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10th August

First Published in The New York Sun, August 10, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

Rarely has a candidacy been more anticipated than that of Jeanine Pirro, the savvy Westchester County district attorney. This is a reflection not only of Mrs. Pirro’s telegenic qualities but also of just how dire the situation is in the New York State Republican Party.

In a party that is now in a desperate search for talent, she had her choice of which office to seek. She could have run for governor, the post state Republicans desperately need to retain, or she could have run for state attorney general, the post she was most likely to win. But she opted instead to run for the United States Senate, against Senator Clinton, the race in which she is least likely to succeed. Why?
I suspect the answer is that candidates for New York State attorney general are rarely invited to appear on “Meet the Press.” In a high-profile race against the former first lady, presumed to be a candidate for president in 2008, you can still win by losing. Mrs. Pirro will make the rounds of the Sunday talk shows, conduct herself professionally in debate, and appear on the news, both local and national, on a regular basis. If she loses, a grateful party could reward her for taking on a tough challenge. Or her poise and presence will not be lost on television executives, who already have her in their sights.

Despite her remarkable talents, Mrs. Pirro brings to politics, in the form of her husband, Albert Pirro, more baggage than the Duchess of Windsor brought to the Villa d’Este. In the small pond of Westchester County, this was tolerated, but just barely.

Albert Pirro has served time in federal prison for a $1.2 million tax-fraud conviction. This diminished his wife’s margin of victory in her last re-election bid, in 2001, to a 52% to 46% win over a grossly underfunded opponent, Anthony Castro. Four years earlier, she easily defeated her Democratic opponent by a 2-to-1 margin, in a county that had become a Democratic stronghold.

The trouble that her husband brings to her career is not limited to just the recent tax problems. As far back as 1986,when Mrs.Pirro was tapped to become the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, she was forced to withdraw after negative publicity surfaced over Albert Pirro’s investment in a Connecticut carting company.
Earlier this year, Mrs. Pirro went ballistic when confronted by the Daily News about her husband’s purported ties to organized crime figures in Westchester County. Mrs. Pirro acknowledged that she was aware of an FBI audiotape in which the purported Gambino capo, Greg DePalma, boasted that he had obtained information about the Westchester district attorney’s investigation of a corrupt police officer, obtained from a mob associate who, in turn, claimed it came from Albert Pirro, with whom he had a business relationship.

Pirro angrily denied that he told Robert Persico of the investigation,and he threatened to sue. But the News reported that Mrs. Pirro “erupted” when asked why her husband had accepted Mr. Persico as a client in the first place. Mr. Persico’s name, according to the News, had been linked to organized crime as a “Gambino associate” as far back as 1998. Pirro, shortly after his release from prison, represented Mr. Persico for four months in 2002, to “iron out a New York State Thruway Authority contract dispute.”

You can be sure that the dossier that Mrs. Clinton’s campaign — and the press — will have available on the Pirros will be long and lurid.

Mrs. Pirro is running for Senate in the hope that somehow her husband’s problems will be neutralized by the bad behavior of Mrs. Clinton’s husband, a former president — that somehow Bill Clinton and Albert Pirro are equivalent “bad boys” whose wives suffer for their indiscretions. This is ludicrous. Say what you will about Mr. Clinton; ties to mob figures are not among the frequent criticisms one hears about the former president.
What I believe Mrs.Pirro hopes is that she will parlay what may well be certain defeat into a personal triumph,a decent showing against Mrs. Clinton, who, polls suggest, is wildly popular across the state. Anything better than 40% would be considered a good outcome. Her party will owe her,which could be paid back in a high-profile job (although it would be hard to see how she could pass the vetting process for any Cabinet-level position or a federal judgeship).

More likely, she will end up on television, the place where she is most comfortable, the place to which she owes much of her political success.

Meanwhile, the New York State Republican Party had best start looking for a credible candidate for governor.This is job one if New York is to have any chance of remaining a twoparty state.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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