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Talk whirls about candidates to replace McHugh (2nd update)

June 2, 2009
By NATHAN BROWN and JESSICA COLLIER, Enterprise Staff Writers, and JON HOCHSCHARTNER, Enterprise Intern

If the U.S. Senate confirms Rep. John McHugh as Army secretary, the governor will probably call a special election to fill his seat for New York's 23rd Congressional District. The speculation on who will run is in full bloom.

State Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, said her Assembly colleague Dede Scozzafava, R-Gouverneur, is one who would do a good job if elected to replace McHugh in the district, which sprawls from Lake Champlain to Lake Ontario.

"I have a lot of ideas of who I think will be good," Sayward said. "The one who surfaces in my mind is Dede Scozzafava."

Article Photos

U.S. Rep. John McHugh talks to the Enterprise editorial board in October 2008.
(Enterprise file photo)

Asked if she herself was running, Sayward was noncommittal.

"It's early. Who else is in the fray? I have to see how this all shapes up."

Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, R-Peru, said she spoke to Scozzafava today and that Scozzafava was interested in running. Duprey said she herself is not.

Republican state Sen. Joseph Griffo, the former Oneida County executive, and Republican Assemblyman William Barclay, who represents Oswego and Onondaga counties, have said they considering running, according to The Associated Press.

McHugh's seat has only been held by Republicans for the entire 20th century. However, Franklin County Legislator Tim Burpoe, D-Saranac Lake, said he thinks "it's our seat to lose," as a Democrat's chances to win are better than ever. The district voted 52.7 percent for Barack Obama last fall.

"We have a new, Democratic president who's doing one heck of a job," Burpoe said. "You have a Democratically controlled Congress, and we've just had another Democrat win in" New York's 20th Congressional District, another historically Republican area.

Burpoe said he probably will not run himself.

"It costs a lot of money to run a congressional campaign, and I'm not independently wealthy," Burpoe said. "Unfortunately, I'm just a poor forester and county legislator. I would not be able to do it, I don't think."

Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne, a Republican, said he has received calls from a number of people asking if he is interested in running, including some offering to assist in financing a campaign. However, Champagne said, he would have to discuss with his family whether or not to run.

"Today is the congressman's day, and it's a tremendous day for him," Champagne said Tuesday afternoon. "Any announcement or any discussion of (running) by me would surely be premature. If I even had made a decision, I don't think I would comment on it today."

Mike Oot, a Madison County Democrat who ran against McHugh in 2008, said he would consider running but has not made any decisions and still needs to discuss it with his family.

"It would depend on the level of support I got from the state party and the federal party," Oot said. "I think I'm in a pretty good position on it because I just went through it six months ago. We have people in place throughout the district."

Oot said Tuesday afternoon that he hadn't spoken to anyone in the state or national party, but he had spoken to some of the county party chairs and had gotten many e-mails from people encouraging him to run.

"I was lucky enough to get some name recognition in the last election, and I think that's an asset," Oot said.

State Sen. Darrel Aubertine of Watertown has been mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate. Aubertine spokesman Drew Mangione didn't say whether Aubertine had made a decision, saying that he "is committed to improving the economy of central and northern New York, creating jobs, protecting our farmers and defining New York's energy future."

Bob Johnson, a doctor who lives in Watertown and ran as a Democrat against McHugh in 2004 and 2006, said Tuesday afternoon that he would have to speak to his wife before making a decision about whether to run again.

"This is the year for health care reform," said Johnson, who favors national health care, adding that "whoever's going to run has got to take into account that the 23rd Congressional District probably isn't going to be around in 2012."

New York will likely lose one or two congressional seats after the 2010 census, due to its declining population. Redistricting is done by the state Legislature, which is dominated by Democrats, and McHugh's seat has been mentioned as a possible one to eliminate.

Under state law, the governor has the authority to call a special election if a congressional seat is vacated. A similar situation arose earlier this year, when Gov. David Paterson appointed then-U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to Hillary Clinton's former Senate seat. Paterson then called a special election for the 20th District seat, in which Democrat Scott Murphy ran against Republican James Tedisco and won by fewer than 1,000 votes when the absentee ballots were tallied.

Many people, Republicans especially, criticized the candidate-selection process. State Sen. Betty Little of Queensbury was one of a number of Republicans who expressed interest in running to represent the district, which reaches from Lake Placid to the suburbs of Poughkeepsie and Cooperstown. However, the party chairs from the 10 counties in the district chose Tedisco, who was Assembly minority leader at the time, in a weighted vote in which Saratoga County, which Tedisco represents part of, had a third of the vote. The candidates were not allowed to address the chairs before the decision was made. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats almost two-to-one in the 20th, and many said a different candidate, such as Little, could have won.

"They certainly need to take their time in selecting a candidate, do some polling and see who can win, not who wants to run," Little said of replacing McHugh. "They ought to learn by the mistakes that they've made in the 20th."

Little said she will definitely not run to replace McHugh as she does not live in the 23rd, even though much of her Senate district is in that district. State election law does not require a U.S. representative to live in the district; Tedisco lives in Glenville, just outside the 20th in Schenectady County.

Little didn't speculate as to who would run, but said she thinks a number of names will come out in the next few days.

"I'd be interested in it, but I think there may be others that are more qualified," said Franklin County Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake. "It's a huge district."

Tupper Lake Democratic Chairman Dean Lefebvre said he would be interested in the seat if it was offered to him but did not expect to be nominated. He said he would be pleased for the nod to go to anyone from the Tri-Lakes area.

"There's a number of people out there that certainly have the intelligence to move up the ladder," he said.

Essex County Republican Chairman Ron Jackson said he didn't know of anyone interested in running. He said he probably won't run, although he didn't rule it out.

"I think there are people with a lot more experience and certainly a lot more money than I have," Jackson said. "It's very difficult to run without a decent-sized bankroll you're willing to invest."

State Libertarian Party Chairman Eric Sundwall, who lives near Kinderhook, was on the ballot for the 20th District seat in 2008 and 2009 but was removed before both elections due to technical flaws with some of the signatures on his nominating petitions. He said he isn't sure if the Libertarians will run a candidate for McHugh's seat if he is confirmed.

"I don't know that we would have anybody up there, but I guess living in the district doesn't mean anything, does it?" Sundwall said.

Franklin County Republican Chairman Jim Ellis would not venture a guess as to who Republicans might put up for the seat but said it would have to be a viable contender.

"We're not giving this seat away," Ellis said. "We're fighting for this seat."

State Democratic Committee Chair June O'Neill, a resident of Canton in the 23rd Congressional District, said in a statement that the state party is beginning to take steps toward finding a candidate, starting with talking to county chairs.

"We believe that, although this will be an extremely competitive race, with the candidate, Democrats can win," O'Neill said.

Sue Montgomery Corey, head of the Essex County Democrats, said the Democratic chairs from counties in the district planned to have a conference call today but did not have details. She said she was a fan of the process that Democrats took to nominate Murphy.

"We're hopeful we can find somebody equally as good for the 23rd Congressional District," she said.

Franklin County Democratic Chairman Joe Pickreign Jr. said the Democrats would run someone for the seat but would not make a guess as to whom.

"This district is winnable with the right candidate, but it will be tough," said Shripal Shah of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Our focus is on working with local Democrats to begin the process of recruiting a strong candidate."



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