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IF NOTHING ELSE, THESE DEMS HAVE CREDENTIALS

When political reporters from around New York quizzed state Democratic Chairwoman Judith Hope last week about the "B Division" gubernatorial candidates parading through the state Democratic Committee parley at the Rye Town Hilton, you could feel the miffed answer coming.

"I think they are all A-Team candidates," she retorted. "It's the media who's been colluding to trivialize the candidates. You're going to see they are superbly qualified with a strong vision for the future. And you've got to keep an open mind."

The petite chairwoman from Suffolk County may have a point. None of the gubernatorial wannabes can stake a claim on star status, but each have stellar resumes packed with accomplishment. And though the Democratic nominee will face almost insurmountable odds in Gov. Pataki's incumbency and his campaign millions, the candidate will be no Pierre Rinfret.

Take Richard Kahan, the former Urban Development Corp. head under Gov. Carey who may present the most visionary ideas of all the contenders. He calls himself a "builder," a kind of Robert Moses of his time. He talks about rebuilding roads and bridges, upgrading airports, ports and mass transit systems. It's the proper role of government to keep and attract business, Kahan says.

Or Jim Larocca, the former transportation commissioner and head of the Long Island Association. He has already assembled a slick campaign team that's active all over the state. Yes, he says, he's in favor of tax cuts. But the ones he talks about will benefit the middle class, and not the rich.

Then there's Charles "Joe" Hynes, the Brooklyn DA. He's been in the thick of some of the most celebrated prosecutions in the United States, and amassed a network of friends throughout the state -- even in places where Brooklyn is viewed as some foreign country.

He thinks his crime-fighter image steals that issue from Pataki four years after riding the death penalty issue to victory.

And Peter Vallone, the speaker of the New York City Council, a salt-of-the-earth Queens guy who attends daily Mass and presides over the legislative branch of the nation's largest city. You'll hear a lot from him about being a Democrat -- in a state with a more than 1 million Democrat plurality.

But those credible people (which may also include Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver and Congressman Maurice Hinchey) face a governor who will be snipping ribbons on popular state projects for the next 13 months, one who will probably have $20 million to spend, and the power of his experienced GOP machine behind him. That's why the real Democratic heavyweights skipped the candidate parade in Rye Brook last week, and that's why whoever survives the final cut can only hope that Pierre Rinfret's fate does not await them too.

Now coming to a New York State city somewhere near you: Alec Baldwin in "The Great Democratic Fund Raiser."

That might be the title of the screen actor's latest work after promising at Monday's meeting of the state Democratic Committee that he will prove a tireless campaigner and fund-raiser for New York Democrats next year.

"In my spare time I'm going to go to as many parts of the state as I can to raise money," Baldwin said at the Monday meeting.

Environment was the main topic of an address to the committee by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of the late senator and one of the nation's top environmental lawyers.

Kennedy delivered a stinging attack against Republican environmental policies, but told reporters before his speech that Gov. Pataki has earned high environmental marks -- at least with him.

"Of all the governors in the country, I think he's been the one who understands the importance of these issues to the electorate," Kennedy said, adding he would not campaign against the governor next fall.

Kennedy said he is not planning any runs for political office, despite the fact his name was mentioned earlier this year as a potential D'Amato opponent. Still, it was clear the state party would like to see him on their ticket some day.

Buffalo's Sen. Anthony Nanula, who would like to land on the statewide ticket, was a no-show at Monday's meeting after taking ill over the weekend. But the senator still wants to be a statewide Democratic figure, featuring Comptroller Carl McCall here on Oct. 23 for the next meeting of the Nanula Leadership Council -- a new group of Nanula fans charging $500 or $1,000 for its membership card.

Besides Nanula, however, two other New York Dems are actively campaigning for the Number Two spot. Plattsburgh Mayor Clyde Rabideau and New York City attorney Charlie King both made their rounds in Westchester last week.

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