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Sun, 18 Feb 2007

Why Wait for ’08? Democrats’ Fight to Take Over State Senate Is in Full Swing - New York Times

Why Wait for ’08? Democrats’ Fight to Take Over State Senate Is in Full Swing
By DANNY HAKIM
February 18, 2007

Escalating their turf battle with Republicans, Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s political advisers have begun courting candidates to run against more than half a dozen Republican senators in 2008 as part of an aggressive strategy to win back the chamber for the first time in more than four decades, people involved in the effort said.
Their short list includes names like Tim Green, the former N.F.L. player, lawyer, best-selling author and Syracuse-area Republican who is being courted to switch parties. The governor’s advisers have also reached out to the Nassau County executive, Thomas R. Suozzi, who has mended fences with the governor since challenging him in a primary and who is being recruited to challenge Senator Carl L. Marcellino of Long Island.
Democrats have been emboldened by a recent victory in a special election for a Nassau County Senate seat and the governor and his aides are confident they can win the two seats they need to recapture the Senate. Their preference, though, would be to win the Senate even earlier, and by moving to recruit candidates, they are continuing to try to coax some Republican senators into switching parties to keep their seats.
There is also speculation that the governor is trying to lure incumbent senators into taking unfilled jobs in the executive branch, which would force early elections to fill their seats.
The Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno, has dismissed the notion that Republicans may lose the majority, but all sides are mindful that the governor’s popularity, and President Bush’s unpopularity, have reshaped the political dynamic in the state in favor of the Democrats. And Mr. Spitzer’s heavy involvement in the recent Nassau County Senate election, in which a Democrat took a Republican seat, demonstrated his willingness to put his name, money and organization into a local race.
’’He’s a 3,200-pound gorilla; he’s four times the 800-pound gorilla,’’ said Richard Dollinger, a town court judge and former Democratic state senator in the Rochester area.
Brian Stratton, Schenectady’s Democratic mayor, who is seen as a possible challenger for Senator Hugh T. Farley, a Republican, said, ’’All I can tell you is I’ve had some conversations.’’ Mr. Stratton ran unsuccessfully against Mr. Farley in 2000, but feels much has changed since then.
’’Governor Pataki and Senate Majority Leader Bruno were both supporting Senator Farley very publicly,’’ Mr. Stratton said. ’’To have an incumbent governor who is extremely supportive of me or any other candidate would be a tremendous asset.’’
In Syracuse, the governor’s advisers, who spoke only the on condition of anonymity, are hoping that Mr. Green will switch to the Democratic Party and challenge the incumbent senator, John A. DeFrancisco.
Mr. Green, who played football for Syracuse University and the Atlanta Falcons, said he was impressed by the hard line the governor is taking with the Legislature and likened Mr. Spitzer to his former college coach.
’’He reminds me a lot of Coach Dick MacPherson, who turned the Syracuse University program around,’’ Mr. Green said, adding that the governor ’’has the same energy, determination and character that Coach Mac had.’’
Mr. Green considered challenging Mr. DeFrancisco in the Republican primary in the last election.
In a telephone interview, he said he would not rule out a party switch. ’’I’m a fan of the governor and his reform agenda no matter what party I’m in,’’ he said.
Other candidates being wooed or on the radar of Mr. Spitzer’s political operation, according to people with knowledge of their plans, include two New York City councilmen: Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., who is being recruited to oppose Senator Serphin R. Maltese of Queens; and James F. Gennaro, who is being recruited to run against Senator Frank Padavan, also of Queens.
A Nassau County legislator, Kevan Abrahams, is seen as a potential candidate to run against Senator Kemp Hannon. And in Rochester, two potential candidates are seen as potential opponents against Senator Joseph E. Robach: Wade Norwood, a former city councilman, and Mr. Dollinger, who said he had not thought about running again for the Senate.
Mr. Addabbo decided not to challenge Mr. Maltese last year, but is reconsidering for 2008 after discussions with the governor’s advisers, calling Mr. Spitzer ’’an incredible resource.’’
The governor’s aides have also reached out to Mr. Suozzi.
Bruce Nyman, a former county legislator who is now Mr. Suozzi’s communications director, said Mr. Suozzi was considering leading a challenge of four Long Island Republican senators on a joint ticket that would include Mr. Nyman and two current Democratic legislators.
’’It would sure be a lot of fun,’’ Mr. Nyman said. ’’It would be like the Crusades. Hopefully no one would get killed.’’
Republicans face a demographic challenge in the Senate, their last statewide power base, because many of their members are well past the traditional retirement age. Republicans have a strong fund-raising machine, and there is more than a year and a half before the next election. They also have a potentially strong New York presidential candidate in Rudolph W. Giuliani, as do the Democrats in Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But the governor is eagerly waging an unusually public battle for the chamber. Already, he hired a popular Republican senator, Michael A. L. Balboni, as his top homeland security aide, then vigorously campaigned for Democratic county legislator, Craig Johnson, who won the Senate seat in a costly and bruising special election. Democrats can control the 62-member chamber by capturing two more seats.
’’I was told by Senator Bruno and others it violates the rules of etiquette to get involved in Senate races,’’ the governor said last week, adding, ’’I’m not going to worry about challenging those rules of etiquette when I think the public interest demands it.’’
Mr. Bruno has publicly veered between irritation and conciliation, calling on the governor ’’to govern’’ as opposed to campaign, calling him ’’a bully’’ and accusing him of ’’running around having a tantrum,’’ but relented by presenting him with a bouquet of roses on Valentine’s Day.


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