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Democratic leaders relish their victory

June O'Neill and David Pollack strolled into Erie County Democratic Headquarters in Ellicott Square Friday afternoon wearing smiles on their faces and optimism on their sleeves.

As the new chairwoman and co-chairman of the New York State Democratic Party, and after vanquishing just about every Republican in sight last month, they acknowledge it's a great time to be a Democrat.

"We want to capitalize on the energy, enthusiasm and excitement surrounding the Democratic Party at this moment and make it bigger and better," said O'Neill, the longtime head of St. Lawrence County Democrats.

The two new leaders of the party, hand-picked earlier this week by Gov.-elect Eliot L. Spitzer, offer a sharp contrast to the glum mood of state Republicans who gathered in Albany to elect new leaders last week.

O'Neill and Pollack came to town Friday to meet with Democratic leaders from throughout Western New York and emphasize that with a 2.4 million voter edge, they must work to not only solidify their gains but permanently color New York as a blue state.

"We can't be lured into any false sense of security," Pollack said. "We may be in the days of wine and roses, but as everyone in politics knows, things change."

O'Neill, 60, was a surprise choice to lead state Democrats after longtime Chairman Herman D. Farrell of Manhattan announced after last month's election that he would step down. She has worked for former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, former Comptroller H. Carl McCall and Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi, and brings an upstate flavor to Spitzer's New York City-dominated leadership team.

Pollack, 42, works for Swiss bank UBS and is a founder of the Democratic Leadership Council of the 21st Century, one of the many New York City political clubs that traditionally groom new party leaders.

Both are longtime associates of the new governor, and they are enthusiastic about working for him. But they are also expected to be key players in the burgeoning presidential candidacy of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On that score, both say they will work to land the 2008 Democratic National Convention for New York City, which is competing with Denver to host the meeting.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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