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SPITZER GEARING UP HIS CAMPAIGN

The attorney general of New York State, Eliot Spitzer, will be in our town Monday to go about his business and do all the things that attorneys general do.

He'll drop by his regional office on Court Street to greet his staff. He'll address a fund-raising group at Daemen College and probably talk about consumer fraud or his new efforts to keep tabs on the insurance industry.

But Spitzer visits Buffalo Monday no longer a mere mortal. Following Chuck Schumer's declaration earlier this month that he will remain in the Senate, Spitzer marches into Buffalo basking in the aura of presumptive Democratic candidate for governor in 2006.

It's his if he wants it. And every indication points to a campaign already under way.

Spitzer's visit this week cements a foundation he has been constructing for years. He has always maintained close ties to the local Democratic hierarchy through Chairman Len Lenihan and Steve Pigeon, his predecessor. Through aides like Ken Schoetz, head of his Buffalo office and part of former County Executive Dennis Gorski's political brain trust, Spitzer remains plugged into the local scene.

And because he is a serious student of New York politics, Spitzer knows that in order to become governor, he must win Erie County. It's an overwhelmingly Democratic bastion that the GOP often claims but that may be ready to "return home" following three straight votes for Republican George Pataki as governor.

As a result, Spitzer the candidate overshadows Spitzer the attorney general on his Monday visit. According to informed sources, he has slated several meetings with top party officials and labor leaders, all expected to play key roles in the upcoming campaign. He also will attend an evening fund raiser hosted by the area's top two Democrats -- Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz and Mayor Tony Masiello -- at the home of Tokasz's daughter.

Spitzer must feel confident already, especially after Masiello ranks as the first Democrat to come home following two successive elections of supporting a Republican for governor.

Lenihan and his fellow Dems feel good about Spitzer in '06. They see no Republican gearing up like Spitzer should Pataki make his third term his last, and they frankly don't seem concerned about the governor either, should he decide to run again.

And there is a sense of relief in Democratland. The hierarchy here is also close to Schumer, and the prospect of a divisive and expensive primary campaign between the state party's top two Dems loomed as gut wrenching. Now they see peace in our time, and the prospect of Spitzer as frequent visitor and friend of the local party.

A few political leftovers on this Thanksgiving weekend:

Watch for local Democrats to settle on a County Legislature replacement for Assemblyman-elect Mark Schroeder within the next two weeks, since the newcomer's vote will provide the majority margin.

The top three candidates for the appointment are seen by most sources as Tim Kennedy, Jeff Conrad and Lou Petrucci. But Paul Sullivan, who challenged Schroeder in the Assembly primary back in September, is expected to enter the 2005 Democratic primary for the legislative seat.

Chuck Eaton, a long-time confidante of Brian Higgins, is expected to be named soon as the congressman-elect's chief of staff. Sources also expected Megan Corbett and Chris Fahey to join Higgins, with Mike Hughes and campaign spokeswoman Suzanne Anziska mentioned as possible press secretaries.

Republican Chairman Bob Davis begins his duties as head of Pataki's national political action committee in December as he plans a plethora of presidential parties during inaugural festivities for President Bush. Davis will direct several major Pataki events in the capital, including a gala on Jan. 19, the night before inauguration.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com