Republican Party leaders in the 23rd Congressional District have chosen Assemblywoman Dierdre Scozzafava of Gouverneur as their candidate for the seat long held by Rep. John McHugh.
Scozzafava, who was first elected to the state Assembly in 1998, was chosen out of a field of nine finalists, who met with party committee members and elected officials to make their case and answer questions four times in different parts of the 11-county district.
The party chairs met at Serge's Restaurant in Potsdam Wednesday afternoon. There were four ballots, said Franklin County Republican Chairman Jim Ellis; the fourth made the results unanimous.
Assemblywoman Dierdre Scozzafava
(Enterprise file photo — Nathan Brown)
Ellis said Franklin County Legislator Paul Maroun of Tupper Lake came in second in the first two rounds of balloting, and Watertown businessman Matt Doheny also did well.
For both Republicans and Democrats, the choice of a candidate in the yet-unscheduled special election is by a weighted vote of the county party chairs based on the number of people in the county who voted for the party's congressional candidate in the 2008 election. In the Assembly, Scozzafava represents all of Lewis County and parts of St. Lawrence, Jefferson and Oswego counties. Oswego County had the biggest share of the weighted vote with more than 19 percent, Jefferson had 18 percent, and St. Lawrence had about 16 percent.
"It's hard for the small counties to fight the size of the larger, weighted vote, but we did our best," Ellis said.
The Democrats extended a deadline for interested candidates to send in resumes from Friday until today. State Sen. Darrel Aubertine of Cape Vincent is widely considered the leading contender, but a number of others have expressed interest, including two former McHugh opponents: Mike Oot of Munnsville and Dan Francis of Watertown.
McHugh is still the seat's occupant until he is confirmed as Army secretary.
"I'm glad for Dede," Maroun said. "I wish her well in her campaign. Of course, I'm disappointed. I thought the eastern end of the district, with my candidacy, would have the chance to send a congressman to Washington."
Maroun also praised Ellis for helping to organize the series of meetings with the candidates, which, he said, was better than the process by which the Republican chairs chose a candidate in the 20th Congressional District earlier this year. They chose then-Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco without talking to the candidates, and he ended up losing to Democrat Scott Murphy.
"I congratulate Dede," Ellis said. "She'll be a fine representative. I disagree with her on many of her social views. That being said, let's see what we can do, and we'll support her."
Scozzafava supports gay marriage and abortion, positions further left of Aubertine. She has been endorsed by the Working Families Party in the past, which usually supports Democratic candidates, and not by the Conservative Party, which usually endorses Republicans.
The Independence Party has endorsed Scozzafava in the past, but Chairman Frank McKay has said he will endorse Aubertine if he runs.