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NEW YORK — Long Island’s first black mayor, James Arthur Garner, is a conservative Republican who the GOP believes can unseat four-term Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy and attract black voters to the party he has re-christened “The Grow Out Party.”
Mr. Garner has visited the White House several times, is friendly with the Republican Party’s national leadership and has hired veteran political consultant Edward J. Rollins, who ran President Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign and headed the National Republican Congressional Committee in 1989.
Mr. Rollins sees the village of Hempstead mayor as someone who can create and attract black Republicans. He believes Mr. Garner’s high profile as head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors will allow him to walk into Congress with friends in high places.
“Jim can broaden the base of this party in many ways,” said Mr. Rollins recently, stopping for lunch with Mr. Garner after a meeting in Westbury with the Nassau County Republican leadership.
Mention black Republicans and Mr. Garner — an affable mountain of a man who stands 6 feet 5 inches tall and is in his fourth term as mayor — will tell you about Reconstruction days, when blacks voted Republican.
So, he said, this campaign is a call to return home. “It’s going to be turning time here. The Republicans have retooled themselves to get a bigger bite,” said Mr. Garner, 58.
“The Republicans will control Congress for certainly this decade because of reapportionment, and [Mrs. McCarthy is] in the minority no matter what happens,” Mr. Rollins said.
Mr. Rollins added that Mrs. McCarthy’s colleagues do not view her as a significant player. “They tell me she’s kind of whiny,” he said.
Mrs. McCarthy said: “He has a reputation for hitting hard, and that’s fine. I’m used to that.”
Mrs. McCarthy, 60, became a symbol of violence and efforts to ban weapons after a crazed gunman killed her husband and grievously wounded her son in the 1993 Long Island Railroad massacre.
First elected to Nassau County’s 4th Congressional District in 1996, Mrs. McCarthy has been an anti-gun advocate, calling for measures such as childproof locks for handguns. Republicans say she still draws the residual sympathy vote that catapulted her from private life as a nurse into Congress.
“You don’t get re-elected on a sympathy vote,” Mrs. McCarthy said. “There has to be a reason to be fired and I’ve never closed the door on anyone.”
Mr. Garner says he doesn’t fear a sympathy vote, pointing with pride to his record; namely, bringing business into the once-dilapidated Main Street of Hempstead, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1.
The 4th District gained more than 74,000 voters under reapportionment in 2002. Its voters are 62 percent white, 18 percent black and 20 percent of mixed origin.
Mr. Rollins said Democrats tried to move in more black voters, thinking it would strengthen Mrs. McCarthy, but, instead, he claims, it will give Mr. Garner the opportunity to embrace nontraditional Republican voters in the November election.
By Donald Lambro
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