Abrams Claims Win in New York Democratic Primary for US Senate

IN the so-called year of the woman, New York Attorney General Robert Abrams appears to have edged past two women in a four-way race to win the state's Democratic United States Senate nomination. He declared victory, though 20,000 absentee ballots remain to be counted.

In a noteworthy defeat, US Rep. Stephen Solarz, long a prominent member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, lost his bid for a 10th term. Redistricting had led him to run in a new Latino district. Though Mr. Solarz stressed his ability to help constituents through his seniority and clout in Congress and his service to constituents, voters chose Nydia Velasquez, former secretary of the Department of Puerto Rican Community Affairs in the US, who had been endorsed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and New York City Mayor David Dinkins.

The coming campaign of Mr. Abrams against feisty New York Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R), who seeks a third term, may prove even more challenging. Abrams is a hard campaigner and strong vote-getter with 27 years in public office. Yet his sudden surge from second place is, in one sense, a third-party gain from a two-way fight.

Though Abrams himself leveled ethics charges against leading candidate Ms. Ferraro, it was New York City Comptroller Elizabeth Holtzman, running a low third place in polls, who aired the charges against Ferraro earlier and more intensely. As one analyst says: Ms. Holtzman served as the "battering ram" to create a political vacuum.

Holtzman and Abrams picked up the allegations against Ferraro from newspaper probes and rode them hard.

Some charges were raised first in 1984 when Ferraro was the Democratic nominee for vice president. The charges centered on reported family ties with organized crime and failure to disclose certain financial data.

Black activist Al Sharpton, often dismissed in the past as a rabble rouser intent on widening racial divisions, proved a serious enough candidate to edge out Holtzman for third place. Holtzman, often described as a cool and aloof campaigner who lacks skills as a conciliator, conceded defeat early on election night here and threw her full support to Abrams.

Ira Katznelson, a political scientist at the New School for Social Research, says that without the ethics charges, which made many prospective supporters of Ferraro uncomfortable, the candidate probably would have won the primary by 20 points.

"It was a one-issue race and that was Geraldine Ferraro," agrees Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He says the Democratic "family feud" served Mr. D'Amato well.

Abrams, who has widespread labor support and endorsements from several newspapers, is a liberal with a strong record on consumer and environmental issues. He wants to see a 50 percent cut in the US defense budget by the year 2000, and is a firm supporter of government-supported national health care.

DIFFERENCES in ideology are likely to play a large role in Abrams's campaign against the more conservative D'Amato. Abrams is also expected to hit D'Amato harder than Ferraro might have been able to do on ethics charges. Allegations against D'Amato range from links with organized crime to trading favors for campaign contributions. Abrams, by contrast, has what one analyst calls an "almost Ivory pure" reputation.

Also, though D'Amato stresses his record of service to constituents, Abrams points out that during the 1980s while D'Amato was in office, the negative balance between taxes paid by New Yorkers to Washington and returned to New York grew from $2.7 billion to $21 billion.

In addition to the need to overcome a "nasty reputation" as a politician with "sleaze problems," D'Amato also will have to work extra hard to offset the disadvantage from the expected New York victory of Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton, says Vasser College political scientist Sidney Plotkin. He says that D'Amato has already distanced himself from President Bush's economic policies and is unlikely to become a "stalwart defender" of the rest of Bush's agenda.

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