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John Sweeney moving back into politics

ALBANY -- In fits and starts, John Sweeney is getting back into politics.

The 56-year-old former congressman parted company with the Albany-based law firm where he worked, and became a political consultant and election lawyer for several candidates, including Newt Gingrich and Kiki Cholakis, who ran for a judicial post. It was a natural fit for Sweeney, a Republican with two decades of experience in politics at the local, state and federal level.

But he's spent the past several weeks stewing, after Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, a candidate for U.S. Senate, severed ties with him after the Republican State Convention.

Sweeney says Maragos hired him as campaign manager and owes him $125,000. He has sent a letter to the Federal Elections Commission. Maragos says Sweeney was just a "volunteer," and was not hired by the campaign after it did "due diligence."

Sweeney said he had a handshake agreement with Maragos to run the campaign, for more than $20,000 a month.

"My circumstances and where I am are pretty well documented. My days of being a volunteer are past me -- I've got a lot of financial responsibilities that I'm trying to make good on," Sweeney said.

Indeed, Sweeney's life has been quite rocky since he lost his 2006 re-election bid to Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, who went on to the Senate. (Maragos, Rep. Robert Turner [R-Rockaway Point], and Wendy Long, a Manhattan lawyer, are vying for the Republican nomination to oppose her.)

The Times Union reported several weeks before the last election that State Police responded to a 911 call of a 2005 domestic dispute between Sweeney and his wife, Gayle. Both had been drinking, according to a police report. The couple legally separated in 2007. Sweeney was arrested twice for DWI, most recently in 2011, for which he served 30 days in jail. He's fallen behind on the mortgage for his Clifton Park house, and owes back taxes.

Sweeney said he is sober now, and Republicans said he's been a dutiful and effective campaign worker. He helped compile the nominating petitions to get Gingrich on the ballot for next week's presidential primary.

"He's good at that stuff," said Albany County Republican chairman Don Clarey. "He still has a very good political mind."

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