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Dems wary of Working Families backing

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North country Democrats are divided on whether to seek the endorsement of a progressive political party that's the focus of an ongoing federal probe.

State Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine and Brian S. McGrath, a Lowville native running for the 122nd Assembly District, did not apply this year for the Working Families Party's endorsement and access to its ballot line. Rep. William L. Owens, Plattsburgh, and Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, Theresa, did.

The U.S. attorney's office reportedly is investigating whether the labor-union-backed party used its for-profit operation, Data & Field Services, in a manner that violated campaign finance rules. Andrew M. Cuomo, the Democratic designee for governor, did not seek its nomination, in part because of the investigation.

Mr. McGrath said he would "fight tirelessly" with local labor interests for his district's families, but said he felt "so strongly in the need to bring real reform to Albany to do anything other than taking an independent approach to solving the needs of the north country."

Andrew G. Mangione, a spokesman for Mr. Aubertine, said his boss's decision was not made recently. He declined to explain why the senator opted not to seek the line after taking it in two separate Senate bids in 2008.

Mr. Aubertine and party leaders have clashed over the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, which aims to expand farm laborers' rights. Party leaders have argued the policy unfairly exploits vulnerable immigrant groups, while Mr. Aubertine argued the regulations would force farmers to cut jobs, limit employees' hours or close their farms.

The Alliance for Quality Education is pressuring Mr. Aubertine to reject cuts to education spending and paid for 15 Data & Field Services employees to canvass his district for four weeks in April and May.

William C. Easton, the group's executive director, said the canvass generated 2,267 letters opposing the cuts, with many writers suggesting the $1.4 billion gap could be made up by taxing Wall Street bonuses.

Although Mrs. Russell applied for the line, she said she plans to consider the endorsement before accepting it.

"Many of the issues that the north country cares about — with the exception of the farmworkers' bill — they're just looking out for the average hardworking person," she said.

The party has not announced endorsements in the 23rd Congressional District, the 48th Senate District or the 122nd and 118th Assembly districts.

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