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TERROR-DELAYED PRIMARY AWAITS FINAL VOTE

Terrorists silenced politicians and candidates throughout New York State for two weeks.

But the politicos are resurrecting in time for primary elections Tuesday, one of the strongest signs yet that life is returning to near normal.

Even as the political pace resumes, however, no one connected with the process can predict the outcome after a two-week layoff.

"There's nothing to compare it to," said Joseph F. Crangle, who has seen just about everything over a long political career that has included stints as state and county Democratic chairman.

Gov. George E. Pataki halted the primary elections the morning of Sept. 11, shortly after terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, killing thousands. Elections officials rescheduled the primary for this Tuesday, and decreed that only absentee ballots submitted for the Sept. 11 contest will count.

Anyone who voted Sept. 11 must vote again for his vote to count.

Locally, contestants in major races suspended most campaign activity after signing a bipartisan pledge. As of Wednesday, however, the pledge allowed candidates to resume advertising oriented toward getting out the vote, or of a non-attack nature.

Still, most of the campaigns are limited because candidates budgeted for a Sept. 11 decision date, and most are left with empty campaign coffers.

It's all uncharted territory for the political experts.

"We don't know what to expect," said Erie County Republican Chairman Robert E. Davis.

In addition, it remains unclear who benefits from a two-week layoff. Republicans or Democrats? Incumbents or challengers? And what happens to campaigns designed to peak on Sept. 11, only to lie dormant for two weeks?

"Primaries normally have a light turnout anyway," said Crangle, the former Democratic chairman. "Another aspect is that you're dealing only with local candidates -- nobody you can identify with the Sept. 11 disaster. There's no Rudy Giuliani, or for that matter, a senator or congressman."

There's a flip side to that argument, too.

"Here's the real wild card: Is there a new sense of patriotism driving the vote?" asked Davis. "My gut feeling says there is. But the challenge is educating the voters that they have an election on Sept. 25."

Erie County's Democratic elections commissioner, Laurence F. Adamczyk, said weekend efforts to inform voters will prove effective. Phone banks and literature drops reminding voters of the new election may even double the expected turnout for Sept. 11.

"Before Sept. 11, I was saying turnout would be something like 20 percent," he said. "Now I think it might be more like 40 percent, because of the fact that more people will be aware of their right to vote."

In high-profile primaries such as Elise Swiantek Cusack's Republican challenge to incumbent William A. Pauly, slingers and mailings are expected to remind GOP voters of the new election date.

Legislator Gregory B. Olma, for example, has produced a new mailing featuring his baby daughter born on the last primary date -- Sept. 11 -- as he faces a Democratic primary challenge from attorney David Dale.

"I'm asking for people's support, but refraining from any negative attacks," Olma said. "I think this election will be much like the Buffalo School Board elections -- a group of dedicated people will make the difference."

Dale, who has advertised on television in a well-financed campaign, said he plans no more TV efforts. But he will urge voters to go to the polls in radio spots.

Other high-profile Democratic primaries include challenger Jack O'Donnell versus incumbent Albert DeBenedetti in the 6th District; challengers Gerhardt J. Yaskow and Joseph Giambra versus incumbent Judith P. Fisher in the 4th District; challenger Elissa M. Banas against incumbent Edward J. Kuwik in the 1st District; and Michael Darby, Robert J. Carr and John E. Hemphill against incumbent George A. Holt Jr. in the 3rd District.

A number of contests in key districts such as Ellicott, Fillmore, South and University will determine the balance of power on the Buffalo Common Council.

The low-key challenge of Council Member at Large Beverly A. Gray against incumbent Mayor Anthony M. Masiello also gives Gray a chance to extend her campaign. Willie Morris, Gray's campaign manager, said it has been "business as usual" for Gray as she continues to mobilize her base. Gray did not sign the pledge devised by Davis and his Democratic counterpart, G. Steven Pigeon.

"This pledge hurts individuals without high name recognition," he said. "And you don't put thousands of dollars into a campaign and then not campaign."

The suspended campaign has, however, produced some semblance of bipartisan cooperation as the new election date approaches. Besides the pledge of both party chairmen for a suspended local campaign, State Democratic Chairwoman Judith Hope and State Republican Chairman Alexander F. Treadwell issued a joint statement this week asking New Yorkers to reaffirm democracy by voting on Tuesday.

"The foundation of democracy is the right of each citizen to vote," the pair said. "On Primary Day, Tuesday, Sept. 25, we urge every New Yorker to vote and express our confidence in the future. What better way to come together than to exercise our most fundamental right to participate in our great democracy?"

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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