Big Apple campaign stops in Little Italy

Lazio event raises funds in GOP Senate bid against first lady

June 22, 2000|By Thomas W. Waldron and Ellen Gamerman | Thomas W. Waldron and Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

Little Italy gave a hero's welcome last night to Rep. Rick A. Lazio of New York as he made a quick stop in Baltimore to raise money for his U.S. Senate race against Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Enrico Lazio, the grandson of Sicilian immigrants, smiled broadly as he walked through the neighborhood, shaking hands, speaking a little Italian and signing at least one autograph.

"Good luck," Matilda Chiapparelli, a longtime resident, told Lazio. "I can't stand her."

At a dinner at Aldo's Restaurant, Lazio raised about $65,000 for his battle against Clinton, largely from supporters of Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who organized the event.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of a production error, part of a comment by Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer was omitted in some editions yesterday from an article about Rep. Rick Lazio of New York. Schaefer's full comment was, "I like what he does. I like his style. He doesn't carry a lot of baggage with him."
The Sun regrets the errors.

At $500 apiece, the tickets went quickly, said Ehrlich, a Baltimore County Republican who considers Lazio one of his best friends in Congress.

"It was a very easy sale," Ehrlich said. "Part of it is anti-Hillary. Equally relevant is the enthusiasm generated by Rick."

Lazio, in his eighth year in Congress, said he is happy to capitalize on voters' resentment of first lady Clinton.

"I'm hoping to channel some of that energy in a positive way," Lazio said. "It's important to give people a reason to vote for someone, and not to just vote against someone."

More than 100 guests dined on jumbo shrimp, pork chops and pasta. Among those attending were several veteran Maryland political contributors, including bakery magnate John Paterakis Sr., oil company executive Henry Rosenberg and banker H. Furlong Baldwin.

Lazio gave a miniversion of his stump speech, talking about the value of hard work and patriotism. He described how a much-decorated veteran of World War II recently gave him a warning.

What you're doing now is just as important as what I did 50 years ago, Lazio said the veteran told him. "Don't blow it."

Lazio, 42, jumped into the Senate race last month after New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani bowed out amid health and marital problems.

Just as Giuliani launched a national fund-raising blitz when he was considering running for the Senate, Lazio's bid is bound to draw donations far beyond his Long Island home. "Lazio's celebrity at the moment is a reflection of Hillary Clinton's," said Maurice Carroll, who directs the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Connecticut.

"I'm sure there's a Lazio Fan Club in Kokomo, Ind., but basically he's getting standard Republican money and anti-Clinton money - which there is a lot of."

Giuliani is returning $2.8 million to campaign donors, with a letter urging supporters to sign the back of the checks and send the money to Lazio. Federal election rules require Giuliani to return all the money set aside for the November election, a fraction of the $20 million he raised.

Lazio has said he needs to raise $15 million for this bid, and recently noted that he has raised $300,000 on the Internet alone. Clinton has been fund raising outside New York state for months and Lazio will be doing more of it, a spokesman said.

Political observers believe Lazio will have no trouble getting out-of-state money not just because of who his opponent is, but because of how important a win in New York would be to the Senate GOP.

Retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan locked up that seat for more than two decades. Now Republicans sense a chance to claim it. "The Republican Party nationally hopes to increase its hold on the Senate," said Steven Cohen, vice dean of the school of international and public affairs at Columbia University. "This is a race that is winnable for them."

Before the fund-raiser, Lazio and Ehrlich and a large group of aides and supporters spent 20 minutes walking the streets of Little Italy - no doubt the first time a Republican Senate candidate from New York had worked the heavily Democratic community.

In the entourage was Maryland Comptroller and former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat who has broken ranks to support Republicans.

"I like what he does, I like his style," Schaefer said. "He doesn't carry a lot of baggage with him."

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