With little fanfare, a Republican candidate for governor, William Weld, is expected to be nominated by the Libertarian Party on Saturday at its convention in Albany.
As far as minor parties go in New York, the Libertarians are on the petite side. Their enrollment of about 800 could squeeze inside your average high school cafeteria.
By endorsing Mr. Weld, a former governor of Massachusetts, the Libertarians would be making a bid to become a player in the crowded field of third parties in New York. Leaders of the party say a key aim is to use the nomination to influence Republican policy on issues like marijuana legalization, Rockefeller drug laws, and eminent domain.
Mr. Weld rejects one of the party’s main tenets, the legalization of drugs. The Libertarian Party’s candidate in 2002 was Scott Jeffrey, who ran on a platform of legalizing marijuana and won 5,000 votes. A large fraction of New York’s Libertarians are also firmly opposed to the war in Iraq. The party put out a press release six months ago calling for a withdrawal of American troops and urging anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan to run against Senator Clinton.
If Mr. Weld in the November election receives at least 50,000 votes on the Libertarian line, then the party would be awarded with an automatic position on the ballot for at least the next four years.
If that happens, their endorsement would suddenly become a hot commodity. The ambition of party leaders is to use prominent ballot placement to challenge the Conservatives for the role of Republican kingmaker.
“The expectation is that we could replace the Conservatives in a kingmaker situation,” the party’s chairman, John Clifton, a social worker in Queens, said. He said he would like the party to use that leverage to “influence Republicans on Rockefeller and legalizing marijuana.” New York’s Rockefeller drug laws, which were adopted while Nelson Rockefeller was governor in 1973, mandate long prison sentences for those convicted of drug crimes. He said he hoped his party would follow the trajectory of the Green Party, which grew exponentially between 1998 and 2002, to about 30,000 members.
So obvious question for New York Libertarians will be: Do they prefer to make some advances on marijuana legalization, Rockefeller drug laws, and eminent domain while obtaining ballot status — or would they rather get 5,000 votes and adhere to an absolute position on drug policy reform?