Pataki May Be Courting Suozzi As Successor

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The New York Sun

ALBANY – The latest speculation here is that Governor Pataki has asked Nassau County executive Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat, to run for governor on the Republican line and has offered to help him raise money. The governor’s office has been getting calls on it for days and has been telling reporters that it’s not true.

Chalk it up as the latest sign of unease with William Weld and his campaign for the Republican nomination.

When Mr. Weld announced last summer that he was planning on running for governor, some Republicans assumed that he would be bringing in a raft of heavyweight endorsements by this stage in the game. With less than a month to go before Republicans hold their convention in Long Island, Mr. Weld is still waiting for the overt support of the party’s state leaders.

In August of last year, when Mr. Weld declared his interest in running, Mr. Pataki said that Mr. Weld would make an “outstanding candidate.” Yesterday, Mr. Pataki said that internal competition was good for the Republican Party and that he wasn’t prepared at this point to get behind Mr. Weld.

Rudolph Giuliani reportedly encouraged Mr. Weld, a close friend of his, to run for governor. Yesterday, a spokeswoman for Mr. Giuliani, Sunny Mindel, said Mr. Giuliani expected that there would be a Republican primary between Mr. Weld and John Faso and would not be making an endorsement until after the September vote. “We don’t get involved when there are primaries,” she told The New York Sun. “We are assuming there will be a primary.”

The Republican Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno, who could have used his sway to get senators in his conference to rally behind Mr. Weld, has withheld his endorsement and suggested earlier this year that the door was open for another candidate to step into the race.

Walter Breakell, Mr. Weld’s campaign manager, told the Sun that “the Weld campaign is very comfortable and appreciative with the support to date from all of the prominent Republicans.”

There’s disagreement from people inside and outside the party about whether the silence from the three leaders is a reflection of their lack of confidence in the candidacy of Mr. Weld. He has failed to chip away at the State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s lead in opinions polls and has been unable to pull away from Mr. Faso, a former assemblyman who is seeking support from at least 25% of the delegates at the convention to get on the primary ballot.

A few political observers speculate that Mr. Pataki and Mr. Bruno could be waiting until just before the convention to announce their support for Mr. Weld to have the largest impact on the results.

The more common view is that the leaders are holding back simply because they have no incentive to endorse and prefer to hedge their bets.

Mr. Giuliani, who is considering a presidential bid, may not want to attach himself to someone who is perceived as a liberal Republican at the same time he is trying to appeal to the base of the national party. Political observers also say the former mayor may not want to risk alienating party activists in his home state by getting himself entangled in the race.

Republicans interviewed said an endorsement by Mr. Giuliani of Mr. Weld could draw attention to Mr. Giuliani’s association with the New York-based private equity firm that, through a fund with which Mr. Giuliani was not involved, had a minority stake in the bankrupt trade school in Kentucky under federal investigation for alleged student loan fraud. A managing director of Giuliani Partners, Eric Hatzimemos, told the Sun that Mr. Giuliani is chairman of the advisory board of a separate fund from the one that invested in Decker College. Mr. Weld briefly served as chief executive officer of Decker College last year. At the time, he was a principal at Leeds Weld Equity Partners.

Republican insiders said Mr. Bruno is chiefly concerned with preserving the Republican majority in the state Senate and doesn’t see – at least at the moment – an advantage in endorsing Mr. Weld. One risk he could face by throwing his support behind Mr. Weld is alienating the chairman of the Conservative Party, Michael Long, who is backing Mr. Faso. Mr. Long plays a crucial role in his party’s endorsements of state senate candidates. A spokesman for Mr. Bruno said the majority leader was still “hearing out” the candidates.

A Republican senator from Queens, Serphin Maltese, who is backing Mr. Faso, said Mr. Bruno’s silence has allowed Republicans in the conference to make their own decisions on endorsements in the race. “He seems to have released us,” he said.

For Mr. Pataki, his unwillingness to pick a candidate may stem from a fear of taking sides when the race is up in the air. He would face the risk of looking weak if his candidate failed to win the Republican nomination. The governor encouraged Westchester County district attorney Jeanine Pirro to take on Senator Clinton only to see Mrs. Pirro’s Senate campaign founder.

Yesterday, Mr. Pataki said, “Candidates earn their own support and they’ve been working hard. Between now and whenever the convention is, I’ll continue to look and make a decision as to what I may or may not do.”

An aide to the governor said Mr. Pataki could be making an endorsement before the convention.

The New York Sun

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