ROCHESTER -- It's going to be a three-way Republican primary to see who earns the right to take on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
Just 72 hours after declaring his candidacy, Rep. Robert Turner (R-Rockaway Point) roared into the Republican state convention Friday and snapped up 25 percent of the delegates' support -- reaching the threshold to qualify for the June 26 primary.
In contrast, Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos saw his support drop, then teeter throughout the daylong event. But he finished with 27 percent -- putting him on the ballot.
Wendy Long, a Manhattan attorney who has never run for office, garnered a plurality of delegates, 47 percent. A favorite of most upstate counties and conservative Republicans, Long, a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, could benefit from a three-way primary by being the only woman in the race, supporters said. Turner backers were hoping for a two-way contest.
Maragos, who said his life story as a Greek immigrant elected to public office embodied "the American dream," began running more than 10 months ago. A week before the convention, he had the most publicly committed delegates, about 30 percent.
But when the sun broke on Rochester, he lost a major backer -- Queens County switched to Turner. Suffolk County, with nearly 10 percent of the weighted vote at the convention, also stood ready to shift a portion of its delegates to Turner -- if Maragos had already exceeded 25 percent by the time Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle cast his ballot.
Providing some drama, LaValle passed when first called upon -- counties vote in alphabetical order. Westchester County, with about 6 percent, also passed.
Party leaders paused the action and huddled for a long time around the tally sheets. When they broke, LaValle gave his support to Maragos, giving him the necessary votes.
"My commitment was to make sure George Maragos would be able to run for U.S. Senate and I'm glad Suffolk County put him over the top," LaValle said afterward.
An elated Maragos said he was in the race for good. "We're going to win it," he said. "I think I've demonstrated my determination, my tenacity in campaigning for the past 10 months."
Westchester went for Turner, nudging him over 25 percent.
Turner became a darling of Republicans last fall when he scored a stunning upset to replace disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens) in a heavily Democratic Queens-Brooklyn district. But that seat will be eliminated through the redistricting process. Turner said he was the one candidate with the name recognition, fundraising ability and "credibility with the Jewish community" who could challenge Gillibrand.
"This seat is not considered in play. I'll put it in play," Turner told delegates. "People know who I am, both in the media and in the fundraising business . . . I'm appealing to you, just your cold political sense."