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House Aide Maffei May Run for Seat

It may have surprised Dan Maffei’s Capitol Hill colleagues when the longtime spokesman and policy adviser for Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee moved back to his hometown of Syracuse, N.Y., to guide the re-election bid of Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll (D).

But there may be an explanation. Several sources say the 37-year-old campaign and policy veteran is envisioning a return to Capitol Hill — as the Congressman from New York’s 25th district.

Some anticipate Maffei will announce his intention to challenge nine-term Rep. Jim Walsh (R) shortly after Driscoll’s expected re-election in November.

“He is exceedingly interested in that,” said a senior Democratic Congressional staffer.

Maffei concedes that he’s “heard those rumors” of a Congressional bid, but he deflected all talk of his own plans in a telephone interview Friday.

“I’m focused right now on re-electing our mayor, who I just think has been a great mayor,” he said. “That’s my only goal for now.”

Maffei’s apparent ambitions became such an open secret around the Ways and Means Committee during his final days there that Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), the ranking member, referred to him as “candidate” during Democratic strategy sessions, sources said.

And a news release last week announcing Maffei’s hiring as the mayor’s campaign director was quick to tout his Syracuse roots, which, according to the release, “go back four generations.”

“Dan is a great addition to our team,” Driscoll said in the statement. “His Syracuse background and extensive communications and government experience make him the ideal point of contact for our campaign.”

Driscoll already has won the Democratic primary and is heavily favored to win a second full term in a general election against three challengers. But he has had rocky relations with the Syracuse newspapers, and Maffei is expected to be significantly involved in smoothing things over.

Prior to going into politics, Maffei was a reporter for a Syracuse TV station. He also worked for then-Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) before moving over to Ways and Means.

Running against Walsh, a senior Appropriations Committee member, will be no easy task.

The Congressman, like Maffei, has deep roots in the community: His father is a former mayor of Syracuse who served three terms in the House in the 1970s.

Although the 25th district leans Democratic, preferring Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) by 2 points over President Bush in 2004, Walsh has not had a tough re-election contest since 1996. That year, the AFL-CIO ran $500,000 of ads against him because, as chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the District of Columbia, Walsh sponsored legislation allowing school vouchers to be used in D.C. schools. He still took 55 percent of the vote.

In the 2004 cycle, Walsh did not even have a Democratic opponent. He had $426,000 in his campaign account on June 30.

Carl Forti, communications director for the National Congressional Campaign Committee, was dismissive of Maffei’s potential candidacy.

“I’m sure if he can get Charlie Rangel to come and campaign for him in the district he’ll have a very successful campaign,” Forti wisecracked.

People who know Maffei suggest that he could take the long view and may be prepared to seek the seat more than once.

If he runs in 2006, he will become the second ex-Rangel lieutenant running against one of the Congressman’s Empire State Republican colleagues.

Darren Rigger, a former fundraiser for Rangel, is pursuing the Democratic nomination in the district represented by GOP Rep. Sue Kelly.