Races of the Week:Garner vs. McCarthy

Earlier this year, Arnold Schwarzenegger electrified the Republican National Convention with a powerful address explaining how, after becoming an American citizen, he decided to register as a Republican. Watching presidential candidates Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon on television newscasts, Schwarzenegger recalled, he concluded that the Democratic nominee represented the socialism that he had left in Europe. But Republican Nixon, he added, represented free enterprise and opportunity, for which he had come to America. So the newly minted citizen became a Republican.

You don’t have to be the Terminator or an immigrant to follow the same odyssey in political preference. Take Vietnam veteran and U.S. Army non-commissioned officer James Garner, for example. After his discharge, Garner–no relation to the star of “Maverick” and “The Rockford Files”–settled on Long Island and decided to open his own business. Soon, the small extermination company that he launched in his own basement thrived and prospered. But like so many other entrepreneurs, Adelphi (N.Y.) University graduate Garner ran into the thicket of OSHA regulations, business taxes, medical care forms, and zoning rules that entraps so many Americans who want to launch their own small businesses. He decided to become a Republican because he concluded that Republicans stood for less taxes and encouragement of new businesses.

Jim Garner’s passion for his party led to him to work as a volunteer in local campaigns, and then to seek and win office himself as a village trustee. In 1989, he won election as mayor of Hempstead and has since reigned at City Hall for 15 unbroken years. Recently, Garner became chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors–almost a miracle, since so few members of that group are Republicans.

One other thing: Jim Garner is black.

From his travels on behalf of the mayors group, Garner came to know members of Congress and concluded that his home district deserved a better representative than liberal Democrat Carolyn McCarthy. So, at age 59, Garner carries the Republican and Conservative Party standards against four-termer McCarthy (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 23%) in New York’s 4th District.

Just over a decade ago, the 4th District was secure Republican turf under the aegis of feared Nassau County GOP Chairman Joseph Margiotta. But after Margiotta had to give up the party helm, discipline broke down, internecine warfare that had been kept “in the family” went public, and the district went through three different GOP House members in as many election cycles. In 1996, after the nation was stunned by the murder of her husband and wounding of her son on the Long Island Rail Road, Republican-turned-Democrat McCarthy rolled into Congress on a mission to secure tougher gun control.

These days, McCarthy makes no bones about maintaining her almost obsessive preoccupation with the same issue. As she told New York Newsday, “If people want to call me a one-issue candidate, I don’t care.”

Jim Garner disagrees with his opponent’s being a “one-issue candidate,” as there are many other issues on which he disagrees with her votes and stands, such as: opposing a ban on human cloning, permitting tax-funded abortions on U.S. military bases, capping funding for the United Nations, and increasing funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.

To be sure, the celebrity status has guaranteed that Carolyn McCarthy will have a handsome re-election kitty. In fact, when she won her third term in 2000, the congresswoman collected fat checks from the Hamptons to Hollywood and ended up spending nearly $2 million.

But from Vietnam to the private sector to City Hall, Jim Garner has always had a character trait that made him a winner: not avoiding good, hard work. With that characteristic and help from his fellow conservatives, he can take the next step in his dynamic career and go to Congress.