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Two Buffalo-born candidates join crowded attorney general field

NEW YORK – A Buffalo native on Tuesday announced his campaign for the Republican Party bid for state attorney general while another Buffalonian was scrambling to push her own Democratic candidacy, just as both parties were gathering for their state conventions at two downstate locations.

Keith H. Wofford, the co-managing partner at the Manhattan office of an international law firm, immediately sought to portray himself as a political outsider poised to tackle government corruption.

And Leecia R. Eve, the Buffalo native and current Harlem resident with extensive political contacts throughout the state, was attempting to qualify for the September primary ballot at the Democratic State Convention at Hofstra University on Long Island.

Eve said late Tuesday she does not know if she will gain the 25 percent of the convention vote needed to automatically qualify for the primary ballot. But she arrived at Hofstra with the backing of Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner's organization and that of at least six other Western New York counties for a vote expected Wednesday.

Eve is stressing her extensive legal background as a law clerk on the Court of Appeals, as a partner in the Buffalo law firm of Hodgson Russ, counsel posts to Sens. Joseph R. Biden and Hillary Clinton – who is speaking at Wednesday's opening session of the convention – as a top state economic development official and now Verizon executive.

And she promised to continue the attorney general post as a bulwark against the Trump administration.

"We have a person in the White House who is fundamentally assaulting our state and federal constitutions," Eve said, "and it is the obligation of the attorney general of the State of New York to protect the rights of New Yorkers, our organizations and our natural resources."

The timing of Wofford's announcement so close to the start of the GOP convention in Manhattan, which gets underway Wednesday morning and ends with the attorney general nomination on Thursday, would seem to suggest a confidence that delegates are going to embrace his candidacy.

“We have the most corrupt state government, the highest taxes and worst business climate in the nation. We cannot afford to elect another career politician who will only use this office to further their own political ambitions rather than serve the interests of the people of this great state,’’ Wofford said in announcing his bid.

Wofford’s move came a day after John P. Cahill, a former top official in the administration of former Republican Gov. George E. Pataki, announced he would not run for the office.

With money and the right candidate, Republicans have pointed to the Attorney General’s Office as a possible place for GOP victory in a state where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by more than two to one. A number of Democrats are eyeing bids after former Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, a Democrat, recently stepped down following sexual abuse allegations against him. On Tuesday afternoon, a day before Democrats were to start their party’s nominating convention on Long Island, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo endorsed New York City Public Advocate Letitia A. James for attorney general.

The mix includes Zephyr Teachout, a 2014 gubernatorial primary candidate; Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, Rep. Kathleen Rice of Nassau County and others. And though many consider James the favorite, Eve said she will continue her candidacy even if she has to petition her way onto the ballot.

"I will be on the ballot on Thursday, Sept. 13," Eve said.

Wofford, 49, is co-managing partner at Ropes & Gray, a multifaceted law firm with 320 lawyers in its Manhattan office. The company’s website states that he concentrates on bankruptcy and creditors’ rights legal matters and says he “primarily acts on behalf of investment funds specializing in distressed debt, and potential acquirers of assets and distressed companies.’’ Cases he has worked on included Enron Corp. and Bethlehem Steel Corp. The firm says he had been a senior securitization analyst at Moody’s Corp. before joining Ropes & Gray.

Wofford was raised on the East Side of Buffalo on Winslow Avenue and still has family in the area. He went to City Honors School from fifth to 12 grade and has an undergraduate and law degree from Harvard University. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children.

Political contributions to state and local officeholders have been few, and have cut across party lines. He donated $15,000 to the state Republican Party in 2016. Over several years, he also gave $21,000 to Ken Thompson, a Democrat, who was the first African-American district attorney of Brooklyn before he died of cancer in 2016. In 2013, he gave $350 to Democrat Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York; a campaign spokesman said Wofford went to the de Blasio fundraising event at the request of a law school roommate.

Prior to Wofford’s announcement, Manny Alicandro, an attorney in New York City, expressed confidence about winning the GOP nomination for attorney general. “Nothing has happened since I began this mission has changed the fact that Albany’s culture of corruption is hurting New Yorkers, so I am looking forward to seeking and accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for Attorney General at the convention this week and, if required to run a primary campaign, I am prepared to do so,’’ Alicandro said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

Also seeking the GOP nomination is former Pataki adviser Joseph Holland, whose campaign Tuesday said it has secured the backing of 16 GOP county leaders, along with Rockland County Attorney Thomas Humbach.

Eve is the daughter of former Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve.

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