Major Parties to Anoint their Senate Combatants
By Marc Humbert, Associated Press
(View the article online at Newsday.com)
May 15, 2004
ALBANY, N.Y. -- This week, the leaders of the state's major political parties will anoint their combatants for this year's U.S. Senate campaign.
In the Democratic corner is the reigning champion, incumbent Charles Schumer, who comes into the bout with clear advantages.
In the Republican corner, at least for the moment, sits Howard Mills, a little-known state Assembly member whose three-legged stool appears to already be missing a leg.
The State Democratic Committee will start its two-day designating meeting Monday in New York City, where enrolled Democrats outnumber Republicans, 5-1.
On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle will speak, as will Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Schumer. The official nominating session for Schumer will be held Tuesday. At the moment, he is unopposed for the party's nomination.
The Republican State Committee begins its two-day convention Tuesday in Syracuse, in the heart of upstate New York, the traditional GOP stronghold that has, however, been voting increasingly Democratic in recent years.
On Tuesday evening, the GOP leaders will be welcomed into town by former Syracuse University All-American Tim Green, a defensive lineman who went on to play with the Atlanta Falcons and who is now a lawyer, author and sports commentator. They will also hear from Bill Harris, the man in charge of staging the Republican National Convention in New York City, and from Gov. George Pataki.
Mills, the Assembly's deputy minority leader, will be nominated Wednesday morning.
But Mills, from suburban Orange County, is facing a rocky road.
As Republicans arrive in Syracuse, a former Wall Street trader, Michael Benjamin, will be on hand to greet them.
Benjamin, who is probably even less well known than Mills, is also seeking the GOP Senate nomination and claims Republican leaders, primarily Pataki and state GOP Chairman Alexander Treadwell, are trying to shut him out in favor of Mills.
While Benjamin had planned to stage a protest rally outside, claiming GOP leaders wouldn't let him speak at the state convention, that dispute was worked out Friday and Benjamin suspended his rally plans after being told he could speak at the gathering.
But Benjamin appears to be the least of Mills' worries.
Another Republican, Dr. Marilyn O'Grady, a Long Island ophthalmologist, has announced her candidacy for the Senate nomination of the state Conservative Party and has the backing of its state chairman, Michael Long.
And that brings up that missing leg on the stool. No Republican candidate running for statewide office in New York has won without Conservative Party support since 1974.
While Long is a Pataki political ally, the Conservative Party chairman thinks Mills is too liberal given his support for abortion rights and civil unions for gays.
O'Grady, who says she solidly supports the Conservative Party platform, said she has no plans to seek the GOP Senate nomination. Benjamin, however, has not ruled out trying to qualify for a September primary challenge to Mills.
Also seeking the GOP Senate nomination is New York City real estate developer Abe Hirschfeld, a perennial candidate who recently served time in prison for trying to have a business partner killed. Hirschfeld has not been invited to the GOP gathering.
Democrat Schumer, seeking a second six-year term, is waiting in the wings.
A statewide poll last month from Quinnipiac University's Polling Institute had Schumer's approval rating at 61 percent and showed him beating Mills 63 percent to 18 percent.
A second statewide poll out later in April, this one from Marist College's Institute for Public Opinion, had the Democratic incumbent's approval rating at 54 percent. Schumer led Mills 72 percent to 17 percent. Schumer has raised $20 million for his re-election race, more than any senator seeking re-election this year, and there are 5 million Democrats in New York state to 3 million Republicans.