Ferraro Seeks to Oust N.Y.'s 'Senator Pothole'

The veteran Democrat announces a bid to unseat GOP's D'Amato - and be state's first female senator.

Can anyone unseat "Senator Pothole"?

Geraldine Ferraro has added her name to the list of candidates hoping to bring down Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, best known in the Empire State for his ability to deliver "constituent services."

If Ms. Ferraro can capture the Democratic nomination, the match-up will become a classic New York political confrontation. Even before Ferraro declared her candidacy yesterday, Senator D'Amato had run television and radio ads portraying her as a liberal.

But Ferraro is a feisty debater, as the three-term senator may quickly find out. Her most recent job was as a television personality on CNN's "Crossfire." Her positions are liberal in some areas but conservative in others.

"This high office requires more than being Senator Pothole," she said at her official announcement here. "It demands a genuine, continuing commitment to repair the holes in our social fabric and to chart a road into the future that offers ... an opportunity to earn a better life."

The New York race, which promises to be a close one, will be watched across the nation. A Ferraro-D'Amato contest would feature two big names, a battle of the sexes, and a clash of ideologies fought out in the less-than-dainty arena of New York politics.

"It's one of the marquee races," says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville.

Although Ferraro is the Democratic front-runner in polls, she must take on US Rep. Charles Schumer of Brooklyn and Mark Green, New York City's public advocate, in a Sept. 15 primary.

Tight Senate races for women

If she becomes the Democratic nominee, Ferraro will join other women in what are expected to be tough senatorial campaigns. Senators facing tough challenges this year include Carol Moseley-Braun (D) of Illinois, Barbara Boxer (D) of California, and Patty Murray (D) of Washington - three of only nine women serving in the 100-member Senate.

Like most Senate races, the New York contest is expected to be an expensive one. Television stations here charge the highest advertising rates in the country, and the state is large, requiring a significant travel budget to campaign in upstate areas as well as suburban and urban areas.

Some pundits say the race could cost as much as $20 million per candidate. As of Aug. 1, the most recent reporting date required by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), D'Amato had raised $8.6 million, Representative Schumer had $6.5 million in the bank, and Mr. Green had $492,000.

Ferraro said yesterday that she had raised $5.5 million for an unsuccessful attempt to capture the Democratic nomination to run against D'Amato in 1992. She still has a debt of $414,789 from that race, but she doesn't need to pay it back because the money owed came from her own pocket. Ferraro said she expects to raise about the same amount of money for this race by telephoning donors from six to eight hours per day. "I dread it, I dread it, but I'll do it," she said.

For Ferraro to get past Schumer and Green will be hard work. Schumer has a strong political base in Brooklyn, and Green has been on the campaign trail for some time. But political analyst Lee Miringoff of the Marist Institute says Ferraro does better with women and upstate voters. "She is ahead because of the gender factor and her broader regional name recognition," he says.

Ferraro is well known because she was Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984 against Ronald Reagan and George Bush. After she became the vice-presidential candidate, questions arose about her husband's real-estate dealings. Those issues were raised again in the 1992 by Liz Holtzman, who ran against her in the Democratic Senate primary.

Ferraro says that issue was put to rest in 1993, when she became a US ambassador for human rights. She was investigated by the FBI and State Department. "If I'm good enough for them, those charges have been put to rest," she says.

Instead, Ferraro hopes the campaign will stick to the issues, which she defines as education, repairing Social Security, expanding Medicare, and not spending the proposed federal surplus on "an unfair, unbalanced tax scheme."

Her views on other issues, however, are likely to become important. She is pro-choice and favors the death penalty - two stances that will lose her votes among fellow Catholics. But a high-ranking official at the National Organization for Women says, "Obviously, Geraldine Ferraro has incredibly symbolic value in terms of the women's movement."

* Monitor reporter Alexandra Marks contributed to this story.

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