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NY Democrats gear up for national convention

Rep. Gary Ackerman during a news conference. (March

Rep. Gary Ackerman during a news conference. (March 5, 2010) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

When it comes to the presidential election, New York may be the nation's biggest outsourcer -- of money to the national campaigns, volunteers to canvass in swing states and personal appeals to family and friends who live elsewhere.

Because New York isn't a battleground state -- President Barack Obama leads GOP nominee Mitt Romney by more than 20 points in the polls -- Democratic faithful may be of more use elsewhere in promoting Obama for re-election, said delegates about to gather Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C., for the party's national convention.

"We have to call our parents, our grandparents and all our relatives in Florida. That's our role," U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights) said with a chuckle. "We're going to have to get a lot of volunteers out. A lot of people are going to be on buses to Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida."

New York also is home to some of the nation's most generous political benefactors, Republican and Democratic. Both parties will tap into the Empire State to raise money for campaigns elsewhere.

"New York has a lot to offer -- money is one of them," said North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman, another Democratic delegate.

New York's 384-member Democratic delegation is a mix of Congress members and locally elected officials, former party bigwigs and rising stars, party loyalists who don't hold office and union officials.

They include Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), who is heading the party's campaign efforts to retake the House; former New York City Mayor Ed Koch; former state Comptroller H. Carl McCall; Assemb. Karim Camara (D-Brooklyn), who recently became head of the State Legislature's Black and Hispanic Caucus; and Andrena Wyatt, president of the New Hempstead Democratic Club. Mario Cilento, president of the state chapter of the AFL-CIO, and Richard Iannuzzi, president of the state's largest teachers' union, also are delegates.

But the delegation is also notable for whom it won't include.

Some notable politicians won't attend, including Reps. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), Kathy Hochul (D-Amherst) and Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh). All are locked in tough re-election bids and have chosen to spend the week campaigning in their home districts.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will limit his presence to one day -- Thursday, the closing day, when Obama delivers his acceptance speech. Some analysts think Cuomo is trying to tamp down speculation about presidential intentions in 2016, or avoid questions about his future. Cuomo has said he has business to tend to in New York.

Some, such as Bridget Fleming, are attending for the first time. Fleming, a Southampton Town board member who is running for State Senate this fall, also is bringing her husband and 10-year-old son.

"To the extent he understands it, he is excited about going," Fleming said of her son. She said she is looking forward to building party momentum and networking with other Democratic leaders from around the nation.

Unlike 2008, there won't be any division among Democrats at the convention, said Renee Ortiz, a deputy clerk to the Suffolk County Legislature, who will be attending her second national convention. In 2008, most New York delegates backed Hillary Rodham Clinton -- then a U.S. senator -- who narrowly lost the party's nomination to Obama.

Ortiz said unity could work to her side's advantage -- noting that not all conservative Republicans are sold on Romney.

"I think the Republicans are having a lot of internal issues," she said. "And I think we should use that to our advantage next week."

She added that New York delegates can play a role in building momentum among the rank-and-file party members to ensure a high turnout by Democrats and Democratic-leaning swing voters.

"We're not a battleground state but we can't just sit back," Ortiz said. "They need everyone involved."


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