Tributes poured forth, and deservedly so, following the death last week of Michael R. Long, a giant of conservative politics in New York and across the nation.
I wouldn’t even attempt to match the depth or eloquence of those remembrances, from loving family and friends, colleagues and allies in the political arena, leaders of his Catholic Church. I would instead commend to readers such particularly moving commentary as that in Newsmax by John Gizzi, the venerable chronicler of conservative politics, and in the New York Post by George Marlin, Mike’s longtime friend who, among his own many contributions, authored a history of the New York Conservative Party that Mike Long chaired for more than 30 years.
But as one who was also blessed to call him a friend—and whose blog posts he received in recent years, on occasion emailing back a comment or two—I would be remiss if I did not use this blog to offer a brief, humble reflection on the Mike Long I knew.
He was, in short, my kind of conservative: first and foremost a man of faith and family, fervently devoted to his Catholic Church and committed, beyond all else, to his wife Eileen and their nine children. A Marine, he was a deeply patriotic American. He was driven by a tremendous work ethic that enabled him and his brother Tom to be successful small shopkeepers—among the many ways he found to serve the Brooklyn community he loved.
It was these bedrock values—faith and family, country and community, freedom and personal responsibility—that led Mike into conservative politics. He was a doer, not an abstract thinker. When he saw these values under attack, he believed them worth promoting and defending, and he got busy doing so.
Speaking with Newsday, Gerard Kassar, for years Mike’s strong right hand and his very able successor as state Conservative Party chairman, said it best:
“He was an extraordinary man because he was such an ordinary man.”
As such, he related to so many other ordinary men and women, myself included, who shared his commitment to those bedrock values and supported his efforts to uphold them. It touched my heart to reflect that this great defender of the unborn had lived just long enough to see Roe v. Wade overturned—and greeted the news, I am told, with a radiant smile.
In one sense, it seems nothing special to say Mike Long was a friend of mine, because he was a friend to countless people, in virtually every walk of life. It seemed that for Mike, to know you was to be your friend—unless you were the kind to reject his friendship over political differences. Those who did were the poorer for it.
Yet in the truest sense, it was a very special honor to have Mike Long consider you a friend. And not because he counted among his friends presidents, senators, governors, princes of the Church; but rather, because of his character, his unimpeachable integrity, and the genuineness of his friendship no matter your stature or standing in the world. It was an honor to have Mike Long as a friend not because of who he knew, but because of who he was.
Mike’s integrity, and authenticity, are rare traits in the political world. I remember once, after I had pretty much left political activism to pursue a career in Catholic communications, I attended a local political dinner. Observing all the interactions, I remarked to a friend that I had almost forgotten how pretentious these gatherings were. Ostentatiously friendly greetings invariably had little to do with real friendship, but were instead calculated efforts to curry favor with influential people who might help advance one’s personal ambitions.
Mike Long was different. Indeed, even that night, when he came over to say hello, my friend— who as co-author of a weekly newspaper column had recently been critical of Mike and the state party leadership—felt rather awkward when I introduced them to each other. But Mike immediately defused any tension with a warm handshake, as he told my friend, “You write a nice column—most of the time.” He said it not with sarcasm or rancor, but with sincerity, and a friendly smile.
“His concern for people showed…in everything he did,” John Gizzi quoted Brooklyn Bishop Emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio.
“Not only were his nine children fortunate to have him as a father,” his son Chris told the New York Post, “there were countless other people whose lives he positively impacted.”
The world, Jerry Kassar commented to Gizzi, is “a better place because of the life he lived.”
Even as we pray for the repose of Mike Long’s soul, we are filled with faith that he has heard those cherished words we all should aspire to hear from our heavenly Father:
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”