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Edwards leads race for funds in WNY

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani may lead the polls, but former Sen. John Edwards is pulling more money from the wallets of Western New Yorkers than any other presidential candidate.

Thanks largely to $78,800 from local lawyers, Edwards raked in $124,375 from Erie and Niagara counties in the first three months of the year, federal records show. That's more than the two New Yorkers, Clinton and Giuliani, raised combined.

Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, raised $57,535, while Giuliani, who tops the Republican polls, took in $34,050.

The bounty of Edwards, the North Carolina Democrat, parallels the success he found locally during his first presidential campaign four years ago, when he consistently outraised every other candidate in Western New York.

Both then and now, Edwards, a millionaire trial lawyer before his 1998 election to the Senate, found kindred spirits in Buffalo's legal community to help him pull in bigbucks. He has traveled to the region upwards of a dozen times, most recently in January, and that meant he was able to win contributions from 58 local lawyers in the first quarter.

"He has strong support in Western New York," said John Feroleto, one of the lawyers who is spearheading the local Edwards fundraising effort.

"He's a sincere person, and that resonates here. He comes from a working-class background and is in touch with regular everyday folks," said Feroleto, who gave Edwards $4,600.

Edwards is also in touch with plenty of local lawyers like Feroleto, including several who have actively campaigned for Edwards in the past.

In fact, his donor list looks like a who's who of the local legal profession, boasting well-known names such as Richard Barnes ($2,100), Terrance Connors ($1,000) and former U.S. Attorney Denise O'Donnell ($500).

"It's not just because we're lawyers," said Michael Doran, an Amherst attorney who gave Edwards $2,100. "He's a very strong candidate. . . . His character and his position on all the major issues are very appealing."

In addition, Edwards pulled in $45,575 from nonlawyers in Western New York, which, Feroleto noted, is not that much less than what Clinton raised.

However, much of that money appeared to come either from people who were married to lawyers or who were successful in business.

Local developer Michael Joseph gave Edwards $1,000. Jeremy Jacobs, chairman and chief executive officer of Delaware North Cos., gave Edwards $2,000 while also sending $1,000 to a top Republican candidate, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.

Clinton, meanwhile, pulled in $57,535, apparently without much effort. Former Erie County Democratic Chairman Steven Pigeon, a top Clinton fundraiser, said he has mostly focused his efforts in other parts of the country so far.

"Eventually we'll be tapping into the local Democratic base," Pigeon said.

So far, Clinton received the maximum donation of $4,600 from M&T Bank Chairman Robert Wilmers, Nano Dynamics Chairman Keith Blakely and Guy Gane, Watermark Finance Services Group chairman.

On the Republican side, Giuliani far outstripped the efforts of all the other candidates, thanks largely to Buffalo businessman Anthony Gioia, who started his own local fundraising push for the former New York mayor.

"I'm very excited by his candidacy, and I'm involved because I think he'd be the best person to be president of the United States," said Gioia, a longtime Republican fundraiser who served as ambassador to Malta during President Bush's first term.

Gioia gave $4,600 to Giuliani, as did local businessman Mark Hamister.

None of the other presidential campaigns have begun major fundraising efforts in Western New York. Romney garnered $5,050 from five local donors, while Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., pulled in $3,250 from five local contributors.

email: jzremski@buffnews.com.

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