- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2004

NEW YORK — Michael Benjamin, a conservative Republican who would challenge Democrat Charles E. Schumer for the U.S. Senate, produces a small book from a coat pocket to make his point.

“This is my guide, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution,” Mr. Benjamin said in an interview at an East Side restaurant. “It doesn’t say anywhere here that I have to have the governor’s permission to run for office. This is America and anyone has the right to step up and run for office and not be targeted by a campaign of sabotage and subversion by the party leader.”

Mr. Benjamin, 34, a former securities trader who wants to be the Republican nominee, has taken on state party leaders. Mr. Benjamin, who grew up in Latin America, says those leaders have frozen him out of contention mainly because he is Hispanic. At least that is his impression from a January 2000 lunch with state Republican Party Chairman Alexander F. “Sandy” Treadwell.

Motivated by what he portrays as a slight, Mr. Benjamin drives from county to county — all 62 of them — in search of political recognition. As he does, the tall and talkative office seeker reminds anyone who will listen that no matter what the Republican “aristocracy” does, he plans to be on the ballot by winning 25 percent of the vote at the party’s nominating convention in May, or by collecting the 15,000 signatures required for a successful petition.

The petition route, fraught with technicalities, has landed many would-be candidates in political quicksand.

Gov. George E. Pataki and state Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno already have extended the Republican Party’s blessing to Howard Mills, 39, a little-known three-term assemblyman from Orange County. But political veterans say Mr. Mills is unlikely to receive the kind of national party funding that can compete against Mr. Schumer’s $20 million war chest.

Once Mr. Pataki and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani indicated they were not interested in the Senate race, it seemed an open field for Mr. Benjamin, that is until the lunch with Mr. Treadwell.

“Sandy asked me what my heritage was and I told him. And then he said, ‘Do you own any property?’” Mr. Benjamin said. “Was he saying this because I’m Hispanic? I think so.”

Mr. Benjamin spent much of his youth in South America, where his Jewish father, a native of Iran, worked for Bank of America. His mother was born in Honduras.

Mr. Benjamin says the chairman shunned him after their only meeting and the Republican hierarchy pressured the party’s county leaders to withhold endorsements and, in some cases, persuaded speakers to cancel their slated appearances at his fund-raisers.

Mr. Treadwell would not comment, but he dispatched his executive director, Bill McGahay, to say that under the state party bylaws, it is the chairman’s prerogative to endorse or not. “Absurd” is how he described the charge of ethnic discrimination, adding that Mr. Benjamin is “a nice young man who’s in a hurry.”

Mr. Benjamin’s political experience includes an unsuccessful run for Congress against Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat representing Manhattan in New York’s 8th District.

Mr. Benjamin says Mr. Mills was “number 10” on Mr. Pataki’s candidate list and that the assemblyman was handpicked so he would hire the governor’s consultants. “They simply get a candidate who will agree to use his candidacy as a vehicle to raise money to pay the governor’s consultants.”

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