COOPERSTOWN — Democrat Howard Leib of Dryden said Friday he will mount an aggressive challenge to veteran state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, tagging the incumbent as “a career politician” who marches in lockstep with the pro-fracking GOP leadership in Albany.
Although Seward won a lopsided Republican primary victory Thursday against little-known challenger James Blake of Schenevus, Leib argued the senator is vulnerable to a strong challenge this year. Using a hypothetical to make his point, he said President Barack Obama’s political future would be seen as bleak if an unknown challenger took him on in a primary and received 20 percent of the vote.
“His support is a mile wide and an inch deep,” Leib said of Seward. “He has no friends other than the insurance companies and big business.”
Seward spokesman Jeff Bishop shrugged off Leib’s claims that the senator has catered to the insurance industry, suggesting that the challenger was serving up warmed-over lines from previous Democratic playbooks that failed to resonate with voters.
“Sen. Seward certainly has no trouble in debating” Leib on the full range of issues, Bishop said.
Seward’s easy victory over Blake came on a primary night that produced few surprises. Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, who was backed by most GOP leaders in a newly carved Assembly district that runs through seven counties, took nearly two-thirds of the votes in coasting past Brian Maher, mayor of the Orange County village of Walden.
For the main event in November, Tenney will face Dan Carter, the Herkimer County Democratic Party chairman and a machinist who helps build equipment for the yogurt industry.
Carter said he thinks he has a good shot at upsetting Tenney in the general election. He said he plans to highlight his contention that there are too many environmental risks to allow hydrofracking for natural gas. Carter said he also opposes the proposed Constitution Pipeline. Tenney said in an interview this week that she was not very familiar with the project, pointing out that federal regulators have not begun hearings on it.
According to unofficial returns in the GOP primary for the new 101st Assembly District, Tenney collected 2,969 votes, while 1,596 went to Maher.
The closest race in the region came in a Republican contest for Chenango County Court judge. With all machine votes counted, Norwich lawyer Frank Revoir Jr. held a 280-vote advantage over his closest rival, Chenango County District Attorney Joseph McBride.
More than 500 absentee ballots were mailed, and those won’t be counted until Thursday. Barring any irregularities with the machine votes, McBride would need a very high percentage of the paper ballots for the results to tilt in his favor.
In the 51st Senate District, Seward has held what Albany insiders consider to be one of the safest districts in New York for 26 years. Leib said he will try to show that Seward has been evasive on the gas drilling issue and tried to appease critics of the Constitution Pipeline by suggesting it be moved within the Interstate 88 corridor.
“He is the only person in upstate New York without a position on fracking,” Leib said. “Seward’s position is that they are putting the pipeline in the wrong place. My position is that they shouldn’t bring it in at all.”
Bishop said only the federal government has authority over the pipeline project.
“The role of the state senator is very limited” on such projects, he said. “Maybe Mr. Leib needs to understand the role of a state senator when it comes to that.”
Bishop also said Seward has closely monitored the promulgation of draft state regulations that would govern the gas drilling industry.
“He has been at the center of that process since it started four years ago,” he said.
Cooperstown Democratic Committee Chairman Richard Abbate, who is seeking to become the next Otsego County Democratic Chairman, conceded that defeating Seward is an uphill challenge for Democrats.
“Sen. Seward is someone with name recognition, and he has a very large following of supporters,” Abbate said.
Anthony Casale of Cooperstown, a state GOP strategist, said Seward takes nothing for granted.
“I think Sen. Seward will continue to campaign aggressively,” he said. “Jim is on the job — 24/7.”