CASH FEST FOR STRUGGLING GOP INCUMBENTS

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With the Republican-dominated state Senate more vulnerable to a Democratic takeover than ever before, it comes as little surprise that incumbent Republican state Senators are circling their wagons. The maneuver, however, is a mighty expensive one.

A study of campaign finance documents of three Republican Senators with their backs to the wall this election year shows they are poised to spend anywhere from twice to three times as much as they did in 1998 to hold on to power. Republicans Roy Goodman of Manhattan, Guy Velella of the Bronx and Frank Padavan from Queens have been sent back to Albany time and time again, despite their overwhelmingly Democratic districts. But the Democrats have some good reasons to take on these hoary winners: a robust economy; Gore and Hillary at the top of the ballot (the coattail factor); and the fact that the leadership of the next state Senate will be able to redraw voting districts and control statewide political power for the next decade. So Republican incumbents are pumping in as much cash as they can to hold up their faltering campaigns.

Goodman, faced with the strongest challenge he’s ever encountered, will spend a staggering $1.5 million to try to defeat Manhattan activist Liz Krueger, political consultants familiar with the Goodman campaign say. (For comparison purposes: Incumbent Eliot Engel of the Bronx spent a little over $900,000 to hold onto his U.S. Congressional seat in an especially contentious fight with Assemblyman Larry Seabrook.)

So far, Goodman has spent some $450,000, according to the most recent campaign finance filings–which already tops his entire 1998 re-election outlay. And he’s just getting started.

“The two or three weeks leading up to the general [election] is when most of the money is spent,” said Democratic State Senator Eric Schneiderman, the Manhattan legislator leading the effort to remove Republicans from the Senate. “[The Republicans] are raising and spending more than ever before.”

Vellela, who after 30 years of free rides is finally facing a spirited challenge, has already disposed of $525,000. Two years ago, his total re-election bill was $675,000. Given that the Bronx Democratic Party machine has decided to support challenger Lorraine Koppell, the senator is almost certain to spend much more. Plus, recent allegations that he helped pass legislation favorable to an insurance company he was going to work for will require expensive damage control. Observers say the Velella campaign will ring up a million or more.

The only relatively cheap race is in Queens, for the seat currently held by Frank Padavan. For years, Padavan enjoyed immense popularity in his district, once a bastion of blue collar conservative Democrats. His foe Rory Lancman, a neophyte with no political skeletons in his closet, was chosen by the county organization to dethrone the senator. In a district increasingly populated by immigrants, the senator’s anti-immigrant remarks, made to appease his white constituents in the late 1980s and early 1990s, are coming home to roost. Padavan spent just $84,000 to hold on to his seat in 1998. This time he has already shelled out $117,000.

But these struggles affect more than a few scattered seats. If the Democrats win out statewide, they could control the Senate. “This is the reapportionment election,” said Blair Horner, a campaign watcher for the New York Public Interest Research Group. “It makes the Republicans nervous. If by some chance the Republicans lose their majority, they can kiss the senate goodbye for the next 10 years.”