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Campaigners flock to Irish Center

Over the years, many places in the United States have earned official designation as sacrosanct political venues: the Capitol in Washington, the State Capitol in Albany and smoke-filled back rooms just about everywhere.

But on St. Patrick's Day, the Buffalo Irish Center may deserve a special entry all by itself, as, under the guise of the annual corned beef and cabbage luncheon, it turns into a political and governmental mecca.

Friday, politicians of all stripes and ethnic backgrounds joined traditional revelers in the unofficial kickoff of campaign season.

State Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer, the front-running Democratic candidate for governor, led the parade. Two candidates to succeed him -- former U.S. Attorney Denise E. O'Donnell of Buffalo and former Clinton administration official Sean P. Maloney of Manhattan -- joined him as he made the rounds.

Spitzer, who is Jewish, and Mayor Byron W. Brown, an African-American, addressed the hundreds assembled in the building's main hall.

"Byron and I were just comparing our Irish roots," Spitzer cracked.

But while the candidate remains wary of mentioning his Democratic primary opponent or any potential Republican candidate, he was quick later to tell reporters that he will do things differently if elected governor in November. He promised to consider removing tolls from the Niagara Thruway, and said he would review state authorities like one that operates the Thruway.

"Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs," he said when asked his top priority. "If I hear of any company that is interested in locating here, I will be on an airplane . . . to say what can we do to get you to locate here?"

But his approach to upstate New York sparked controversy Friday when Republicans said he stooped too low in describing the region as "Appalachia" earlier in the week. Ryan Moses, executive director of the State Republican Committee, called the remark a "mistake.

Spitzer, however, did not back off. He said he would approach upstate economic development far more aggressively than "Albany" now does.

"I'm a little baffled," he said. "Anybody who doesn't understand the despair in our economy doesn't understand the depths to which we have sunk."

"If they don't like the metaphor, OK, so be it," he added. "But I'll pick that fight any day."

Earlier in the day, O'Donnell campaigned in New York City, beginning with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's annual breakfast in Gracie Mansion. But she added she grabbed an early plane to make the luncheon in the Irish Center, which she said she considered a must on her agenda.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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