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Three Democrats Stalk D'Amato

The lineup of Democrats in the race to challenge Sen. Alfonse D'Amato this fall is impressive - the first woman vice-presidential candidate, a longtime congressman and a popular New York City public advocate.

Any one of the three would be enough to make most politicians quake.

But D'Amato doesn't seem overly concerned, in part because the three Democrats could wind up tearing each other apart to get the nomination.

Nine-term Rep. Charles Schumer, 1984 vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro and New York City Public Advocate Mark Green are on the ballot for the Sept. 15 primary.

While many Republicans try to dismiss the three as has-beens and never-weres, Democrats ponder how they wound up with three stars battling each other, possibly to the advantage of the three-term incumbent.

"If you're too vicious in the primary, attacking one of those people, you run the risk of having a repeat of 1992," former state Democratic Party Chairman John Marino said.

In 1992, Ferraro was in a nasty, four-way primary race against then-state Attorney General Robert Abrams, former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman and civil rights activist Al Sharpton. Abrams won but was left broke, with a sharply divided party. D'Amato won the slimmest of victories in November.

There already are echoes of 1992 this year.

Ferraro has accused her rivals of spreading lies about her campaign, and Green has said the former congresswoman is running on the "fumes of fame."

A top Schumer aide, reacting to Ferraro's complaints, argued: "I never said, 'What has she done lately?' I always say, 'What has she done?'"

Green also has complained that Ferraro won't debate as much as he'd like.

"As we say in basketball, she wants to sit on her early lead," Green said last week after the trio's first debate of the campaign at a resort in this Adirondack Mountain village. The next debate isn't until August.

Ferraro countered: "The only reason Mark does it is he can't get attention and he can't buy television."

D'Amato seems to enjoy the bickering.

"I'm not saddened by the fact there may be a contentious primary," he said. "I'd be disingenuous if I told you that I wasn't pleased by them having their little go at it."

Ferraro didn't get into the race until January and has trailed in the money chase. She had just $1.1 million on hand by the end of March, far less than Schumer's $8.2 million. Green had just $832,000.

"Money counts, but consumers vote," said Green, who lost to D'Amato in 1986.

Schumer, despite spending more than $2 million on early TV advertising, is still far behind Ferraro in all independent polls and trails Green in some.

The latest poll had Ferraro leading Schumer 38 percent to 16 percent, with Green at 10 percent. Ferraro and D'Amato were in a dead heat, but the senator led both Schumer and Green by 5-3 margins. he telephone poll of 703 likely voters was conducted June 14-15 and had a percent margin of error of 4 percentage points.

"I wish there wasn't a primary. It's unsettling. I voted for both of these guys," Ferraro said. "I've always considered them friends."

Much to the chagrin of Democrats, D'Amato has been moving steadily to the middle of the political spectrum, promoting environmental bond acts, speaking out in favor of gay rights and pressing women's health issues.

Rebounding from an all-time low job approval rating of 26 percent in March 1996, D'Amato stood at 43 percent in this year's spring poll by Marist College's Institute for Public Opinion. Just before he narrowly won re-election in 1992, his approval rating was 33 percent.

Written by Marc Humbert
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