With three House Republicans and one Democrat retiring from the New York delegation, the Empire State became a key battleground for the two House campaign committees well before Thursday’s filing deadline.
In addition to the retirements of upstate Republican Reps. Thomas Reynolds and James Walsh this year, the GOP got another shock in May when Rep. Vito Fossella was arrested on drunken driving charges and revealed an extramarital affair that eventually prompted him to drop his re-election bid.
Filing closed Thursday evening, although some late entries may not be certified until today.
Democrats are targeting all three open GOP districts, and Walsh’s seat has catapulted to the No. 1 slot on some nationwide lists of the most competitive House races.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee even added Dan Maffei, the former aide to Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel who is making his second run for Walsh’s seat, to its first slate of “Red to Blue” candidates in January.
Maffei narrowly lost a challenge to Walsh in 2006. But with an open seat and experience under his belt, the 40-year-old Maffei presents the DCCC with one of its top pickup opportunities.
Several other high-profile Democrats considered running for the seat after Walsh announced his retirement. But barring any late certifications, Maffei will be the only Democrat in the race.
Republicans settled on a candidate — but it was not until well into the second quarter that small-business owner Dale Sweetland entered the playing field after the initial GOP frontrunner, former New York State Fair Director Peter Cappuccilli, withdrew in March due to health reasons.
Sweetland, a former chairman of the Onondaga County Legislature, has yet to file a fundraising report. Maffei is expected to have a very strong second quarter after showing $675,000 in the bank at the end of March. He is already advertising on broadcast and cable TV in the district, which stretches from Syracuse to the Rochester suburbs.
In Reynolds’ Buffalo area district, Republicans have settled on business executive Christopher Lee after several better-known candidates opted against running.
Three Democrats will compete in the September primary, with the DCCC tending to favor teacher/Iraq war veteran Jon Powers over attorney Alice Kryzan and 2004/2006 nominee Jack Davis. Powers had just over $400,000 in the bank at the end of the first quarter compared to just over $200,000 for Kryzan.
Davis, a wealthy businessman, has not yet filed a fundraising report, but did win a Supreme Court case last month that struck down the millionaires’ amendment that allowed Reynolds in 2006 to partly offset Davis’ personal funding of his own campaign. Davis has indicated he will mostly fund his campaign, as he did last time.
In Fossella’s district, Republicans thought they had their man in retired Wall Street executive Francis Powers, but he died unexpectedly late last month. Covering Staten Island and part of Brooklyn, the 13th District is the only New York City-based district in GOP hands.
Former GOP state Assemblyman Robert Straniere has announced his candidacy and retired investment banker Paul Atanasio of the state’s Conservative Party is running with the backing of Brooklyn GOP leaders.
Democrats will choose between New York City Councilman Michael McMahon — the establishment pick who has been designated part of the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” slate of candidates and who has won the endorsement of Staten Island Democratic leaders — and 2006 Democratic nominee Steve Harrison.
On the other end of the state, Democrats are targeting GOP Rep. John (Randy) Kuhl in the 29th District with 2006 nominee Eric Massa, a retired Navy officer who lost to Kuhl 51-49 percent two years ago.
Democratic Rep. Michael McNulty’s retirement in the Albany-centered 21st District has sparked a competitive primary, with Tracey Brooks — a former staffer to Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton — attracting most of the attention. Former Assemblyman Paul Tonko, Albany County Legislator Phil Steck and Darius Shahinfar, a former aide to Democratic Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, are the other Democrats in the race.
The winner of the primary is virtually assured of being seated in Congress next January in the heavily Democratic constituency.
But Republicans also believe they have a couple of good shots at pickups. In the neighboring 20th District, which stretches from the exurbs of New York City almost to the Canadian border, Gillibrand — who ousted former GOP Rep. John Sweeney 53-47 percent two years ago — has been preparing for a stiff challenge.
She boasted of nearly $2.5 million cash on hand at the end of the first quarter in a region that, prior to Gillibrand’s 2006 election, had sent only one other Democrat to Congress since early in the last century.
Republicans will have a primary between businessman Alexander (Sandy) Treadwell, a former GOP state chairman, and businessman Michael Rocque. But the National Republican Congressional Committee is pulling for Treadwell.
The GOP also views Arcuri, who won election two years ago 54-46 percent following the retirement of GOP Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, to be vulnerable. The party expects its likely nominee, businessman Richard Hanna, to show a strong second quarter of fundraising.
The Republicans initially thought they also had a strong shot at toppling another Democratic freshman, Rep. John Hall, in a traditionally Republican district north of New York City. But the party’s initial choice, wealthy businessman Andrew Saul, dropped out late last year for “personal reasons,” and efforts to find another top-tier candidate were unavailing.
Iraq War veteran Kieran Michael Lalor ultimately emerged as the party’s choice to take on Hall.
This article appears in the July 12, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily.