It is not surprising that NED began in the warm embrace of Mary Sansone’s legendary basement, in 1982. During Mario Cuomo’s first campaign for Governor, Mary’s son Ralph (now deceased), attracted a diverse group of friends from law school, college, and neighborhood to work the streets, day after day, in that successful campaign. A walking embodiment of leadership qualities, Ralph’s charisma, focus, good-naturedness, stamina, and strategic vision brought the group of more than 100 volunteers together, and kept the group active and growing during the early important formative years.
Of course, Ralph’s appetite for the political arena – the arena of ideas – which touched so many then and inspires so many now, was bred into him in the loving affection and unwavering devotion and example of his parents mary and Zach. But make no mistake, NED came about by Ralph’s vision: A vision surely inspired by the daily example of Mary and Zach, but Ralph bridged the gap between ideas and execution. If Mary and Zach were the spark of NED ideals, Ralph was the flame.
NED ran their political candidate for office in 1982, when Joe Erazo, one of NED’s founding members and Ralph’s supervisor at the State Department of Labor, ran for the President of the City Council. While we did not win that election, this upstart political organization raised many eyebrows in the political world.
However, NED’s flame, so bright and promising in the early and mid-1980’s, dimmed for a time upon Ralph’s tragic early end in 1986. But as truth crushed to the earth inevitably rises again, so did NED’s flame again begin to burn bright. Indeed, how could NED not rise again?? As the sun, descending beyond the horizon at dusk is sure to rise again in the morn, so an idea and movement, in NED’s case crushed by the pernicious hand of tragic fate for a short time, naturally began to rise again in full splendor. NED came back, and the political landscape of NYC has rippled from our message, power, commitment, and resolve since. Joe Crisalli, one of NED’s founders, carried the NED torch during this period. This former shop steward and labor organizer was President and kept the organization together during that difficult period.
Ideas aligned with truth are the most powerful force in the world, and NED represents that alignment. The idea and truth that in our wonderful democracy, elected officials must be willing to be held accountable for their decisions and actions. The idea and truth that our government operates best through the open and active participation of its citizens. The idea and truth that in order to realize the highest aspirations of our beacon experiment with self-government, we must all work to develop and promote candidates who are honest, capable leaders of integrity. We realize that no one candidate will agree with every position the diverse group that NED represents, however, ALL candidates that NED supports are unwaveringly honest, decent, truthful, and committed to the cause ofa transparent, accountable government.
After Ralph’s tragic death, the power and ideals of NED lay dormant until 1989 – until the first Mayoral campaign of Rudy Giuliani resurrected an explosion of pent-up energy by NED membership. Honest to a fault, aspiring to the highest ideals of leadership, and answerable only to the wise and sober eyes of posterity, Rudy embodied all of the qualities that NED was looking for in a candidate. Beyond that, Rudy blended perfectly into and reinforced perhaps the most important aspect of NED which stands us along amongst political organizations: NED is committed to friendship, respect, and cooperation between all racial, ethnic, and religious groups, and embraces members without regard to race, creed, national origin, age, sex, or sexual preference. Rudy fully embraced NED’s creed and emotional center of friendship. Thus, in 1989, did NED rise again, working for Rudy Giuliani, powerfully motivated by a candidate who was aligned with our basic philosophy, and who solidified our loyalty by risking a deeper personal relationship with many NED members (most notably Mary and Zach), beyond the ken of usual political backslapping. Rudy was and is the genuine article, and NED threw its full support behind his first candidacy for Mayor.
Destiny’s hand may appear unpredictable, but its trajectory is inevitable. NED and Rudy lost that first campaign; yet our extremely strong showing in Rudy’s first campaign for Mayor surely set him up as the most likely candidate in the next campaign in 1993. Rudy and NED may have lost the campaign in 1989, but as in other periods of American history where the seed of the people’s will takes time to root and flower, so NED and Rudy remained resolute in defeat, and regrouped for a winning effort in 1993.
As Rudy’s leadership began to change the course of NYC, so did the membership of NED grow and change. Many people, inspired by the belief that politicians CAN make a difference, wanted to get involved and NED’s membership rolls grew dramatically. Moreover, NED’s list of successfully endorsed candidates grew. In 1998 Congressman Chuck Schumer backed by NED won his bid to unseat incumbent Senator Alfonse D’Amato. NED member and civic leader Marty Golden won a seat on the NY City Council and then to the NY State Senate. School Board President and NED member Dominic Recchia won a seat to the NY City Council.
We cannot fail to mention as the truest measure of NED's loyalty to the candidates it supports that after the loss in 1989, Mary and Zach hastily called together an improbable party for Rudy to celebrate our efforts and pledge our redoubled efforts in the years to come. Politics at core is about ideas and relationships, and NED has proven its commitment to both.
Impressive as was NED’s commitment and work during Rudy’s three campaigns and his two highly successful administrations, perhaps NEDs finest hour came amidst the grief and rubble of September 11, 2001. Six months before 9/11, NED committed its grass roots organization to electing Michael Bloomberg as Mayor. That was, to say the least, an unlikely selection at the time, ridiculed by local political clubs as “NED’s folly” – Mike was a virtual unknown in NYC, and other democratic candidates were 20 or more points ahead of him in head-to-head polls. The politically expedient course early in 2001 would clearly have been to jump in with a strong democratic contender, and ride those coattails to victory. But NED is not about political expediency; and NED – long before any other group in the City jumped on – threw its support and daily efforts behind Mike.
Then came 9/11, and the qualities that made Mike so appealing to NED from the outset – his business acumen, this concern for others, his ability to foster relationships unconnected to a political agenda – now became apparent to the rest of NYC. From a 20 point deficit in the days before 9/11, Mike and NED stormed the City, overtaking his democratic opponent in the final days of the race, and winning a close victory in the general election. That race, beyond any other race that NED has been involved in, highlights NED’s core: NEDs commitment to ideas and candidates will NEVER be compromised. Let the political clubs select their candidates based upon who is most likely to win and who will give them the most after the election; NED’s support is unconditional and, without our eyes on the polls or anticipated spoils, we simply support the candidate we believe can best lead our political institutions.