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Former State Liberal Party Leader Ray Harding Dies At 77

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Ray Harding, the once-powerful state Liberal Party leader who was involved in a pay-to-play pension scandal, died Thursday morning at age 77. NY1's Courtney Gross filed the following report.

He is credited for helping launch the political career of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, standing behind him, literally and figuratively.

"He was someone that I really admired and someone that was very, very important to my getting elected mayor of New York City," Giuliani said.

But Ray Harding's life was not always a victory party. Once one of the last remaining relics of old-time party bosses, he was led out in handcuffs in his twilight.

Originally from Yugoslavia, Harding came to the United States as a World War II refugee. He took over the state's Liberal Party in the 1970s. Under his leadership, the party helped propel the political careers of both Mario Cuomo and Alan Hevesi.

But some of his closest allies ended up contributing to his downward spiral. After he helped elect Giuliani, Harding's two sons, Robert and Russell, were selected as top administration officials. Russell later resigned in disgrace and was convicted of embezzlement.

When Harding lent the party's name to Andrew Cuomo in 2002 to run for governor, he ended up losing the party's ballot line altogether after Cuomo dropped out of the race.

It was Cuomo who charged Harding for taking kickbacks from Hevesi, the former State Comptroller, in 2009. Harding made a plea deal with prosecutors and never served jail time.

For those closest to him, the last years of Harding's life do not taint the impression he made on New York politics.

"When you look at Ray Harding, the good clearly outweighed whatever mistakes he made," Giuliani said.

"In my many years as his protege, his partner, and his friend, I found him to be the most honorable and ethical person that I had met in many years in political life, and I don’t believe he believed he did anything wrong," former Deputy Mayor and Liberal Party official Fran Reiter said in a statement.

Ray Harding was 77 years old. Funeral services will be held on Sunday.

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