In a move that took his party’s leaders by surprise, Mike Long, who has served as chairperson of the New York State Conservative Party for 30 years, suddenly announced on Jan. 28 that he was stepping down from his post.
Long, 78, made his announcement at the conclusion of the 52nd Annual Conservative Party Political Action Conference in upstate New York, a mini-convention during which party leaders from all over the state hear presentations from elected officials and candidates, and map out the party’s agenda for the year.
Long told party leaders that he had “a heavy heart,” but that he firmly believed “the time has come for me to step away as chairman” and that he felt “the time for new leadership is upon us.”
Jerry Kassar, who stepped down last year as chairperson of the Brooklyn Conservative Party, has expressed a strong interest in becoming the next state chairperson, according to sources.
“Jerry is interested and I support him 100 percent,” Fran Vella-Marrone, who took over for Kassar as Brooklyn chairperson, told this newspaper on Jan. 29.
The party’s executive committee will meet next month to start the process of selecting the next chairperson.
Long, who lives with his wife Eileen in Bay Ridge, first took the helm of the Conservative Party in 1988 and worked well with Republicans to form coalitions that helped get right-leaning GOP candidates elected to seats in Congress and the state legislature.
Among the people Long helped are former Gov. George Pataki, former Congressmembers Susan Molinari, Vito Fossella, Michael Grimm and Dan Donovan, and former state Sen. Marty Golden, as well as current Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis.
Long enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Golden, with whom he had worked to revive the dormant Fifth Avenue Board of Trade in Bay Ridge in the 1990s.
Long and his brother Tom Long were the owners of Long’s Wines and Liquors, a store on Fifth Avenue, and Golden owned the Bay Ridge Manor catering hall on 76th Street just off Fifth Avenue.
The re-launch of the board of trade paved the way for business leaders to work with New York City to establish the Bay Ridge Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District. The Long brothers later sold the liquor store.
In a letter he wrote to party leaders to announce his retirement formally, Long vowed to continue to promote conservative principles. “As I step away from my current role, I continue to stand with you as a proud member of the Conservative Party of New York,” he wrote.
The Brooklyn Conservative Party has always had a strong connection to Bay Ridge. The party’s headquarters is located on 78th Street.
Long served as a U.S. Marine in the early 1960s and joined the Conservative Party in 1964. He was elected chairperson of the Brooklyn Conservative Party, a post he held for many years before moving up to head the state party.
Over the decades, Long worked diligently to attract young people to the Conservative Party cause, according to his friends.
“I met him when I was 17 years old. He was always very encouraging and willing to listen to ideas,” Vella-Marrone said. “I will miss him. He was the greatest chairman of any party in the state. He was fully supportive of his county chairs and went out of his way for you if you needed his help.”
Liam McCabe, who founded the Brooklyn South Conservative Club, worked in Long’s Wines and Liquors when he was in college.
“I wish Mike Long the best and I thank him for inspiring me to get involved in politics,” McCabe wrote on Facebook. “It was working in his store as a college student in the late 90’s where in between stocking shelves and studying I would talk about the issues of the day with Mike and Tom Long. Mike convinced me to do more than talk and to call a guy named Gerard Kassar to get involved. That was 20 years ago and it’s been a great ride since.”
In addition to his political acumen, Long is also known in Bay Ridge for his deep Catholic faith. He and his wife Eileen, who have nine children, are parishioners at Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church. Long is chairperson of the Board of Directors at Holy Angels Catholic Academy, a school with strong ties to the parish.