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  •   Ferraro to Take On Sen. D'Amato

    By Devon Spurgeon
    Special to The Washington Post
    Tuesday, January 6, 1998; Page A05

    Former Democratic vice presidential nominee and television commentator Geraldine A. Ferraro returned to national politics today by announcing she will seek her party's nomination to challenge Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) for the seat no Democrat has managed to take from him for 17 years.

    "I believe this high office requires more than being Senator Pothole," said Ferraro, invoking D'Amato's nickname, which parodies his claim to obsessive constituent service. "It demands a genuine, continuing commitment to repair the holes in our social fabric and to chart a road into the future." She said one of her goals would be to work to secure what she called a health care bill of rights.

    Ferraro, 62, who has not held public office for 13 years, has stayed in the public eye most recently by serving as the liberal co-host of the CNN program "Crossfire." She resigned from that job Sunday.

    "The fact that I have not been in elected office doesn't mean I've been dead," she told reporters today. Referring to her tenure on "Crossfire," she added, "Night after night, I've seen firsthand the problems facing this country. My time outside elective office has only deepened my sense of what is needed in this country."

    Ferraro said she will spend six to eight hours a day raising money for her primary fight. She will face Mark Green, the city's elected public advocate, who lost the 1986 race to D'Amato, and Rep. Charles E. Schumer of Brooklyn in the September primary. A December poll by Quinnipiac College Polling Institute showed Ferraro decisively leading her primary opponents. The poll also showed her with a 14-point lead over D'Amato, who is seeking his fourth term.

    While Ferraro is better known than her opponents in the primary, they each have long records of public service and have amassed considerable campaign funds. Schumer has $8 million for the race, while Green has $1.5 million. Ferraro estimates she will need to raise $5.5 million just for the primary.

    "Next September voters will care more about performance than mere name recognition," Green said in an interview today.

    D'Amato, unopposed in the GOP primary, already has $15 million to do battle in the general election, according to his most recent campaign finance filing.

    A former three-term congresswoman representing Queens from 1979 to 1985, Ferraro gained national recognition when Walter F. Mondale chose her as his running mate in 1984. She was the first woman on a major party's national ticket.

    She ran unsuccessfully in 1992 for the Democratic nomination to face D'Amato, narrowly losing a combative four-way primary. During the campaign she repeatedly came under attack because of her husband's alleged business ties to organized crime. In 1985, he pleaded guilty to falsifying documents, a misdemeanor.

    She said today that allegations that he was associated with crime figures "were laid to rest" when she received a high-level security clearance as part of her appointment as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Committee on Human Rights.

    "The personal ethics charges will never be completely put to rest," said Stuart Rothenberg, a Washington political analyst. "Now she has to worry more about Chuck Schumer's money and charges that she had her moment and now it is time for the people who are currently fighting the wars in Washington."

    Robert Abrams, who narrowly lost the 1992 Senate race to D'Amato after winning the debilitating Democratic primary, warned that Democrats again may be setting up a D'Amato victory. Analyst Rothenberg agreed: "D'Amato's ace in the hole is not his political skill, which is considerable, but that the Democrats have to go through a nine-month primary and may end up in September with a nominee who is bruised, battered and penniless."

    Ferraro has hinted for the last six months that she would challenge D'Amato, and he has taken her seriously, even running ads last fall, on "Crossfire," labeling her as a pro-tax liberal. "On the left, it's Geraldine Ferraro, and on our side is Al D'Amato," said one spot mimicking the "Crossfire" introductory format.

    In a statement today, D'Amato said, "If she is her party's nominee, she will be a formidable opponent."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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