A Bronx Tale

The Incumbent Protection Society Musters Its Forces

If anyone should get that lucky, he said, it shouldn't be Koppell, who lives in Riverdale, the most western and smallest part of the bifurcated 34th senatorial district. Koppell is also unworthy, said Benedetto, because she and her Ben Franklin Reform Democratic Club refused to carry petitions in 1996 for the Democratic county organization's duly selected candidate for Velella's seat. As a result, he and members of his Chippewa Democratic Club had been told by Ramirez to go out on a Sunday night and gather more signatures.

Who was the candidate?

"It was Guy Velella," responded Benedetto glumly. "We did it at Roberto's behest. Sometimes you do things you don't like, but it's like the manager of the baseball team asks you to do something, you do it."

The Ben Franklin club, based in Riverdale, also refused to carry petitions for Ramirez's senate candidate in 1998 for the seat, a woman no one knew and who had never appeared before the club to be interviewed.

"We weren't going to be part of a process to put up a phony candidate to give Guy Velella a free ride," said Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz, a Franklin club member.

The organization candidate was later knocked off the ballot by supporters of Hank Spallone, the former Yonkers mayor, who ran without any party support and got an astonishing 43 percent of the vote against Velella.

"We suspected she was a stand-in for Velella," said Jeff Barrett, a political consultant who guided Spallone's campaign. "We were sure they were going to substitute Velella's name after the petition deadline."

Velella is already running hard this year, airing cable TV commercials and mailing out 12 letters from his official senate office. He is expected to spend well over $500,000 on the race. Koppell has raised $120,000 so far; Benedetto about $17,000.

Asked about his next fundraiser, Benedetto named a date and location. But he called back later to report it had been canceled. "Too many people out of town," he said.

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