2007-02-21 / Political Page

Spitzer Shaking Up Local Senate Races

A Democratic victory in a special election on Long Island reduced the Republican majority in the state senate to two members, and Governor Eliot Spitzer is now reportedly continuing his assault on the only GOP bastion in Albany with hopes of gaining control through a Democratic majority.

Spitzer engineered the whole episode, first appointing a Republican senator from Long Island to his administration to create a vacancy which set up the special election earlier this month.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was quite miffed by the new governor's brash invasion of his turf. He's surely not going to take it sitting down so we can expect this warfare to continue, possibly up through next year's legislative elections if Spitzer sticks to his senate takeover plan.

In fact, the popular governor, who ignited his ascent to the governor's mansion in Albany with a long, powerful campaign against several Wall Street titans and the investment industry, appears to have another long-range plan in place to give Democrats control over the senate.

Spitzer operatives reportedly have made efforts to try to convince incumbent GOP senators to switch to Democrats. Other reports have the governor toying with the idea of appointing another Republican incumbent to a post in his administration, thereby setting up another special election in which the governor would repeat his campaign role which helped elect the Democratic candidate.

However, the grandest plan being pursued by the governor is to win a net two or three seats in the 2008 senate elections to give Democrats control of the senate for the first time in half a century.

According to a New York Times report last week, Spitzer's strategists are targeting about

seven Republican incumbent senators,

including Senator Frank Padavan

(R- C, Bellerose) and Senator

Serphin Maltese (R- C, Middle

Village).

Padavan, who has held his

Northeast Queens seat for more than

30 years, would be challenged by City

Councilmember James Gennaro (D- Fresh Meadows). Queens Democrats have plotted Padavan's demise in the last several elections, but the popular lawmaker has turned back his opponents easily and discouraged others from taking him on.

Of course, a candidate getting strong support from a vibrant and popular governor and probably a well-financed campaign could make things more difficult for Padavan, but his defeat would still be a tough undertaking.

As for Maltese, the renewed talk of a powerful public official backing a Democratic candidate against him is old stuff.

Last year at about this time, political aides of Mayor Michael Bloomberg were circulating stories that the mayor was ready to back Councilmember Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D- Ozone Park) against Maltese in last November's election.

Reportedly, the mayor felt that Maltese was not sufficiently supportive of the mayor's multibillion dollar school funding plan.

The report of a Maltese challenge was enough to get Bruno's attention, and subsequently a school funding package in last year's budget met with Bloomberg's demands and was passed, with Bruno joining other Albany leaders to get it approved.

Once again, Maltese is reportedly targeted by Spitzer, and once again Addabbo is the prospective candidate to challenge the long-term incumbent.

Things could be different this time, however, as far as Addabbo agreeing to run against Maltese. When the senate elections roll around in November 2008, Addabbo will be a year away from being out of a job because of term limits. He might then be more amenable to becoming a candidate backed by the governor.

Also, there's not too much of a chance that Spitzer will have achieved his objective of a senate takeover by late next year, so he'll probably be looking toward the elections at that time to deliver his knockout blows.

Maltese just quit his post as Queens Republican Party leader to devote more time to his senate constituency. His successor, Philip Ragusa, said that he planned a thorough party rebuilding effort and voter registration drives. Sounds like they're getting ready for a challenge.

CROWLEY NAMED TO PANEL OVERSEEING IRAQ WAR: Congressmember Joseph Crowley, who already has some choice committee assignments, has just picked up another- membership on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The panel provides oversight on the Iraq War and also has input on U.S. policy to reign in Iranian and North Korean plans to develop nuclear weapon capability. Crowley (D- Queens/The Bronx), the Queens Democratic Party chairman, said he was honored to be appointed to a committee that is critical in guiding U.S. foreign policy.

Crowley, a Chief Democratic Whip in the House Democratic leadership, also has a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. He had to obtain official permission from the Democratic Steering Committee to join the Foreign Affairs Committee because he was already a member of the Ways and Means Committee. His new assignment further affirms his established position in the Democratic leadership.

COMPTROLLER FRACAS BRINGS PROPOSAL FOR CHANGE FROM MALTESE: The recent brawl that erupted between Spitzer and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver over electing a replacement for Alan Hevesi as state comptroller elicited a proposal from Maltese to change the way replacements are selected.

Maltese proposes that, rather than have a vote of the state legislature sitting as a single body, the replacement should be chosen by a statewide election, placing the choice in the hands of the state's voters.

Filling a comptroller vacancy, according to Maltese's proposal, would require an amendment to the state constitution. Maltese stated, "Our system of government is a democracy and we should fill vacancies based on that system. These two bills to amend the [state] constitution will give the people the choice over who should represent them and that is true reform."

RETALIATION: Spitzer's aggressive and pugnacious attitude toward senate Republicans has fueled speculation that the governor's nomination of Assemblymember Alexander "Pete" Grannis (D- Manhattan) as the Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner might face tough sledding securing Senate approval.

Grannis has established himself as a strong environmentalist, and conservative organization's and top Republican lawmakers have indicated that he may not pass their tests to hold the post of environmental watchdog.

CLOSE LOOPHOLE, SAYS GIANARIS: A reputed Bloods gang member, found with bogus federal Drug Enforcement Administration badges as well as several guns, including one stolen from a city police officer, was not charged with a felony for impersonating a federal officer. All he was charged with was a misdemeanor.

An outraged Assemblymember Michael Gianaris (D- Astoria), angry at this miscarriage of justice, declared. "There should be no difference in penalties for impersonating a cop or another officer." Gianaris is now supporting legislation to close the loophole.

Besides the misdemeanor charge for the impersonation offense, the gang member was also charged with weapons possession, burglary and conspiracy.

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