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Talk whirls about candidates to replace McHugh (3rd update)

June 3, 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.

Many Republicans have said they might be interested in running, including Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava of Gouverneur, Sen. Joseph Griffo of Rome, Assemblyman William Barclay of Pulaski and Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward of Willsboro.

Among Democrats, former McHugh opponents Mike Oot and Bob Johnson said they would consider running, and state Sen. Darrel Aubertine of Watertown may be considering it.

McHugh's seat has been held by Republicans for the entire 20th century. However, the district voted 52.7 percent for Barack Obama last fall, and Franklin County Legislator Tim Burpoe, D-Saranac Lake, said he thinks "it's our seat to lose.

"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.

"It's very difficult to run without a decent-sized bankroll you're willing to invest," said Essex County Republican chairman Ron Jackson, who added he probably won't run himself.

Sayward said Scozzafava would do a good job if elected. Asked if she herself would run, 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 Tuesday and that Scozzafava was interested in running. Duprey said she herself is not.

Aubertine, who defeated Barclay in a special election last year, has been mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate. Aubertine spokesman Drew Mangione didn't say whether Aubertine had made a decision, saying he is focused on his work at the state level.

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 that he had spoken to some of the county party chairs and had gotten e-mails encouraging him to run.

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.

"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," Johnson said.

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 in the 20th Congressional District, which reaches from Lake Placid to the suburbs of Poughkeepsie and Cooperstown. 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. However, the party chairs from the 10 counties in the district chose Tedisco in a weighted vote in which Saratoga County, which Tedisco represents part of in the Assembly, had a third of the vote. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by about 70,000 voters 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.

Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne announced this morning he would not run and instead seek a third term as DA. He had said Tuesday he would discuss with his family whether he will run and that some people had offered to help finance his campaign.

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

State Libertarian Party Chairman Eric Sundwall, who lives near Kinderhook, was on the ballot for the 20th District seat in 2009 but was removed before the election due to technical flaws with some 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.

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 right 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 Tuesday 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 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."



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