A tribute to longtime Conservative Party leader Mike Long – New York Daily News

Mike Long, former leader of the New York State Conservative Party — and along with me and eight others, a city council member, died this week. He was a good friend despite the fact that we were politically opposed: Mike was a Brooklyn conservative who opposed gay rights, reproductive rights, and government expansion. I was a former legal aid tenant attorney, representing Manhattan and as progressive as they were back then.

Mike owned a liquor store and truly believed in self-reliance, traditional values, and the American dream. He was a good man with a good heart and a good sense of humor about the predicament of being the only conservative (lowercase or uppercase) in a legislature of 38 Democrats, six Republicans and one Party member. liberal (the legendary Henry Stern, my fellow at-large member of Manhattan, who later served as the city’s parks commissioner).

Mike taught by example that communication across the aisle was key to serving people. He voted for my legislation to protect flyers from onerous vendor licensing laws because he understood the importance of individual liberty. When he spoke out against what I consider basic human rights, he did so out of religious conviction, not personal bigotry or arrogant rancor. In my opinion, he was wrong, of course, but even in expressing opinions that many found hateful, he was not a hate monger.

I praise him because many have lost sight of the reality that reliable change happens when people of opposite beliefs listen, learn, and grow. Sometimes compromise can work, sometimes not. In my dealings with Mike, there was little opportunity to bridge the gap on deep issues of principle. But we remained cordial and conversational. It was probably easier for me than for him since I was part of a dominant political majority.

Today I see intolerance at all levels of government and in everyday life. “I’m right and you’re wrong” is the starting point and unfortunately the end point of many public speeches. As for the city-wide system, which required that no two members of the borough council could belong to the same political party, it served the very good purpose of adding diverse opinions, but was declared unconstitutional – no not because it emancipated political minorities, but because the lopsided populations of the boroughs resulted in a violation of the one person, one vote requirement of the Constitution.

I am not advocating forcing voters to accept small party candidates who cannot win a democratic majority. But we must learn to listen to those who disagree with us. We need to understand what drives their thinking, and then address those views persistently but patiently with logic and reason, even as we impose majority rule. And where a compromise accommodation would not violate the moral principle, it should be included.

Mike Long was hated by many who supported me. They were wrong. He deserved respect for standing up for his moral beliefs, even as he deserved relentless opposition to those views when they conflicted with the principles I hold dear. His death should remind us that we can decry the point of view and befriend the person we disagree with. Rest in peace, Mike Long.

Wallace was a member of the Manhattan City Council from 1981 to 1983. He is co-chairman of the New York office of a global law firm.