New York: A Cornucopia For Democratic Candidates

Candidates wanting to fill their war chests have long turned to Wall Street tycoons and the glitterati of Hollywood. One dinner can yield hundreds of thousands - even millions - of dollars. But this year the recession and the crowded playing field mean the money isn't flowing as freely.

New York may be the "Big Apple" for tourists, with its mix of entertainment and cultural institutions. But for US presidential contenders, New York is the "Big Cornucopia," the mother-lode of donations - an intensely political city of 7.3 million people, where the wealthy and not-so-affluent love to pry open their wallets and help an aspiring candidate with a sizable contribution.

Case in point: Paul Tsongas came to New York a number of times in the two weeks before the New Hampshire primary and again right after the primary, on his quest for funds. The former Massachusetts senator didn't depart empty-handed. While the Tsongas campaign was raising only about $500 a day early this year, it is now pulling in up to $100,000 a day, according to Jim Armenakis, Tsongas's New York State chairman.

"A fair amount of that money," says Mr. Armenakis, comes from New York, which also happens to have a large Greek-American community. But support for Mr. Tsongas flows across ethnic lines.

"On the night after the New Hampshire primary we had three events for Tsongas here in New York," he says. "We pulled in $300,000. And we also pulled in another $100,000 in Boston, where our national headquarters are located. We call that evening our '$400,000 night.

Most of the Tsongas contributions, says Mr. Armenakis, involve relatively small amounts - $25 to $50.

Nor is Tsongas alone in garnering contributions in the Big Apple, with its huge mix of ethnic and racial groups. The week before the New Hampshire primary, an event at the Sheraton Center Hotel raised some $700,000 for Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.

Mr. Clinton has done particularly well in winning support from well-to-do contributors in New York's financial and business community.

A partner for Goldman, Sachs & Co., the large New York-based investment house, for example, held a party for the governor in mid-December of last year that drew prominent investors and business leaders and netted over $250,000.

Perhaps ironically, many Wall Street tycoons are major contributors to the Democratic Party here - a trend that started in the early 1930s, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was governor of New York. FDR's many Democratic gubernatorial successors, including Herbert Lehman and W. Averell Harriman, also had close ties to Wall Street. That support continues under the current Democratic governor, Mario Cuomo.

New York's business community has also remained loyal to Democrats because of the party's traditional support for Israel. The large New York Jewish community is a pillar of the Democratic Party here.

Many local business leaders support President Bush, although there is evident unhappiness with the pace of the economic recovery. But a number of top business leaders are also publicly expressing support for the Democrats. Former IBM chairman Thomas J. Watson Jr., for example, has reportedly expressed interest in Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey. Meanwhile, Felix Rohatyn, a senior partner with Lazard Freres & Co., a New York investment bank, has said that he plans to contribute to the Tsongas campaign, since he identifies with a "pro-business" Democrat.

According to some Wall Street brokers, who prefer to speak off the record, many financial leaders here are careful to play both sides of the roadway when it comes to contributions. Donations, usually given by individuals rather than companies, flow to both the Republican and Democratic contenders equally. Wall Street "has learned the game pretty well," says Joe Mangone, political director of the United Automobile Workers union.

Whether the business community goes too far in its pursuit of campaign contributions has been given new attention because of current scrutiny by the US attorney's office in St. Louis and the National Association of Securities Dealers, a trade group here.

A former top official of Prudential Securities Inc., a large investment house, recently charged that his company forced employees to make campaign contributions to state and local candidates as a way of helping to secure business for the company.

Prudential has denied the allegations. Such practices are illegal under federal civil rights statutes.

While New York continues to be a magnate for candidates eager to pass the funding hat, this election is proving to be far different from past years, experts say:

* Individuals are giving far-smaller amounts, reflecting the belt-tightening throughout the economy.

* Democratic hopefuls are far behind where they were at this point in raising funds in New York in prior elections. That reflects the perception among many professional politicians here that the current crop of Democratic candidates are not "big- league players," compared with Governor Cuomo, or Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt and New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley.

* Finally, contributors seem more skeptical about giving this year - perhaps reflecting unease not only about the specific candidates, but the election process.

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