Friday, February 03, 2006

Sweeney - Gillibrand Battle makes it to the New York Times

Democrats Try to Tie Upstate Congressman to Washington G.O.P. Scandals: "By RAYMOND HERNANDEZ
Published: January 31, 2006
WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 —New York Democrats, hoping to oust an influential Republican congressman from upstate New York, are questioning his ties to lobbyists in the wake of the lobbying corruption scandal hanging over Capitol Hill.
The Democrats are seizing on reports that the congressman, John E. Sweeney of the Albany area, recently organized a $2,000-a-person 'Skiing with Sweeney' weekend getaway attended by lobbyists at a ski resort in Park City, Utah, as well as a dinner at the home of Jeffrey Kimbell, a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist.
The Democrats who have attacked Mr. Sweeney in newspaper interviews, news releases and a satirical Internet advertisement are arguing that his actions reflect a larger culture of corruption that has enveloped Washington under Republican rule. The attacks notwithstanding, he has not been implicated in any troubles that have touched other Republicans.
'A scandal is brewing in Washington, D.C.,' the narrator in the Internet ad declares. 'So it is worth asking: What is our congressman doing to fix this mess? He's going skiing. In Utah. With lobbyists.'
The attacks, which have escalated in recent days, have provoked the Sweeney camp into striking back, suggesting that the congressman and his advisers are slightly unsettled. Specifically, the Sweeney camp has taken aim at Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat who is seeking to unseat him and whose campaign has helped orchestrate many of the attacks.
Melissa Carlson, a Sweeney spokeswoman, suggested hypocrisy on Ms. Gillibrand's part, pointing out that she is the daughter of Douglas Rutnik, an Albany lobbyist who is close to Gov. George E. Pataki.
Ms. Carlson also defended the trip to Utah, noting that Mr. Kimbell, the pharmaceutical lobbyist, represents two companies that employ more than 2,000 people in the congressman's district and that Mr. Sweeney was discussing economic development efforts with him.
Ms. Carlson also noted that Mr. Sweeney had used his influence and seniority in Congress to secure aid for his district and for the rest of the state, and that he played a crucial role in fighting for $20 billion in reconstruction aid for New York City after the 9/11 attack.
'We don't have to attack her,' Ms. Carlson said of Ms. Gillibrand. 'My boss has a record of achievement to run on.'
The attacks on Mr. Sweeney come as New York Democrats say they plan to use the fallout over the lobbying scandal in Washington as an issue to mount vigorous challenges against Mr. Sweeney and other Republicans they consider too close to Republican leaders on the Hill.
Interestingly, Mr. Sweeney has taken part in an effort to force new elections on Capitol Hill to replace most of the Republican leaders in the aftermath of the lobbying scandal.
In calling for House elections, Mr. Sweeney and his allies believe that leadership changes in the House should go beyond Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, who recently abandoned his effort to remain majority leader amid pressure from Republican colleagues jittery about an election-year lobbying scandal.
Mr. DeLay, who had temporarily stepped aside after being indicted on state charges in Texas, made his decision after the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a former DeLay ally, pleaded guilty to corruption charges in a case that could also involve other former senior DeLay aides.
In a letter being circulated to Republican House members, Mr. Sweeney and a colleague, Representative Dan Lundgren of California, argued that Republicans 'must seize this opportunity to regain the trust the American public placed in us.'
But Democrats say that Mr. Sweeney's fund-raising event in Utah suggests that he is not genuinely committed to reform.
In an interview, Ms. Gillibrand accused Mr. Sweeney of being 'part of the problem in Washington.'
'My concern is that he is on a junket with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry listening to their concerns when he should be back in the district listening to our concerns,' she said. But even Democrats agree that Ms. Gillibrand has an uphill battle in the heavily Republican district.
Yes, but a district that went for Spitzer (who's endorsed her today) and Schumer.

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