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Clinton Pushes Schumer Bid in N.Y. Senate Race

Politics: President praises lawmaker in his drive to unseat GOP's D'Amato. Polls show that negative campaigns are turning off many voters.

October 31, 1998|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — President Clinton on Friday campaigned for Social Security and for Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is trying to unseat Republican Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato in what has become the nation's most expensive and perhaps nastiest Senate race. The polls show D'Amato is slipping in his bid for a fourth term.

"We shouldn't take the money and run," the president told senior citizens in a parish basement in Queens. "We ought to save Social Security before we throw this money away. . . . If we start now, this money we have in the surplus, then we can preserve Social Security in the 21st century."

With Schumer smiling at his side, Clinton added: "Chuck Schumer is an idealist who is always struggling to get things done."

Idealism has been in short supply here, where Schumer and D'Amato have hurled attack ads at one another like hand grenades.

Polls show many voters are dismayed by the highly negative tone of the campaigns, including a Yiddish anatomical insult by D'Amato that apparently hurt his bid. Schumer repeatedly has labeled his opponent "a liar."

"My [10-year-old] grandson says they are all liars," said Mary McAuliffe, 74, who was in the audience Friday.

Gore to Pitch In Over the Weekend

The fact that this was Clinton's second appearance on Schumer's behalf showed the importance the White House has placed on the New York race. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton has campaigned three times for the 47-year-old congressman, and Vice President Al Gore is scheduled to be in the Bronx over the weekend, his second trip.

"New York at extraordinary times has given this country extraordinary leadership in the United States Senate," the president told about 300 seniors at the St. Sebastian's Parish Center.

"New York has given the American people Robert Wagner and Herbert Lehman and Jacob Javits and Pat Moynihan in the United States Senate. New York gave the American people Robert Kennedy in the United States Senate.

"When it comes to education or Social Security or health care . . . , I can think of no person with whom I have worked in these last six years in the entire Congress who I think has more ability to turn ideas into action than Chuck Schumer," Clinton said.

Later, at a fund-raiser at the Brooklyn home of Joseph Cayre, the chief executive officer of Good Times Entertainment, the president added:

"To have a few more Democrats like Chuck Schumer may mean the difference in whether we save Social Security or forget about our obligations to our parents and our children. It may make the difference in whether we pass a patients' bill of rights so all people, not just the well-to-do, can be guaranteed that they will get quality health care. . . . It may make the difference in whether we actually go out and build schools and hire teachers and provide excellence in education to all our people."

By the time voters go to the polls Tuesday, D'Amato and Schumer, according to estimates, will have spent more than $40 million on the election. In the closing weekend, the candidates continued to hammer away at each other's voting attendance records.

D'Amato for weeks has charged that Schumer missed more than 100 congressional votes because he was busy campaigning. Schumer countered by airing commercials saying that when D'Amato ran for the Senate the first time, he missed hundreds of votes as a member of the Nassau County Board of Supervisors.

And D'Amato recently charged in a last-minute burst of commercials that 18 years ago, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn recommended prosecuting Schumer because as a member of the state Assembly, he had used state employees to work in his first congressional campaign.

No Charges Brought Against Schumer

The U.S. Justice Department declined to prosecute, claiming it lacked jurisdiction. State prosecutors didn't bring charges either, and Schumer has claimed he cooperated with the investigation.

All of this disgusted Alice Hendershott, 92, in the basement of St. Sebastian's.

"With so much going on in the world, they discuss personalities," she lamented. "I'd like to see them talk about what they stand for. They don't have to knock each other."

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