Democrats Poised To Attack Potential Latimer Challenger

Democrats Poised To Attack Potential Latimer Challenger

Democrats Poised To Attack Potential Latimer Challenger
July 11, 2014

The Republican Party may have found a candidate to run against Democratic state Sen. George Latimer, and Democrats are already taking aim at the potential challenger.

Petitions were submitted for Jean Maisano, a nonprofit communications director, Gannett Albany reported earlier today, but it is unclear whether she will actually follow through with a run against Latimer, who is finishing up his first term in office. Maisano told Gannett that she had not yet committed to running, and her husband, James Maisano, a Westchester County legislator and special counsel to the state Senate Republicans, told City & State that she would make a decision over the weekend.

One Democratic source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Maisano is not yet a declared candidate, told City & State that if she did move forward with a run, the party would target her role as director of communications at the Guidance Center of Westchester, a nonprofit that relies largely on government grants, given her husband’s strong ties at the state and county level.

The nonprofit received over $5 million in grant and contract income in 2011 and $4.6 million in 2010. It is unclear from the Guidance Center of Westchester’s filings exactly how much of it comes from the state or county, but the organization does list a variety of state and local agencies as sources of revenue, including the state’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services, and Office of Mental Health, as well as Westchester County’s Health Department, Department of Community Mental Health, and Youth Bureau.

Although there is no evidence suggesting the Maisano family has conflicts of interest or that the Guidance Center has been the recipient of any inappropriate governmental support, Democrats said they would carefully scrutinize the organization's spending and make it an issue on the campaign trail.

“You have the wife of a Republican Senate employee and a Republican county legislator who works for a nonprofit that is extensively funded by both the state and the county, who’s now being forced to run for the Senate by the same people,” the Democratic source said. “There are a lot of questions that need to be answered here, and it’s going to be a major substantive inquiry.”

James Maisano dismissed the attack as a “cheap shot” and said that he and his wife have always followed ethical rules and guidelines. He also said that responding to political attacks would wait until his wife decides whether to run.

“All the other questions are moot until my wife is done thinking about what she wants to do,” he said. 

Senate Republicans are facing an uphill battle to stay in power as a result of a reconciliation between the Senate Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference. After viewing the seat now occupied by Latimer as a toss-up two years ago, the state GOP has struggled to recruit a candidate this cycle to run against the incumbent.

In 2012 Latimer, then an assemblyman, beat Republican businessman Bob Cohen in a hard fought race, winning with a solid 54 percent of the vote. Cohen declined to run again, according to reports, and former Yonkers mayor John Spencer also took a pass.

A spokesman for Latimer said that the senator was focusing on his own record and would wait until a challenger officially enters the race before commenting on the candidacy of an opponent.

“Until there’s a formal announcement from a candidate, we will focus on the work that George has done over the past two years and bring that case to the voters,” said Brian Hegt, a campaign spokesman.

If Maisano decides not to run, she could transfer her petitions to another candidate. Although the petitions have already been submitted, the process allows for her to drop out of the race by July 14. Republicans would then have until July 18 to submit a replacement, according to the Westchester County Board of Elections.

Republicans have been silent about who will actually run against Latimer. Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans, declined to comment. Westchester County Republican Chair Doug Colety did not return multiple calls, and a man who answered Colety’s cell phone today said he would get Colety in the other room, and then hung up.

Jon Lentz
is City & State’s editor-in-chief.