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Some time before Christmas, the state's most influential Democrats will gather in New York in an attempt to mutually decide who the party will back for battle against Gov. Pataki in 1998.

That's the plan, anyway. But we're talking Democrats here, and the word consensus has rarely entered that crew's vocabulary.

Still, Democrat watchers can expect the pace to pick up right after the '97 election with one of two developments: The state party will somehow settle on a consensus candidate, or a battle will ensue at the state Democratic convention next May with a bruising campaign and September primary.

Erie County Democratic Chairman Steve Pigeon returned from a Queens strategy session last week to report that the party will actually try to achieve such consensus. It means that barring loyalty to a hometown favorite, leaders of various factions of the party will try to settle on a candidate.

"Everyone will come in and then come out united, and I've signed off on that," the chairman said. "If we can't develop a consensus, we'll take a majority vote."

It's a tall order, but one that could happen with the blessing of the man now holding the title of Top Democrat -- Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver. The candidates are already wooing the Manhattan speaker in an effort to marshal his powerful Assembly political organization, which many recognize as the real -- and only -- Democratic statewide organization.

Whomever the speaker taps as the candidate for governor (assuming his own nebulous claims on the job never materialize), could then gather enough momentum to rally the party apparatus and secure the endorsement at the convention.

To be practical, the endorsement only prevents anyone else from automatically gaining access to the primary ballot. Any of the candidates worth their political sodium chloride can still gather enough signatures to qualify for the primary, and the guess here is that all have enough to pull that off.

But the scramble is very much on, even if it is now only in a behind-the-scenes mode. Brooklyn DA Joe Hynes -- very much in contention -- worked the Buffalo area on Wednesday in an effort to strengthen his already strong bid. He met with County Executive Gorski and several Democratic legislators to emphasize his claim that his crime-fighting background and Brooklyn roots represent the best weapon against an extremely strong Pataki.

And given that Hynes considers upstate to be the crucial statewide background -- with Erie County as the upstate linchpin -- it may indeed prove the kind of message chairmen like Pigeon and his upstate compatriots are yearning to hear.

Speaking of New York City politicians, the bet here is that Mayor Rudy Giuliani may start revisiting some of his upstate friends once the formality of his Nov. 4 re-election is dispensed with. The latest New York Post poll shows him beating Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger by a whopping 56 percent to 27 percent.

If that margin holds, some sources close to the mayor say he may be emboldened enough to start thinking about statewide office.

Giuliani may have harbored second thoughts about ever venturing beyond the Bronx again after his last upstate foray during the 1994 gubernatorial campaign to endorse Mario Cuomo's re-election effort. That move, say many political observers, may have helped seal Cuomo's upstate fate. The mayor of New York, they point out, doesn't exactly hold a lot of sway with upstaters.

But the Republican Giuliani has carved out a new image as the no-nonsense mayor, the kind of image that just may sell around these parts. Stay tuned.

Remember Tom Golisano, the millionaire Rochester businessman who ran as the Independence candidate for governor in 1994? Golisano was back in Buffalo a few days ago at the local Independence Party fund raiser that featured Lt. Governor Betsy Ross.

Golisano said he hasn't ruled out another run for the Executive Mansion following his $8 million effort last time.

And remember Legislator Greg Olma's blood feud with Democratic Headquarters and its leader, Chairman Steve Pigeon?

As political blood feuds often do, this one appears to be waning -- even after Pigeon's all-out bid to unseat Olma in the September Democratic primary.

"There's no reason to be carrying on with something," Olma said last week. "I think I settled it clearly by winning with such a large margin. Now I hope people will accept the victory and allow me to work with the party."

And Olma acknowledges he has an ulterior motive.

"I want to be chairman of the Legislature," he said. "And the best way to accomplish that will be to not go out there and immolate myself."

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