State Democratic Convention kicks off Tuesday

An undated file photo of Kathleen Rice. An undated file photo of Kathleen Rice. Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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ALBANY -- With Andrew Cuomo a shoo-in for the gubernatorial nomination, attention at this week's state Democratic Convention will likely be on those vying to succeed him as attorney general and his choice for lieutenant governor.

The convention starts Tuesday and runs through Thursday.

Among the five attorney general candidates, experts predicted Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice and state Sen. Eric Schneiderman of Manhattan have the best shot to win 25 percent of the convention delegate votes for a place on the September primary ballot. Former federal prosecutor Sean Coffey, who grew up in Hempstead Village, also plans to be on the ballot by collecting signatures on petitions.

Cuomo is said to favor Rice because her gender and suburban roots help to balance the party's statewide ticket, which is mostly male. His selection of a running mate to be lieutenant governor provides another opportunity.

A lieutenant governor announcement could come as early as Tuesday. Among those Cuomo is said to be considering are Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Yonkers and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute president Shirley Ann Jackson, all African-Americans. Also in the running are former federal prosecutor Denise O'Donnell of Buffalo and Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy.

"The real surprises are going to be which of the attorney general candidates gets 25 percent and who Cuomo picks for lieutenant governor," said Kenneth Sherrill, a political scientist at CUNY's Hunter College. "Both offer an opportunity to diversify the ticket. And that's important because party leaders want to be able to tell voters, 'We represent you.' "

The convention in Rye Brook is expected to back incumbent state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli of Great Neck and both incumbent U.S. senators.

However, DiNapoli could face a primary challenge if Cuomo persuades someone to circulate petitions. He is known not to want DiNapoli on the ticket. Sherrill said, "There's at least the possibility of a primary for comptroller, though many in the party would prefer there not be."

Jay Jacobs, head of the state and Nassau Democratic committees, said Monday he hopes the party will only have one primary in September - for attorney general. "We'll have the AG to deal with. But I'm hoping by the time we get to the convention there is one nomination for lieutenant governor," he said.

Of the announced candidates for the No. 2 job in state government, Democratic fundraiser and activist Bill Samuels has already hired 31 people to circulate petitions to place his name on the ballot. He said Monday he supports Cuomo's proposed overhaul of governmental ethics and campaign finance rules.

Samuels raises the specter of Cuomo having to serve with a lieutenant governor not of his choosing as his father, Gov. Mario Cuomo, did in the mid-1980s. The elder Cuomo's running mate, H. Carl McCall, was defeated in the 1982 primary by Alfred DelBello. The Cuomo/DelBello ticket then won the general election but the relationship was strained. DelBello resigned in 1985.

The lieutenant governor's post, usually a convention afterthought, is more in the spotlight this year because of Gov. David A. Paterson's rocky tenure. As lieutenant governor, he succeeded Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in March 2008.

"We've learned it matters who runs for this office," said pollster Steven Greenberg of Siena College. "They need to be prepared to step up and run the state."

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