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Potential New York Senate Foes Offer Each Other Praise

In a room full of New York political heavyweights Wednesday morning, the elephant among them was ignored.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) made some oblique reference, quoting “my friend— Tom Paine about how working for the common good trumps all.

But that was it. You’d hardly know that Maloney is on the verge of challenging Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who was standing just inches away. Or that a new poll released that morning showed Maloney with the slimmest of leads in a hypothetical primary matchup. Both women know something about manners, and the two, in fact, were very gracious to each other.

They came together in the Russell Senate Office Building — New York’s two Senators and four of its House Members, along with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New Jersey’s two Senators, and a host of labor leaders and other dignitaries — to promote legislation that would ensure proper treatment for the Ground Zero workers who developed health problems in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The occasion for the gathering was the introduction of Gillibrand’s bill in the Senate on 9/11 workers, a companion to House legislation that Maloney and others have championed for years. But the political undertones were impossible to ignore — and the body language and verbal cues were fascinating to observe.

The news conference was largely Gillibrand’s show. She spoke of the “undeniable moral obligation to help the heroes of 9/11.—

Up next, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has worked diligently to clear the Democratic field for Gillibrand since she was plucked from the back bench of the House and appointed to the Senate five months ago, kvelled over his junior colleague. He described discussing the legislation last week over dinner with Gillibrand’s predecessor, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“When I told her Sen. Gillibrand was taking the lead, filling her able shoes, she was delighted,— Schumer said, tacitly offering Gillibrand a double endorsement.

New Jersey Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez and Frank Lautenberg also praised Gillibrand.

Bloomberg joined the proceedings late. As he walked in, he kissed Maloney first, then Gillibrand. He hailed Gillibrand’s “eagerness to take on the tough challenges that face New York.— But he was careful to also thank “Caroline Maloney.—

When it came time for Gillibrand to introduce Maloney, she noted that her former House colleague has fought on behalf of 9/11 workers “for many, many years— and has “done outstanding work on this legislation.—

“Thank you very much, Kirsten, for that generous introduction,— Maloney said upon taking the podium, eschewing Gillibrand’s formal title. After saying how much the new Senate bill is like the House bill and bowing to a key Democratic constituency, “our friends in labor,— Maloney turned to Gillibrand and shook her hand.

“Thank you, Sen. Gillibrand. Thank you, Sen. Schumer,— she said. “Now, on to passage.— The lovefest with Gillibrand continued as Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) took his turn to speak. Standing stage left of the podium, Maloney shook Gillibrand’s hand again, patted her back and whispered, “Congratulations, great job.—

Gillibrand, like the other Senators present, then slipped out of the room to attend the Senate impeachment proceedings against U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent. Maloney ran the rest of the news conference.

For good measure, another potential Senate candidate was there — the lone Republican elected official present, Rep. Peter King (N.Y.). He used his speaking time in part to praise Maloney and Nadler, calling their crusade for the health legislation “irrepressible.—

A new poll released Wednesday morning suggested that a Gillibrand-Maloney primary could be very close. In the Quinnipiac University poll of 1,048 registered Democrats, conducted June 16-21, Maloney led Gillibrand 27 percent to 23 percent. Labor activist Jonathan Tasini, who has entered the Democratic primary, had 4 percent.

The poll had a 3-point margin of error — and in another sign of how evenly matched the two women may be, both led King by an identical 16 points in a hypothetical general election matchup.

Standing outside the Russell hearing room where the news conference was taking place, Dennis Rivera, one of the most powerful labor leaders in New York and the Service Employees International Union health care chairman, was asked if his union was ready to take sides in a Gillibrand-Maloney primary. He may as well have been asked which of his children he loved more.

“The options are to support someone or to remain neutral, and I don’t know what the sentiment is right now,— he said.

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