Union political front-group shines for Dems

In a major victory for Gov. Eliot Spitzer and his party, a Democratic assemblyman won a stunning upset in a State Senate election on Tuesday in a district that has been in Republican hands for a century. The win reduces the Republicans’ majority to one seat and will intensify pressure on the majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno, as he tries to maintain his party’s grip on the Senate, which it has controlled for more than 40 years.

The Democrat, Darrel J. Aubertine, a dairy farmer, leaned heavily on Mr. Spitzer’s media consultant and the state Democrats’ money as he waged a costly campaign against the Republican, William A. Barclay, a lawyer and an assemblyman whose father once held the Senate seat.

Mr. Aubertine won 52 percent of the vote to 48 percent for Mr. Barclay, according to unofficial results. Republicans outnumber Democrats 78,454 to 46,824 in the north country district, and Mr. Barclay had been favored to win.

“I think it has to send shivers up their spines,” said the state Democratic chairwoman, June O’Neill, about the Republicans, as whoops and hollers erupted around her at a victory party for Mr. Aubertine at an Italian-American civic club in Watertown.

She added: “The Democratic Party can meet and beat the Republican machine anywhere. If we can do it here, we can do it anywhere.”

Mr. Aubertine said shortly after the election was called: “For the party, clearly it’s a victory, and I certainly don’t want to diminish that. I just want everyone to recognize that I take this office the same way I took the office of the Assembly, and that was to serve everyone regardless of your political affiliation or where you live.”

Mr. Bruno released a statement Tuesday night attributing Mr. Aubertine’s win to his popularity locally, and said that his party would aggressively battle to stay in power.

“We remain the majority party in the State Senate and will continue to fight for the issues that we believe most New Yorkers support,” Mr. Bruno said. “The November election is little more than eight months away, and we intend to redouble our efforts to regain seats and fight for those issues, including lower taxes, more jobs, a better quality of life and a government that is responsive and accountable to the people we serve.”

For weeks the state’s political establishment has been focused on the snow-swept 48th Senate District, some six hours from New York City.

Both party operations poured money and campaign workers into the race, and ads flickered on television screens in Jefferson, Oswego and St. Lawrence Counties, which make up the district. The Capitol in Albany emptied out on Tuesday as staffers hit the streets to wave signs, knock on doors and staff polling places.

The Democrats also relied on the Working Families Party, a union-backed group with a strong voter-mobilization operation, to get out the vote for Mr. Aubertine.

The special election was called after Senator James W. Wright, a Republican, announced his retirement.

The possibility of taking back the Senate has taken on a special urgency to Mr. Spitzer as he struggles with low approval ratings and the aftermath of a scandal last year involving his aides’ attempt to discredit Mr. Bruno.

Republican senators have continued to probe and demand more answers about the aides’ behavior and about whether Mr. Spitzer encouraged it. Gaining a Democratic-controlled Senate would not only give Mr. Spitzer a more receptive audience for his policy agenda, it would also likely end the Senate investigations into the scandal.

Mr. Barclay got an 11th-hour boost on Monday when an appeals court judge ruled that his name could also be listed on the ballot as an Independence Party candidate. The Independence Party is the state’s third-largest political party.

Mr. Barclay attempted to tie Mr. Aubertine to Mr. Spitzer’s failed and wildly unpopular proposal to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Mr. Aubertine railed against Mr. Barclay’s family for charging a fee to fish on a section of the Salmon River that runs on through the family’s estate.

The negative ads left a bad impression on many in the district.

“Overall, the mood of the electorate, it is safe to say, they are not happy with the way this election has been run,” said Bob Gorman, the managing editor of The Watertown Daily Times. “They are not happy with both candidates, and they recognize that this election and the topics were being driven by outsiders, by the state political parties rather than local politicians.”

He added: “What people are offended by is that the candidates and the political parties decided that the way to appeal to the citizens is through negative advertisements.”

But the district, he said, has been home to three secretaries of state, the creator of the Dewey Decimal System, the founder of the Woolworth’s stores and the actors Kirk Douglas and Viggo Mortensen. And he said it has been unfairly characterized as an icy backwoods backwater.

“We have a higher degree of sophistication than the people in Albany and New York City have given us credit for,” Mr. Gorman said. He added that this election was hijacked by the Democratic and Republican machines in Albany and “Gotham,” and that the two parties have treated voters in the district “like rubes and country bumpkins rather than the geographic descendants of Remington, Dewey, Woolworth, Lansing, Dulles and Rogers,” whom he called “shapers of modern America.”


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