New York Times
May 15, 2000


Behind the Scenes, Efforts to Find a Possible Senate Replacement


By ERIC LIPTON

New York State Republican Party leaders are quietly moving ahead with efforts to identify possible replacement candidates for Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, hoping that if the mayor drops out of the United States Senate race this week they can quickly rally behind a candidate who would offer Hillary Rodham Clinton a serious challenge.

Two members of Congress -- Representatives Rick A. Lazio of Suffolk County and Peter T. King of Nassau County -- are among the likely contenders, party leaders said yesterday. Theodore J. Forstmann, a Wall Street investor and philanthropist, also is on the list. Gov. George E. Pataki is considered the strongest option, but he has said he has no intention of jumping into the race.

Republican Party delegates will formally nominate a candidate on May 30 during the party's state convention in Buffalo, but a small group of party leaders, led by Governor Pataki, would most likely anoint a replacement not long after the mayor withdrew.

"The governor is the one who will dictate what we are doing here," said Stephen J. Miarik, Republican chairman in Monroe County, which includes Rochester. "If he decides to run, we are 110 percent behind him. Clearly he is the best candidate. If he decided not to run, and supports a particular candidate, we will be behind that candidate unequivocally."

No one has wanted to seem to be too eager, with each of the possible candidates saying that his first preference is for the mayor to stay in the race. But behind the scenes, the search is well under way, with one of the crucial questions being which candidate could move the most quickly to raise the $15 million to $20 million needed to finance the campaign.

Given the more than $3.5 million in campaign funds that Mr. Lazio has in the bank and the traveling he did around the state last year when considering a bid for the Senate, he is probably the best positioned of the contenders to surface so far to take up the challenge if Mr. Pataki does not enter the race, several political analysts and party members said.

"Lazio is the obvious one," said Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, a newsletter that tracks races for Congress. "It is hard for me to believe that Lazio won't be the nominee if the mayor drops out."

Mr. Lazio, 42, has not spoken publicly about his efforts, but in recent days he has called county Republican leaders around the state and has spoken with William D. Powers, the state party chairman, Mr. Lazio's spokesman said. Mr. Lazio, who was first elected in 1992, was selected to give the Republican radio address on Saturday, perhaps a signal that he was favored among national Republican leaders. He is also trying to reschedule a meeting that had been planned for today with Mr. Giuliani, which Mr. Giuliani canceled.

Mr. King has been the most aggressive, appearing on a string of national television programs in recent days announcing his intention to run if the mayor bows out.

"If he decides to withdraw, I will certainly pursue the nomination," Mr. King said yesterday.

But Mr. King, 56, who is serving his fourth term in the House, acknowledged that he might have trouble winning the support of state Republican leaders as a result of his decision earlier this year to back the presidential bid of Senator John McCain of Arizona. Party leaders had backed Gov. George W. Bush of Texas. Mr. King also was one of only five Republicans who voted against the impeachment of President Clinton. Given the strained nature of his relations with party leaders, Mr. King said, he has not yet consulted with Mr. Powers or Governor Pataki.

Mr. Forstmann, 59, of New York City, is a political unknown, having never before run for public office. The one most important advantage Mr. Forstmann brings is his wealth, with a spokesman placing his net worth at $925 million. He has indicated that if he runs, he will pay for his campaign with his own money.

Mr. Forstmann, who is scheduled to meet tonight with Mr. Powers, has built somewhat of a public profile in the last year with the Children's Scholarship Fund, of which he serves as co-chairman. The group has given out $160 million worth of private school scholarships to 40,000 low-income children nationwide, said Dan Schnur, an adviser to Mr. Forstmann.

"Because of his record on education he is a much more formidable candidate for Hillary to run against," Mr. Schnur said, adding that Mrs. Clinton's campaign was emphasizing the topic. "He steals Hillary's strongest issue, particular among her strongest supporters."

Copyright New York Times Company. All rights reserved.