SOARES STUNS DA CLYNE

MICHELE MORGAN BOLTON Staff writer
Section: MAIN,  Page: A1

Date: Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A young political newcomer delivered a stunning upset to Albany's Democratic establishment Tuesday as unofficial results showed that David Soares easily defeated incumbent Paul Clyne for the nomination for district attorney.


With almost all precincts reporting, Soares had 14,030 votes to Clyne's 8,684. If elected in November, Soares would be the first African-American district attorney in Albany County.


Soares and his supporters called his win a final blow to the once-vaunted Albany Democratic machine.


``Sept. 14, 2004, is the date that democracy returned to Albany County,'' said the triumphant young Democrat, who stood on a table at the Albany Pump Station to deliver his victory speech and was nearly drowned out by wild cheers from his backers.


Albany Common Council President Helen Desfosses, shrieking with happiness, said she was ``so excited, I can't stand it.''


``I absolutely do not think anything will ever be the same again after tonight,'' Desfosses said. ``This is a transformational moment in Albany politics. We've blown the top off the bottle.''


The party appeared to suffer a second blow in the first Democratic primay ever in the county for a Family Court judgeship. Margaret T. Walsh, 39, was beating party favorite John J. Reilly, 45, by 11,408 to 9,738.


Walsh was the only hopeful in a field of 16 applicants for the job who chose to wage a primary race for the seat being vacated by retiring Judge Beverly Tobin after Reilly was officially tapped by the party.


The district attorney's race is far from over. Clyne, 44, holds the Independence line, keeping him in the contest with Soares and Republican Roger Cusick, 55, a law professor and doctoral candidate. Soares also has the Working Families Party line.


But the defeat clearly shocked Democratic Party loyalists who backed Clyne, a one-term incumbent who just weeks ago seemed a shoo-in against an unknown former assistant in his office.


``It's hard to believe, but Paul is going to lose this election,'' said Clyne's campaign manager, Bob Haggerty, 45 minutes after polls closed. ``I hope the people in Albany County wake up by November 2.''


Clyne himself conceded the race, saying, ``It's obvious that the Albany County Democratic Party is not anything of what it used to be.


``He campaigned on issues which really have nothing to do with the job of district attorney,'' Clyne said. ``The fact that somebody spent some money doesn't change the fact there are people in the Democratic Party who are receptive to it.''


Clyne's supporters railed against the money that came in on Soares' behalf, apparently to help him promote reform of the state's strict Rockefeller Drug Laws. Clyne and most other district attorneys in the state opposed some of proposed reforms, particularly returning more sentencing discretion to judges.


Tim Murphy, a former Rensselaer County Democratic chairman and ally of Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, called Soares' win ``a clear assault on our core values and the way of life we cherish in upstate New York because the entire campaign is funded out of New York City.''


Jennings, who backed Clyne, said he was not surprised by the outcome. ``Hundreds of thousands of dollars dictated the message of Mr. Soares through the county,'' he said.


Asked whether he considered Clyne's defeat a comment on his own political clout, Jennings responded, ``It's got nothing to do with me.''


But at Soares' crowded victory party at the Pump Station, supporters pointed their fingers at Jennings' image on TV and shouted, ``You are next!''


Jennings blamed the media for playing up Soares as an underdog.


Soares, who spent the final hours of the race with a 15-vehicle caravan, knocking on doors, shrugged off questions about his financial backing and outside influence.


``The people who make those statements know nothing about this community,'' he said. ``This was a campaign we launched on issues. Everything is about politics. It's time to let the criminal justice system be about criminal justice.''


The race between the fellow Bethlehem residents began to boil in June when Soares announced plans to run and was fired. Soares released a new crime-fighting initiative almost every other day since.


The hallmark of his message remains aimed at the repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Dozens of supporters rallied Sunday at the state Capitol, where they formed a human billboard that spelled out ``Reform Rockefeller, Vote Soares.''


Clyne, who inherited the job from longtime District Attorney Sol Greenberg in 2000, has staked his claim on a record of doubling felony convictions and subsequent prison terms over the past three years.


He said he supports the repeal of life sentences in the strict 30-year-old Rockefeller statutes, but can't yield to Soares' platform that, according to the Assembly version, would allow some drug dealers to get treatment instead of prison.


Clyne said he works every day to do what Soares can only promise.


Soares' message has been aimed countywide, but may have most impact in the city that has a large demographic of black and Hispanic voters, insiders said.


Nerves were palpable as supporters and candidates in all camps worked to the last to get the vote out. Soares' campaign complained that city workers were distributing Clyne and Reilly literature on city time.


``It's obviously illegal and outrageous and totally typical of Albany County politics,'' Soares spokesman Alex Navarro said.


Clyne's campaign manager, Haggerty, laughed at the charge and cited allegations that Soares' campaign has been violated campaign finance limits. Democrats filed court papers precluding Working Families Party officials from spending any more money on Soares until a show-cause hearing originally set for Tuesday that was put off until today. They accused the third party of funneling more than $80,000 in funds from a drug-legalization lobby to Soares through the WFP.


Although the injunction tied party officials' hands, it didn't quell the cash outlay, Haggerty said. It just flowed from a different pipeline.


Election filings show Soares received an influx of $25,000 over the weekend from a collection of downstate and national heavy hitters, including $4,400 from Seagrams heir Edgar Bronfman; $8,800 from Jason Flom, the president of Warner Records; and $2,000 each from former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neil and onetime Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, among others, Haggerty said.


That brings Soares' primary spending to more than $125,000, he said.


Clyne, admittedly, will have spent more than $100,000 by Tuesday's end, Haggerty said: ``But 99 percent of our money was raised within the borders of Albany County.''


Haggerty said he'll request a state Board of Elections investigation.


People have their own reasons for wanting in on such a landmark contest, state Working Families Party Executive Director Dan Cantor said: ``This is the referendum on the Rockefeller Drug Laws that will send a message to the DAs around the state. This is the race to watch.''


Soares had 11th-hour endorsements by high-profile Democrats including Assemblyman Jack McEneny and former state Comptroller H. Carl McCall, who prepared recorded messages for voters.


Insiders questioned whether such support of Clyne's adversary could be in some way payback for his very public excoriation of the state Legislature. Clyne prosecuted top Assembly lawyer J. Michael Boxley, who was charged with the felony rape of a staffer and then allowed to plead to a misdemeanor.


In the Family Court primary, Reilly did not entirely concede, saying only that the numbers were ``close.'' Walsh, the apparent winner, called it ``history making'' to have a primary for the judgeship, and said that although much was made of her insurgency, she believed she won the primary ``not because I was running against the machine, but because I was the most qualified.'' Staff writers Elizabeth Benjamin and Josh Hurwit contributed to this report.