Becoming 'Dem-ato'

Schumer Morphs Into Alfonse: Fires Assault Weapon at Green, and Praises His Own Miss

Chuck Schumer was climbing into a camera, leaning on the tips of his toes in the front of the Rye Town Hilton ballroom, reconstructing the hour-and-a-half-long roll call for U.S. Senate at last week's state Democratic convention just seconds after it ended. ''I believe we should have everybody on the ballot,'' he was saying, without so much as a wink or a blush.

Only a few yards away from teary-eyed Christine Pozmante, the Westchester delegate whose weighted vote had narrowly qualified Schumer rival Mark Green for the September primary ballot, the congressman was taking credit for her conversion. ''She was committed to me and I released her,'' deadpanned Schumer.

Almost simultaneously, Pozmante, a perfume saleswoman with a blue Schumer button pinned to her bright red dress, was telling the Voice: ''I did this on my own.'' She recalled how Schumer had called her repeatedly at her home to secure her pre-convention commitment, but in the end, she said, she felt an obligation to help put Green on the ballot.

Schumer's claim was an exhibition of such transparent chutzpah, so inconsistent with his two-day blitzkrieg of buttonholing and bullying delegates, that any Democrat who heard it could be excused for wondering, at least momentarily, if the party might at last have discovered an Alfonse antidote. The $11 million congressman who can almost match his senatorial target buck for wily buck is so driven to defeat D'Amato he just may be willing to become him.

Paul Adler, the Rockland County chair who was seated directly behind Pozmante, described the mad scramble for the vote that gave Green two-tenths of a per cent more than the 25 per cent he needed to make the ballot: ''It was the best theater. Schumer descending, Ferraro darting, Green hovering. Schumer was looking for every vote he could get, hoping to get 50 per cent and become the designee of the party. He was saying the Westchester votes were Schumer votes, let them vote their commitment. Ferraro was telling Dave Alpert, the Westchester leader: 'I need it. You promised me votes.'

''When it came to the final vote with Christine,'' the pro-Green Adler recalled, ''there was virtual necking going on. They embraced. They cajoled. But Alpert did the right thing. Way back in February, the 13 big-county chairs agreed that they would put all three of the senate candidates on the ballot. At the most recent meeting, some of the chairs retreated from that unanimous commitment. But Alpert kept his word.''

Adler and Scott Levenson, Green's floor manager, said that Schumer wrapped his arm around Alpert, asking him to ''give me as many votes as you can,'' and insisted that if Green ''can't get it on his own, don't put him on.'' Alpert remembers both Ferraro and Schumer approaching him, but maintains he ''was not tuning in to them,'' that he was fixated instead on his February pledge to marshal whatever votes were necessary to put Green on. That's why 11 of the 14 Westchester delegates had passed on the first call, and seven, including Pozmante, wound up voting for Green on the second call. ''I don't think I responded to Gerry or Chuck; I wasn't hearing them,'' says Alpert, referring the Voice to Adler for confirmation.

Twenty minutes after taking credit for Pozmante's vote, Schumer acknowledged when pressed by skeptical reporters that he had indeed pushed Alpert for ''as many votes'' as possible, but argued that he wasn't trying to block Green, only to finish first (his 14-point lead over second-place Ferraro at the time was insurmountable). Flip-flopping again a few hours later, Schumer appeared at the endorsement vote of the west side's Community Free Democrats and, according to two witnesses, left ''the impression'' that he had allowed his delegates to give Green a winning margin.

Schumer's last-minute rush on Westchester--Levenson yelled at him, ''Chuck, you're being a pig''--was the climax of a weeks-long, subterranean strategy designed to deny Green a spot on the ballot, forcing him either to go the expensive petition route or drop out. Had Green, who won more votes than any other Democrat in both citywide races this decade, failed to win his party's insider minimum, his senate candidacy could have been fatally damaged. To camouflage the squeeze on Green, Schumer kept telling delegates right up to the final moment that he was near the 50 per cent threshold necessary to become the party's designee (a hollow honor in any event). But the ostensible search for 50 was really an attempt--in a three-way race--to deny an opponent 25.

Delegates told sordid stories of Schumer's personal pressures, threatening, in one instance, to expose a Green delegate from a conservative upstate county by publicly connecting him to Green's liberal policies. Schumer could be seen in the corridors cornering delegates like Buffalo's black assemblyman Arthur Eve, who was pledged to Green, and glaring at him. ''After all the years we've known each other,'' Schumer said, referring no doubt to his own old days in the assembly. ''It's nothing personal,'' Eve protested. A snarling Schumer walked away, spitting Eve's name out in disgust.

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