2004-04-30 / Community

GOP Senatorial Hopeful Addresses Rockaway Republicans

GOP Senatorial Hopeful Addresses Rockaway Republicans

In their second meeting since their inception, the Rockaway Republicans played host to GOP insurgent Michael Benjamin at the Belle Harbor Yacht Club on Tuesday April 27. Benjamin, who hails from Brooklyn and makes his living in the securities industry, has been waging a lonely, one-man campaign for about a year now to win the Republican nomination to run against U.S. senatorial incumbent, Democrat Charles Schumer in the upcoming general election. Arriving late from an earlier meeting in the Bronx, Benjamin took the podium almost immediately on his arrival and spoke briefly about his candidacy and where he stands on a variety of issues.

According to Benjamin, Schumer is a key obstacle to the Bush administration’s efforts to appoint judges to a badly under-staffed court system. He also noted that Schumer consistently takes what he described as the wrong positions on a variety of issues including abortion (Schumer agrees they should be permitted whereas Benjamin opposes this practice); taxes (unlike Schumer, Benjamin supports the president’s tax cuts and wants to go even further with implementation of tax simplification, preferably through a flat tax); and the war on terrorism (unlike Schumer, Benjamin supports the administration’s actions, including the forced removal of Saddam Hussein from Iraq).

Benjamin also charged that Schumer has had ethical breaches including taking a substantial donation from questionable sources, despite Schumer’s own support of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. Although Benjamin says he personally thinks the law is a mistake, he questioned how anyone who supports it could then disregard it? According to Benjamin, Schumer’s campaign was recently fined a quarter of a million dollars because of this breach. "That’s real money," Benjamin told his audience, "the largest fine of its type in U.S. history."

In response to questions from the audience, Benjamin acknowledged that he may not be successful in his run for the nomination because the entrenched Albany leadership of the Republican party has settled on a protege of Governor George Pataki for this run: State Assemblyman Howard Mills. Benjamin claimed that early endorsements he had secured from prominent local leaders around the state were actually yanked back under pressure from Albany to make way for the decision to support Mills.

To one questioner, who asked if Benjamin would agree to endorse whoever won the nomination, even if he wasn’t the guy, Benjamin replied, after some thought, that he would. "The key is to beat the incumbent," he agreed. But the admission that he might not win the nomination, and might have to consider endorsing his opponent, seemed to pain him. He added that he was hoping for a statewide primary and for a chance to speak at the upcoming Republican convention in Syracuse on May 18th and 19th. But he said it was not yet clear that there would even be a primary or that he’d be permitted to speak. "It’s really all about democracy," he said. "In New York State, the Republican party seems to have lost touch with the idea that voters should get the chance to vote in order to express their views, even inside the parties." Benjamin maintained that he’s the best positioned, in terms of his stands, his early start and proven fund-raising ability, to beat Senator Schumer.

Asked why he hadn’t just gone to the party leadership in the first place, when he decided to run against Schumer, Benjamin said he wasn’t thinking about asking permission when he started, he was just thinking about the need to run and "the sooner you start that, the better." However, he acknowledged that his decision not to go hat in hand to the leaders in Albany first had probably worked against him. "But this has become more than just about me," he added. "It’s about restoring democracy in New York State."

Benjamin listened intently to local Rockawayite Joe Hartigan voice concerns about the conditions of Rockaway’s beaches, especially the facilities at Riis Park which, Hartigan noted, were under federal jurisdiction though they do not receive the kind of funding the feds provide to other, similar areas. The candidate said he was very interested in that issue and would like to explore it further with Hartigan and other interested people in the community since, as a U.S. Senator, he believed he’d have the ability to intervene to correct the kind of deficiencies Hartigan outlined.

A pro-growth, free-trader, Benjamin also stressed his affinities with the libertarian wing of the Republican party. "We’re not a perfect match," he said, "but on most of the important issues, the big ones, we’re on the same page." Benjamin is seeking support from the national Republican Liberty Caucus, a liberty-oriented group of Republicans who are trying to move the GOP further toward the libertarian end of the political spectrum. Libertarians believe in smaller government, lower taxes, fewer regulations and rigorous commitment to civil liberties, reflecting a strict interpretation of the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights. Benjamin made a point of holding a copy of the Constitution in his hand for much of his talk.

Afterwards, acting Rockaway Republicans President Thomas Lynch offered his group’s thanks to Benjamin and the other speakers, including Matt Hunter, president of the Forest Park Republicans, and Tom Hannan, a local Belle Harborite. Hannan had joined several other ex-Democrats, earlier in the evening, to rip up their Democratic party memberships in a public ceremony, formally announcing they’d rather switch to the Republicans than continue fighting a rearguard action in a Democratic party they felt had slid too far to the left for them. "I’m a recovering Democrat," Hannan noted, to a round of vigorous applause from the audience, which included many of his fellow former Democrats.      

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