New York Democratic Candidates Seek Third Party Support

Already far ahead of their Republican competition in the polls, Democrats Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer added insurance Saturday by picking up key third-party endorsements.

Clinton, running for a second Senate term, and Spitzer, campaigning for governor, easily won the backing of the Ross Perot-inspired Independence Party.

Later Saturday, both were expected to add the backing of the labor union-backed Working Families Party.

In New York, unlike most other states, parties are allowed to cross-endorse candidates, a fact that can be crucial in close elections. According to statewide polls, however, the New York elections may be far from close with Clinton and Spitzer far ahead of the possible Republican competition.

While the Working Families Party has been regularly aligned with Democrats, the Independence Party has a history of more, in a word, independence.

In the past three elections for governor, the Independence Party's candidate was one of its co-founders, billionaire businessman B. Thomas Golisano. He lost badly each time.

While Golisano is still highly popular among Independence Party members, he left the party late last year to become a Republican as he considered a run for the Republican nomination for governor. Golisano, owner of the Buffalo Sabres hockey team, eventually decided not to run this year.

In 2000, Independence Party leaders were considering giving their Senate nomination to Clinton, but the then-first lady refused to seek it because of the involvement in the party of Lenora Fulani, who has made statements that many see as anti-Semitic. In recent months, however, the party's state chairman, Frank MacKay, has been purging Fulani and her forces from the organization, and Clinton decided to seek the nomination this time.

"Six years ago, Senator Clinton made it clear that she could not accept the Independence Party's line as long as it tolerated anti-Semitism and hateful rhetoric," said Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson on Saturday.

"Since then, under the leadership of Chairman MacKay, the party has taken decisive steps to reform itself," Wolfson added. "That's why today Senator Clinton is honored to receive this nomination and stand with the Independence Party in its fight for fiscal discipline, voter participation and ballot access."

Spitzer sought to brush aside questions about his acceptance of the Independence Party's support for his attorney general re-election race in 2002 while Fulani was still a force in the party.

"Her commentary had not come to everybody's attention at the time," Spitzer first maintained. Asked if he hadn't been aware of Clinton's very public rejection of the party two years earlier, Spitzer said he really couldn't remember. "I'm not going to revisit that issue," he finally said.

Also Saturday, Clinton picked up the endorsement of the national League of Conservation Voters and its New York affiliate.

In New York, there are more than 5 million Democrats and 3 million Republicans. The Independence Party, New York's third largest party, has about 340,000 members while the Working Families Party has about 33,000.

On the Republican side, former state Assemblyman John Faso and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld are battling for the Republican nomination for governor. They are set to face each other in a September primary, although some Republican leaders are calling on Weld to quit the race in the name of party unity in the wake of Thursday's balloting at the Republican state convention. Faso won 61 percent of the weighted vote to Weld's 39 percent.

Faso has the backing of the state Conservative Party, without which no Republican running statewide has won since 1974. Weld has the support of the tiny Libertarian Party.

Weld appeared at the Albany hotel where the Independence Party was meeting, but he left without taking questions. He won 3 percent of the delegates' votes while Spitzer won 81 percent. The rest of the delegates, many of them Fulani supporters, abstained.

Delegates to the Republican convention also authorized a Senate primary between former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer and Reagan-era Pentagon official Kathleen Troia "KT" McFarland, a political novice. Spencer has the backing of the Conservative Party.