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7 pursue Brown's State Senate seat

Seven potential candidates to succeed Mayor-elect Byron W. Brown in the State Senate on Saturday made their case before Erie County Democrats, who also gave Buffalo attorney Leecia R. Eve a major boost by endorsing her campaign for lieutenant governor.

County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan is expected to play kingmaker for a special election in February or March to fill Brown's seat, and he indicated Saturday he expects the Executive Committee to ratify by mid-January what will essentially be his decision.

While most party sources expect Delaware Council Member Marc A. Coppola to receive the nod, Lenihan said Saturday he is committed to no one and cautioned that "anything can happen."

"We had several people make good presentations today," he said.

Besides Coppola, those addressing the committee Saturday were former mayoral candidate Kevin P. Gaughan, Ellicott Council Member Brian C. Davis, businessman Emin "Eddie" Egriu, Buffalo State College Professor Ellen T. Kennedy, former state Sen. Alfred T. Coppola and Board of Education Member Ralph R. Hernandez.

All listed their experience or political qualifications for the post, which will receive scrutiny from the voters again in the September Democratic primary. Even more candidates could get involved then, including Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana or Buffalo Community Services Commissioner Donald O. Allen.

Marc Coppola told Executive Committee members he should be considered because of the cooperative way the Common Council, which he serves as majority leader, has conducted its business in recent years.

"You don't see headlines about a bickering Council, and you don't have an obstructionist Council anymore," he said.

Gaughan made his plea based on his mayoral primary campaign, reminding Democratic leaders he won three Council districts included within the 50th Senate District.

Davis pointed to progress in his Ellicott District in recent years, while Egriu said his own immigrant experience will help him relate to district voters, and noted his role as a businessman who employs many inner-city residents.

Kennedy reminded party leaders of her almost successful campaign for Council member at-large in 1991, as well as her activist role as president of Citizen Action. Hernandez said his School Board background would make him a strong advocate for public education in the Senate, while Alfred Coppola pointed to his brief experience there in 2000 as well as his ability to work with Republicans, since he has run on the GOP line for the Senate seat in subsequent elections.

Meanwhile it proved a big day for Eve. A Buffalo attorney and daughter of former Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve, she received the backing of upstate New York's biggest Democratic organization as well as the endorsement of the powerful United Auto Workers union.

While Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer, the front-runner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, is expected to have much influence in determining the ticket's second spot, Eve now has new credibility and influence behind her effort.

"There will be no stronger advocate for our community in Albany," Eve told members of the Executive Committee of the Erie County Democratic Party before it granted its unanimous endorsement.

The Harvard Law School graduate and former counsel to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has been charting steady progress since launching her campaign earlier this year. Chautauqua County Democrats have also lent their support, as have top New York City figures such as former Mayor David N. Dinkins and Rep. Charles B. Rangel of Manhattan. The state's firefighter's union and the Buffalo Teachers Federation are also backing Eve.

Others expressing interest in the post are Dr. Jon Cohen and Assemblyman Thomas P. DiNapoli, both of Nassau County, and the 2002 candidate, Dennis Mehiel of Westchester County.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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