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For New York Mayor, D'Amato Puts His Money on a Democrat

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  • Leonie Haimson
    former GOP Senator Al D Amato raising lots of cash for Dem mayoral candidate Thompson http://shar.es/Zp2DE For New York Mayor, D Amato Puts His Money on a
    Message 1 of 1 , May 15, 2013
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      former GOP Senator Al D’Amato raising lots of cash for Dem mayoral candidate Thompson http://shar.es/Zp2DE

      For New York Mayor, D’Amato Puts His Money on a Democrat

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      Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

      William C. Thompson Jr., a Democrat, has received a sorely needed jolt of high-powered fund-raising help from former Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, a Republican, as he seeks to project energy and momentum in the wide-open Democratic primary for mayor of New York.

      By DAVID M. HALBFINGER
      Published: May 15, 2013
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      He was the rough-and-ready boss of the New York State Republican Party for a quarter-century, the senator from the suburbs who helped make “liberal” a dirty word in American politics.

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      Alfonse M. D’Amato

      Yet Alfonse M. D’Amato, it turns out, is the biggest financial backer for one Democrat in the New York City mayoral race, raising money enthusiastically for William C. Thompson Jr., whose best-known boosters, including David N. Dinkins and Betsy Gotbaum, lean decidedly to the left.

      As the man long known as Senator Pothole might put it: What gives?

      The unlikely alliance has given Mr. Thompson, an even-tempered former city comptroller, a sorely needed jolt of high-powered fund-raising as he seeks to project energy and momentum in the wide-open race for the Democratic nomination.

      It also underscores the diversity of supporters in the political establishment that he has tried to demonstrate with endorsements from Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the State Board of Regents, and Richard Ravitch, a former lieutenant governor and Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman.

      Mr. D’Amato and his partner Melvin H. Miller, a onetime speaker of the State Assembly, bundled some $65,000 in donations to Mr. Thompson through March 11. And Mr. D’Amato’s close associates, former aides and major clients have pitched in, too. All told, his network has accounted for as much as $125,000 in gifts to the Thompson campaign.

      Mr. D’Amato’s support does not come without complications. At 75, he is provocative and prickly, traits that have not dissipated with age. Appearing on NY1 on Tuesday night, he feigned tears while mocking the disclosure by Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker and another Democratic candidate for mayor, that she had struggled with bulimia and alcoholism. “Oh, give me a break,” he said. “Now we have to soften her image. It’s a bunch of bunk.”

      (On Wednesday, Mr. Thompson said that Ms. Quinn’s disclosure was “touching” and “took courage.” Asked if Mr. D’Amato should apologize, he said: “Oh, please. Everyone has their own opinion. That’s my opinion.”)

      This is the first time Mr. D’Amato has been a major fund-raiser in a New York mayoral race, and already, he is in the top tier of check bundlers, a class headed by Sally Susman, a top executive at Pfizer who has taken in $128,000 for Ms. Quinn.

      Mr. Thompson’s fund-raising has generally lagged behind that of Ms. Quinn and another Democrat in the mayoral race, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, each of whom have already raised the maximum allowed for the primary under the city’s voluntary public matching fund program. But Mr. Thompson’s pace has picked up in recent months, and he has raised more than his rivals as he seeks to catch up.

      Mr. D’Amato, who left the Senate in 1999 after losing a bid for a fourth term, is now the head of a thriving lobbying firm, Park Strategies, with clients in utilities, real estate, technology and other industries that do business in and around New York. The firm generated about $3.7 million in fees at the state level last year, but only around one-tenth of that from city clients.

      He said he mainly gave to Republicans. But Democrats currently hold all statewide elective offices in New York, and Mr. D’Amato has been a conspicuous donor to New York Democrats in recent years, raising money for Eliot Spitzer, David A. Paterson and Andrew M. Cuomo in their runs for governor, and standing by proudly as Mr. Paterson named Kirsten E. Gillibrand to the Senate in 2009.

      Mr. D’Amato and Mr. Thompson are not close friends; their alliance appears largely pragmatic.

      Mr. D’Amato called Mr. Thompson a decent, steady hand who understands education, economics, budgets and Wall Street, and said he found Mr. Thompson to be the least offensive Democrat, particularly from the perspective of his clients.

      “Some of them are antigrowth, antidevelopment, just plain wrong,” Mr. D’Amato said of the other mayoral contenders. He said that Mr. Thompson, by contrast, was someone “who doesn’t frighten business.”

      “They don’t have fear of Bill Thompson, that he’s going to do some radical proposal that’s going to hurt their business,” Mr. D’Amato said. “He’s not as give-away-everything-there-is.”

      Mr. D’Amato also said he believed that Mr. Thompson was the likely winner in the race for mayor, based on his support in Brooklyn, where the candidate has deep roots, and among black and Hispanic voters.

      In an interview, Mr. Thompson said he was gratified by Mr. D’Amato’s assistance. “I’m proud to have his support,” he said.

      There was a time — 1998, to be specific, during his losing race against Charles E. Schumer — when Mr. D’Amato tossed around the phrase “Brooklyn Democrat” as though it was a slur. But Mr. Thompson said what most Democratic elected officials remembered about Mr. D’Amato was what he did in office, not what he said in the heat of partisan battle.

      “People looking back realize how he delivered for the state of New York, and how hard he worked,” Mr. Thompson said.

      Mr. D’Amato has several clients with business before city government, including Redflex Traffic Systems, which makes red-light cameras; Delshah Capital, which buys poorly run apartment buildings and seeks city tax abatements to fix them up; and CGI Technologies, a major computer consultant.

      Mr. Thompson said he would treat Mr. D’Amato “like everybody else.” And Mr. D’Amato denied that special treatment was on his mind.

      “I would hope that if we had to get a hearing, we could get a hearing,” he said. “That’s all you can ask for. You cannot ask to make a pig fly.”

      Mr. D’Amato had harsh words for many of the other candidates. Among Republicans, he spoke fondly of John A. Catsimatidis, the grocery and oil magnate. But he said Joseph J. Lhota, the former transit authority chairman and deputy mayor — under Rudolph W. Giuliani, a longtime foe of Mr. D’Amato’s — had no business entering the race.

      “He’s a nice man, but he should’ve stood where he was,” Mr. D’Amato said, pointing to Mr. Lhota’s comparison of the Port Authority police to “mall cops,” for which Mr. Lhota quickly apologized. “Oh my God, he really shot himself,” Mr. D’Amato said.

      He said Mr. de Blasio, for whom others at Park Strategies have raised $40,000, was likable, except on the issues. “I told him to move to the center,” he said. “Instead he’s moved more to the left.”

      But Mr. D’Amato seemed especially animated by animus toward Ms. Quinn. He cited newspaper reports of some of her more hard-nosed actions as Council speaker — cutting money for the pet projects of council members who defied her, using Council funds to employ a public relations machine that benefits her politically — as signs that she was “a political boss in the worst sense.”

      Even after being reminded that he, too, had been known as a domineering leader, Mr. D’Amato described Ms. Quinn’s conduct as wrong. “That kind of operation is old-style bossism, cronyism, of the worst kind,” he said.

      Mr. D’Amato also attacked Ms. Quinn over her support for the extension of term limits in 2008. But her campaign asserted that he had, on “multiple occasions,” lobbied her office in support of overturning term limits.

      “Al D’Amato accusing someone of bossism is like the Kardashians calling someone gaudy,” said Mike Morey, a spokesman for Ms. Quinn. “Knowing what we know about antichoice, anti-gun-control, anti-Medicare Al D’Amato, voters should decide whether he’s supporting Bill Thompson because he agrees with him on the issues or because he thinks it will help his lobbying business.”

      Al Baker and David W. Chen contributed reporting.

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