The Ubiquitous Candidate

In the final days of the primary, Chuck Schumer is everywhere

In a year where D'Amato's pay-to-play ethics will again be questioned, it is ironic that Schumer--and not the Fonz--is the Senate candidate who has come the closest to being busted. Schumer's indictment on fraud charges was sought in 1982 by the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney and signed off on by the Department of Justice's Criminal Division (then headed by one Rudolph Giuliani) and the Office of Public Integrity. But the new congressman was spared when a deputy attorney general nixed the prosecution, apparently on jurisdictional grounds.

While the criminal probe left him with a black eye, it did not stop Schumer from being reelected. Represented during the federal investigation by Arthur Liman, Schumer racked up legal bills of more than $60,000, a sum he eventually wrote off on his taxes over a five-year period, according to his returns from 1982 to 1986.

After this rocky start, Schumer has compiled an admirable legislative record and he is the clear star of the New York congressional delegation. His work on the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban made him a target of the National Rifle Association and gun nuts everywhere. Schumer's other Washington achievements are numerous, and he notes in a recent campaign mailing he has "done more than you can squeeze into one 30-second ad," or "even six or seven ads." Since Schumer has actually aired more than a dozen spots, this reads less like a boast than an apology for his commercial deluge.

Another campaign piece touts his fight to aid workers by raising the minimum wage, a stance that is surely supported by Schumer's own employee. Since 1995, he has employed a full-time nanny who earns only $13,000 a year, or $250 per week, to care for his children. Schumer's tax returns from 1995 to 1997 show that the nanny, Evelyn Deshong, did not receive a raise during that period of employment.

While Schumer's legislative résumé is impressive, there remain indications that the "liberal, but malleable" tag applies. His flip-flop on the death penalty only serves to make him more appealing to a statewide electorate. While he has made much of his fight against Newt Gingrich and the Contract With America, Schumer is only a recent convert to the D'Amato jihad. While Green has been doggedly pursuing the Republican for more than a decade, Schumer targeted the Fonz only after deciding not to challenge the more invincible George Pataki.

The Senate candidate, a member of the House Banking Committee, is also extremely cozy with the securities industry, à la Alfonse. He has been able to bank nearly $13 million for this campaign because firms like Goldman, Sachs, the Travelers Group, and the Equitable Companies are comfortable with him. Schumer provided crucial support for 1998 legislation to supposedly modernize the financial services industry. That measure passed the House by one vote and was roundly criticized by President Bill Clinton and good government groups for weakening the Community Reinvestment Act and helping to facilitate megamergers that are rarely in the consumer's interest. Schumer also had previously supported the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, which was derided as "special interest politics at its worst" by the Consumer Federation of America. That measure limited stockholders' ability to pursue legitimate legal claims against companies.

Gay groups have also criticized Schumer for supporting the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which labels heterosexual marriages as the only legal unions. Last month, Schumer was a no-show at a candidates' forum at Greenwich Village's Gay and Lesbian Community Center, where his name was booed by a 150-person crowd.

It is unclear, though, whether Schumer's positions on securities legislation, DOMA, or the death penalty will resonate with primary voters. He believes that since beating D'Amato is the goal of every Democrat, he can make a persuasive case as to why he is the only candidate able to deny the Republican a fourth term. If he faces D'Amato, Schumer reasons, he will be flush enough to fight fire with fire and won't get sandbagged by D'Amato commercials that will begin targeting the Democratic nominee immediately after the primary. Of course, much of his artillery will be underwritten by the same benefactors stocking the D'Amato war effort.

Schumer's attempts to supplement his commercials with free media have, so far, fallen short of Green's successes. His press conferences--on subjects like HMO reform and skyrocketing college tuition--have been sparsely covered. While Green was barnstorming Brooklyn churches with David Dinkins and drawing cameras, Schumer addressed three Harlem churches on a Sunday in late August in virtual anonymity.

Actually, that might not have been so bad, since his remarks were rather awkward and peppered with forced and repeated references to God. Addressing the plague of guns on the street, Schumer told one congregation of the days when he "grew up on the streets of Brooklyn." It was a time, he said, when "my hormones were racing" and he got into a few scuffles. Even came home once with a broken thumb. "But, praise God, I never came home in a coffin!" Had he been given a few more minutes at one West 116th Street church, the candidate might have asked the crowd if he could get a couple of amens.

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