By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The first ever meeting of the new Brooklyn South Conservative Club took place in a Bay Ridge bar. And the spot wasn’t picked because the fledging club couldn’t find a meeting hall, President Liam McCabe said. “We’re probably going to have all of our meetings in bars. We like the idea of taking our show on the road, thinking outside the box, and doing things in a non-traditional way,” McCabe said.
Welcome to the new Conservative Party, where taxes, spending, and the debt ceiling are discussed over Michelob Light and Margaritas while rock music blares in the background.
“This is about having fun,” McCabe said. “We think that’s a good way to attract more young people to our party.”
McCabe, an aide to U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-C-Brooklyn-Staten Island), started the club earlier this month. The new club is a successor to the Eugene Walsh Conservative Club, a Bay Ridge-based political club that had been in existence for decades. McCabe, 34, decided it was time for an update, so he and a group of like-minded friends decided to change the name from the Eugene Walsh Conservative Club to the Brooklyn South Conservative Club. Brooklyn South is in the title “because we wanted to have more of a wider reach than just Bay Ridge,” McCabe said. “Also, our friends on the Democratic side, like the Bay Ridge Democrats, have clubs named after regions, not people,” he said.
The first action taken at the club’s first meeting last month was to vote to officially change the name. The club’s first meeting attracted 20 members and McCabe is hoping to build on that.
While still strongly aligned with the New York State Conservative Party and with the Kings County Conservative Party, this crop of young Conservatives is insisting on doing things their way.
There is talk of a Conservatives vs. Democrats softball game with young political activists from both parties. McCabe is friendly with Justin Brannan, president of the Bay Ridge Democrats. “I’d also like to set up roundtables, where we can debate the issues,” McCabe said. McCabe is also hoping to get his club involved in charity work.
Christine Sisto, 22, is a new member of the Brooklyn South Conservative Club. “We’re looking for a more modern feel. We want to convey the message that not all Conservatives are older white guys. We’re young,” Sisto said.
One of those older white guys, Mike Long, chairman of the New York State Conservative Party, said he's happy to see that efforts are being made to expand the party’s base. “I think he’s doing the right thing,” Long said, referring to McCabe. "We need more young people,” he said.
The Conservative Party has a lot to offer the young voter, according to Long. “We are true to our beliefs. We believe in strong family values. And we promote economic freedom. That appeals to young people. We want to stop high taxes and excessive government spending that’s taking money out of their pockets,” he said.
A former Republican, Sisto changed her party affiliation to Conservative after doing volunteer work on Grimm’s congressional campaign. “There was great energy in that campaign. I talked a lot with Conservatives working on the campaign staff and I realized that their ideas sort of aligned with mine,” she said.
Sisto said she admires the strong women in the Conservative movement, people like Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-C-Bay Ridge-Staten Island). “She’s a real role model,” Sisto said.
One of the things Sisto and other club members are looking forward to is the chance to do charity work, she said. “We’re interested in helping out the less fortunate, like the people in Coney Island who were hit by the hurricane,” she said.
McCabe got involved in politics through his dad, who he described as a “strong Democrat and a union guy.” Their kitchen table discussions got him interested in politics. McCabe volunteered for U.S. Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2000.
Long was another major influence on him. One day during the 2000 campaign, McCabe was handing out fliers on a Bay Ridge street corner and was chatting with Bay Ridgeite Mary Quinones, who is now a vice president at Lutheran Medical Center. “I knew one of Mike Long’s sons, Eddie Long. Somehow it came up in conversation that I knew the Longs. She told me that I should ask Mike for help getting an internship in a politician’s office,” he said. McCabe followed Quinones’s advice and Long arranged for him to work for then-congressman Vito Fossella.
McCabe also worked in Long’s Liquor, a store Long owned at the time on Fifth Avenue. Long and McCabe used to engage in discussions about politics. “He listened more than he talked. He would ask me what I thought of an issue," McCabe said. "That job was a lot of fun because one minute you were taking a call from Mrs. McCarthy about the wine she was ordering for her dinner party and the next minute it was the New York Times calling to get Mike’s opinion on some political development,” he said.
The new club is planning its first big event, a President’s Day dinner, on Feb. 21, at the Dyker Beach Golf Course. In a nod to the club’s ancestry, an award named in honor of Eugene Walsh will be given out.