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Times Union

Novello Possible Foe For Clinton

May 2, 2005
Copyright © 2005 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y. All rights reserved.

To the short list of possible GOP contenders to take on U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., next fall, add the name of state Health Commissioner Antonia Novello.

There have been a few whispers in certain top Republican circles that Novello, 60, is considering a statewide run post-Pataki administration, and perhaps might even challenge Clinton.

State Republican Party officials say she hasn't contacted them, however, and through a spokesperson at the Health Department the commissioner declined to comment on her political plans.

As the first Hispanic and first woman to serve as U.S. surgeon general (under the first President George Bush), Novello has a strong federal pedigree to take on a former first lady, although another possible GOP contender, Ed Cox, a Manhattan attorney, is the son-in-law of former President Richard M. Nixon.

Novello, a Puerto Rico native, could have a leg up with the all-important Hispanic vote.

Unlike her boss, Gov. George Pataki, who favors a woman's right to choose abortion (a stance that could hurt him in his political aspirations), Novello is anti-abortion. When Pataki appointed her health commissioner in 1999, Novello reportedly was considering a run for mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Highly placed Republicans said they are skeptical that Novello will end up running against Clinton. Some are still hoping Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro will step up to the plate, but she seems to be leaning toward a run for state attorney general.

Up, down and maybe out

Lawmakers were on vacation from Albany last week, but that didn't stop reporters from being lobbied at work. The policy-pushers? The elevator operators who shuttle Capitol visitors and employees between floors.

Operators are concerned that their jobs are in jeopardy because the state is planning to change the elevators to push-button -- eliminating the need for operators. It's a change many are sad to see. Some operators, like Sandy Raus, have been working in the Capitol longer than many lawmakers.

But the Office of General Services said Friday their jobs won't be history as soon as expected. Raus and her colleagues were concerned the change could come by this September. Jennifer Morris, an OGS spokeswoman, said it's more likely to happen later than that because two elevators currently out of service have to be repaired first.

"Obviously, once the elevators are brought up to code and modernized and computerized, even though they will retain the same features, they're going to be easier to use," she said. "The elevator operator is going to become obsolete."

Down, perhaps, but not out on the unemployment line. Morris said employees can be placed in other building services jobs.

Contributors: Capitol bureau reporters Elizabeth Benjamin and Erin Duggan.


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