Scozzafava mulls a Democratic run for Owens' seat

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ALBANY—Democrats in the 21st Congressional District announced they have received resumes from “several” people interested in succeeding retiring Rep. Bill Owens, including Dede Scozzafava, a Republican who ran against him in 2009.

Sources familiar with the Democratic recruitment process told Capital that Scozzafava formally indicated her interest in running for the 12-county seat, which includes the Adirondack Park, Watertown and Plattsburgh. Several other prominent Democrats whose names have been bandied about, including Darrel Aubertine and Assemblywoman Addie Russell, did not make a formal submission, the people said.

It's unclear, though, whether that would take them out of contention. Washington County Democratic Chairwoman Sheila Comar said in a press release that the chairs will be conducting interviews, and will announce their designee within 10 days. The chairs are modeling their vetting after a 2009 vetting that yielded Owens, a Plattsburgh attorney, for a special election to replace Republican Rep. John McHugh, who was appointed secretary of the Army.

“We were pleased to hear from so many thoughtful, intelligent individuals who have expressed a tremendous interest in the district and commitment to the citizens of NY 21,” Comar said in a press release. “The North Country has a long history of quality representation in Congress. We plan to continue that.”

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The press release did not specify who sent a formal submission, and Comar did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Aubertine could not be reached, and Scozzafava did not return a call.

Scozzafava is a former assemblywoman currently working in the Cuomo administration as a deputy secretary of state, but remains an enrolled Republican. To run in a Democratic primary, she would need the support of a majority of the district's chairs. (Owens was not an enrolled Democrat when he was tapped in 2009, so this issue is hardly insurmountable.)

In 2009, Scozzafava won the Republican designation but was immediately attacked as being too liberal by a burgeoning Tea Party movement, as well as some of her own party mates, who were put off by her support for abortion rights. These people organized around Doug Hoffman, an accountant from Lake Placid, who ran on the Conservative Party line. He pulled ahead of Scozzafava in last-minute polls, and she dropped out the weekend before the election. She endorsed Owens, who went on the be the narrow winner, a day later.

Aubertine is currently working for Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, but previously served in the Assembly and Senate and as the state agriculture commissioner. He has said he is still mulling a run, but the sources familiar with the recruitment said he did not make a formal submission. On Monday, ex-Rep. Scott Murphy announced that he would not seek the seat, and Assemblywoman Addie Russell, a Democrat from the Watertown area, told Capital that she did not submit a formal application of interest but “had discussions with county chairs.”

“It is something that I continue to weigh, but as of right now, I'm running for re-election in the New York State Assembly,” she told Capital on Wednesday.

Republicans have also not designated a candidate. County leaders had been set to convene Wednesday in Elizabethtown, but the meeting was postponed to Friday because of weather. Elise Stefanik, a 29-year-old former White House aide, is considered the most serious of the declared candidates.

Still up in the air is whether Matt Doheny, an investor from the Watertown area, will launch an insurgent bid. A Washington-based polling firm that advised him on his two previous unsuccessful bids for the seat, Public Opinion Strategies, shared with Capital the results of a survey that showed Doheny ahead of Stefanik in head-to-head match up.

“Matt Doheny has a significant lead in a potential G.O.P. primary against Elise Stefanik and President Obama’s poor numbers in the district help set the stage for a Republican takeover,” the two-page memo states. “With Blue Dog Bill Owens now relegated to the sidelines, this seat is up-for-grabs, and Matt Doheny is the clear frontrunner for the GOP nomination.”

Doheny has not publicly commented on his deliberations for the seat.

A Stefanik ally dismissed the poll, saying it was a simple reflection of name recognition and did not account for baggage that emerged in Doheny's 2012 run, when he was photographed in close contact with a woman other than his wife during a fund-raising trip to Washington.