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SPITZER PREPARING FOR '06

Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer paid his first visit to Buffalo on Monday as the presumed Democratic candidate for governor in 2006, promising to detail on Dec. 8 or 9 what aides say will be his "intention to run."

"Probably in the very near future, I will let you folks know what I will be doing," Spitzer told The Buffalo News during his daylong visit. "I'm very close to the decision-making point."

It was clear, however, that aside from myriad official duties in Buffalo on Monday, Spitzer was very much in preparation mode for 2006. He was guest of honor at a high-end fund-raising event sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Paul A. Tokasz of Cheektowaga and Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, and met with six party leaders from outlying counties, as well as with local union officials in a conference hosted by Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan.

Spitzer said that after Sen. Charles E. Schumer's decision earlier this month to remain in Washington, he understands that most party leaders are settling on him as their 2006 candidate for governor. But he also said he wants to continue his duties as attorney general for the two years remaining in his term.

He said that running for governor is beginning to become more and more part of his daily conversation.

"Frankly, I'm in a position where I'm not yet thinking about the mechanics of a race," he said. "You begin to think, first and foremost, about answering important questions facing the state. You start thinking about having the capability, intellectually and otherwise, to take on these issues."

In recent months, Spitzer has continually hinted about launching a campaign based on reforming a state government that presides over loss of population and business, especially upstate.

"The word I use is 'accountability,' " he said. "It is such an overarching theme about so much of what needs to be done.

"The question is: How are we in government fulfilling our mission? The trajectory we're on now is not the one we want to stay on. If you look at other states facing the same situation, they have managed to turn the corner."

Meanwhile, a statewide poll released Monday from Zogby International showed Spitzer favored for governor by 44 percent of likely voters, compared with 41 percent for Gov. George E. Pataki.

The telephone poll of 613 likely voters was conducted Nov. 16-17 and has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

News wire services contributed to this report.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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