influence' " London hopes to line up sufficient Republican and Conservative backing to make the senator hesitate to enter the race. "Al D'Amato will be preempted," he says.

Indeed, there are signs that London is chipping away at D'Amato's potential support. He has won endorsements from numerous local Republican and Conservative leaders and from organizations supporting causes such as tax reform, property rights and gun ownership.

In upstate New York's Monroe County, he recently won a mass endorsement from 34 Republican officials and activists. Thomas D. Cook, Monroe's Conservative Party chairman and a longtime D'Amato ally, hopes that D'Amato will remain in the Senate rather than run for governor. …