The Dem Field For McHugh’s Seat

ALBANY—There's still another week to jockey, but as a diarist on The Albany Project put it yesterday, the list of Democrats vying to replace John McHugh in Congress has lots of "uninspiring choices."

The A-list choice, State Senator Darrel Aubertine, bowed out. So did Assemblywoman Addie Russell, who has an (albeit newly constructed) track record as an elected legislator, and Dan French, whose résumé reads close to ideally for a Congressional run.

Several Democratic sources have pointed to the fizzling debate over health care legislation—a tough vote for moderates or conservatives in that party—as casting a tough cloud over the race. The DCCC seems more reticent about getting conspicuously involved the A-listers are out.

The 11 Democratic county chairs representing the district will gather on Aug. 10 to interview the candidates listed and make their choice. On Thursday, I asked Sean Hennessey, chairman of the Jefferson County Democratic Committee, what the biggest challenge would be.

"I guess wading through such a group of candidates that have such a varied background. Many we know very well here in the North Country, trying to choose one from that group," he said. I asked if things were complicated by Russell and Aubertine dropping out.

"No. I actually take my hat off to the senator and the assemblywoman. Here in New York State we're in a truly difficult economic time, and I applaud them for staying in and doing the tough job of a budget," he said. "New York State needs our assemblywoman and senator."

So what's left, I asked. What are you looking for in a candidate?

"I personally would be looking for someone that has strong labor background, somebody who has a connection with as much of the district as they could," he said. "Name recognition, obviously, doesn't hurt, and the ability to mobilize troops is key."

Two candidates have that quality: Bill Owens and Brian McGrath. I'm hearing some favorable things about Owens coming out of Washington, and McGrath has flashed some cash and already hired a political team. Of the two, Owens has much more of a profile within the district, but he is not a registered Democrat, according to the State Board of Elections. He would need to either enroll in the party or have a Wilson-Pakula agreement.