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Schneiderman exit spices up Democrat, GOP state conventions

New York’s Democrats and Republicans will descend upon two downstate venues Wednesday and Thursday, and thanks to former state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s sudden departure from the scene, these party conventions will prove anything but staid.

Also credit Cynthia Nixon, who is giving Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo fits in her intraparty challenge to the Democratic incumbent while also injecting an optimistic buzz into the GOP for the first time in years. Republicans think the actress-activist may beat up the incumbent enough in the primary to make their candidate – Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro – more than competitive come November.

All of this plays out at Hofstra University on Long Island for the Democrats and the Sheraton Towers Hotel in Manhattan for the Republicans during conventions that officially kick off the contest for governor. At least some of the “down ballot” considerations for lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general also promise to command the delegates’ attention.

That includes smooth sailing now guaranteed for Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul on the Democratic ticket after Cuomo forces a month ago attempted to dump her and insert her into the race against Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence. And on the GOP ticket, Molinaro over the weekend named Julie Killian of Westchester County as his running mate.

Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, who is also the state Democratic chairman, said the attorney general vacancy created by Schneiderman’s May 9 resignation is touching off a scramble among potential successors seeking 25 percent of the convention vote to qualify for the September primary ballot.

“I’m not quite sure how many will vie for the endorsement,” he said, “but I assume there will be multiple candidates who will certainly make the process much more dynamic and interesting.”

Brown’s Republican counterpart, Edward F. Cox, will capitalize during the convention and throughout the campaign on Schneiderman’s resignation following allegations of physically abusing women, as well as corruption charges touching Cuomo’s inner circle.  He points to the March conviction of Cuomo confidant Joseph Percoco and the June 11 “Buffalo Billion” trial alleging bid rigging in the governor’s signature economic development program.

“When you’ve got the ‘third brother’ in the Cuomo family convicted and another trial coming up going right into Cuomo’s office with respect to the Buffalo Billion,” Cox said, “corruption will be a very major issue. A fish rots from the head first.”

For Democrats convening at Hofstra, Nixon is certain to command the center of attention, even though Cuomo is guaranteed the convention’s support and his forces may seek to prevent her from even competing. She announced Monday she will “attend” the meeting and ask state committee members to “discuss” her candidacy, but her campaign refuses to say whether she will try to have her name placed in nomination.

“I don’t know what she might do or how she might do it,” Brown said. “I have no clue.”

But Nixon’s mere presence is expected to spark a media sensation as she capitalizes on her own “Sex and the City” celebrity while attacking from the left. She has already secured the left-leaning Working Families Party nod by claiming Cuomo has not done enough for poor people or education.

“The governor and his allies have bullied progressive community groups and rallied the full force of the big money establishment because they know he doesn’t have any progressive credentials to stand on,” she said Monday. “But I won’t be scared out of the room. New Yorkers deserve a choice.”

Though she can still decline the Working Families nomination later, her presence at this point on the November general election ballot could siphon significant Democratic votes normally headed to Cuomo. In turn, that could strengthen Molinaro’s Republican effort.

But the governor is also expected to demonstrate on Long Island his powerful command of the state Democratic apparatus. Most party organizations remain loyal, and he will continue to trot out influential endorsements such as the one expected soon from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will give the keynote speech on Wednesday.

Brown thinks the GOP “corruption” message will gain little traction.

“It would be very unfortunate if the governor is judged on any of those things and not on his exceptional record,” he said. “I think New York State voters are very smart and intelligent and know what their governor has accomplished and it will not be a very difficult election for him.”

Cox has other plans. During the convention, he is expected to ask his party to gaze 380 miles northwest and to the indictments stemming from Cuomo’s $750 million solar panel production facility that promised to create 1,500 jobs.

He will also underscore the resignations in disgrace of top Democrats like former Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer and former Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi in the last decade (though probably not that of Dean G. Skelos, the former Republican majority leader of the Senate), and say it’s time for a change.

“That just shows something is basically wrong in this state with Democrats,” Cox said. “The corruption of Schneiderman simply carries that one step further.”

Schneiderman’s resignation, meanwhile, has touched off a stampede of potential successors, especially on the Democratic side where as many as 10 people have expressed interest in a powerful post from which two recent occupants became governor.

Letitia “Tish” James, who holds the second highest post in New York City government as public advocate, is emerging as one of the most talked about contenders. As a black woman with significant name recognition especially in vote-rich New York City, she is gaining more and more backing – including from Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Monday.

But other big names are entering the mix, including former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has been hinting at an independent run but remains a Democrat who could compete in the primary. Over the weekend he snared the Reform Party endorsement (as did Molinaro for governor).

Another prominent competitor is Leecia R. Eve, the Buffalo native and Harlem resident who has held top staff positions in the U.S. Senate and state government, who also maintains considerable contacts throughout the party, some dating to those established by her father – former Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve. She is now expected to compete for the nomination at the convention.

"She is going to the convention and will make her case for the 25 percent," said a source close to the campaign.

Others include state Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, Rep. Kathleen Rice of Nassau County (who finished second in the 2010 Democratic primary for attorney general), 2014 gubernatorial primary candidate Zephyr Teachout and Alphonso David, counsel to the governor.

On the Republican side, Cox said Buffalo native and Manhattan attorney Keith Wofford is also gaining strong consideration. Cox considered John P. Cahill to be the front runner until he announced Monday evening that he wouldn't be seeking the nomination. Cahill is the former state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner and a close associate of former Gov. George E. Pataki who was the GOP candidate for attorney general in 2014.

Of all the candidates seeking nominations this week, Democratic incumbent Thomas P. DiNapoli looms as the only shoo-in as he seeks a third term as comptroller. No Democrat is challenging him.

A registered Democrat, however, is seeking the GOP nod. Jonathan Trichter, a financial analyst and close associate of 2010 Republican comptroller candidate Harry Wilson, is making a strong pitch.

But some influential chairmen like Thomas V. Dadey Jr. of Onondaga County are questioning why the party would turn to a Democrat. That could open the door for former Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra, who failed in his bids to gain the GOP and Reform nominations for governor, and is now expressing interest in comptroller. He is stressing his nine years as Buffalo comptroller and seeks to use the post as a “bully pulpit” for his regionalism ideas.

But Giambra faces major opposition from state Conservative Chairman Michael R. Long, which looms as significant since no Republican has won statewide office without Conservative support since 1974.

Molinaro, meanwhile, has turned to Killian as his running mate. She is the former Rye deputy mayor and a two-time candidate for State Senate in Westchester County.

Last week Cuomo offered his unequivocal support for Hochul as his candidate for a second term as lieutenant governor. But she is still expecting a primary challenge from New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn, who has also not said whether he will seek the convention’s nomination.

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