Weld takes first step in race for N.Y. post, wins straw poll
Senate candidate urged to quit race against Clinton
ALBANY, N.Y. -- William F. Weld, a former governor of Massachusetts, yesterday won a nonbinding straw poll of GOP candidates for New York's governor that was weighted toward the most populous counties. But an opponent, John Faso, framed as a more socially conservative alternative, attracted an equal number of county party bosses.
Each campaign claimed victory in the vote that revealed a tangible split in the Republican ranks over who will run for governor in 2006. One goal of yesterday's meeting of Republican leaders was to find a consensus candidate to raise money and take on Eliot Spitzer, the state attorney general and only announced Democratic candidate, who has strong leads in the polls and in fund-raising.
Also yesterday, the GOP chairmen recommended that Jeanine Pirro give up her campaign against US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and run for attorney general. Pirro said she was still a Senate candidate.
Weld received 43.2 percent of the vote weighted for population. Faso drew 10.2 percent of the vote, but the former Assembly minority leader also attracted the same number of chairmen, 23, as Weld in the head count. Randy Daniels, the former state secretary, had 1.1 percent of the vote and two chairmen. In all, 48 of 62 chairmen voted.
The remaining 45 percent of the weighted vote wasn't cast: Six county chairmen did not attend the long-scheduled meeting and eight county chairmen abstained from the vote. Some county leaders have criticized the openness of the competition after the chairman of the state Republican Party, Stephen Minarik, personally endorsed Weld. Others wanted to wait until billionaire B. Thomas Golisano decided whether to run.
''We got 78 percent of the vote cast," Weld said. ''That's not bad for somebody who's been at this a couple months. . . . When 78 percent of the vote cast goes one way, you can draw an inference from that."
He said that although some county chairmen ''voted with the feet," yesterday's vote made his campaign stronger, helped his fund-raising, and was healthy for the party. He also said that Faso earned the support of the chairmen who stood by him and should not drop out. Weld said he would welcome a primary as another chance to define himself to voters: ''I would never have gotten elected governor in Massachusetts without a primary in 1990."
Faso said the race is now wide open.
''It clearly means that despite an awful lot of effort to twist arms, we ended up in a tied vote with the choice of the chairman," Faso said. ''No chairman can claim there is a consensus candidate. . . . On to the convention and to the primary."
Absent from the ballot was Golisano, who is considering a GOP run for governor after three failed efforts running as an Independence Party candidate.
''The purpose of the meeting was to find consensus. Based on this vote, no consensus was found," said Roger Stone, a Republican consultant who has worked for Golisano.
Golisano has said he expects to make a decision in January.
All candidates can still seek the GOP endorsement from statewide delegates in the spring convention or in a September primary. Daniels and Patrick Manning, an assemblyman from Dutchess County, said they would remain in the race.
Daniels's spokesman, Robert Ryan, said the 45 percent of the weighted vote not cast was ''monumental. . . . The silence was deafening."
''Rank-and-file Republicans will now have a say in where the future of their party lies," Manning said.
Minarik said he hoped to avoid an expensive and divisive primary, but added, ''You can't stop it."