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New York: Syracuse Mayor Forms Exploratory Committee

In a potential blow to Dan Maffei, the former Capitol Hill aide who is the lone Democrat so far in the race to replace retiring Rep. Jim Walsh (R), Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll (D) has created an exploratory committee in advance of a possible bid. Driscoll told the Syracuse Post-Standard that he hopes to raise $20,000 so he can conduct a poll.

“What I am doing is digging down, trying to take the global view of this whole process and the race, understanding everything that comes with it, the needs of my family and my party,” Driscoll told the newspaper.

Maffei, who came within 2 points of upsetting Walsh in 2006, already has the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, most of the New York Democratic Congressional delegation and several key unions.

Meanwhile, the race finally got Republican candidates last week: former State Fair Director Peter Cappuccilli and Randy Wolken, president of the Manufacturers Association of Central New York.

Cappuccilli was effusive in his praise of the 20-year Congressman and said he is uniquely equipped to promote the Syracuse-based district.

“I believe that Jim Walsh will never get the full credit he deserves for all he’s done and brought back to the district — money, projects — and I’m looking to build upon that with my experience in business and in marketing, to build upon what he’s done and to bring a different look on top of what he’s already done,” Cappuccilli told the Post-Standard.

Wolken, who is 43, touted his own experience during his announcement. A one-time candidate for mayor of Syracuse, Wolken has worked for nonprofit groups and in local government.

“I believe I have the breadth of experience that other people will have a tough time matching,” he said, according to the newspaper.

But another potential GOP contender, former Onondoga County Legislature Chairman Dale Sweetland, has taken himself out of the running, telling the Post-Standard that he has “discovered there are nights and weekends” since leaving office at the end of 2007.

With Walsh gone, the 25th district is one of the top Democratic pickup opportunities in the country.

Higgins’ Race Could Get Hot With Tanning Exec

After squeaking into office in 2004 and winning a much more robust victory last cycle, Rep. Brian Higgins (D) could have a tough challenge this year from a Republican who — as local pundits already have put it — will, if nothing else, be tanned, rested and ready.

Daniel Humiston, the 44-year-old president and founder of the Tanning Bed chain of tanning salons, soon is expected to announce his intention to seek the Republican nomination to take on Higgins, The Buffalo News reported last week. According to the newspaper, Humiston is a member of the Independence Party, meaning he could have a clear shot of snagging that ballot line in November as well.

Tanning Bed is the largest operation of tanning parlors in the United States, and Humiston might be able to self-fund his campaign.

Through Dec. 31, Higgins had $304,000 in his campaign account. The Buffalo-area district has considerably more enrolled Democrats than Republicans, though it sent Republican Jack Quinn to Congress as recently as 2002.

Some Liberal Groups Snub Party Favorite

Although the party establishment appears to be rallying around New York City Councilman Domenic Recchia (D) in his bid to unseat Rep. Vito Fossella (R), lawyer Steve Harrison, the 2006 Democratic nominee, refuses to go away and is winning support from some liberal groups.

In the past few days, Harrison has been endorsed by the Staten Island Democratic Association, the most liberal of the borough’s five Democratic clubs, and he also has won the nod from the local chapter of Progressive Democrats of America. The local PDA chapter was started at the beginning of the year to get Democrats in Staten Island and Brooklyn interested in wresting the 13th district — the lone seat in New York City held by a Republican — away from the GOP.

Just how much political pop Harrison will get from the endorsements remains to be seen. <
— Josh Kurtz