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Graham assists Davis campaign

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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Kristin M. Davis is accustomed to being underestimated, so the Manhattanite wasn't surprised when Watertown Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham declined a request to be her running mate this summer.


Instead of sulking about the snub, Ms. Davis jumped at Mr. Graham's offer to discuss her candidacy for more than 40 minutes on his local radio show, "The Hotline."


"Obviously, early on, it appeared to be a typical novelty candidacy," the mayor said Sunday. "My knowledge of her was superficial at best."


Ms. Davis said Mr. Graham's reaction was typical of many the former madam has encountered on the campaign trail since announcing her gubernatorial bid in March.


"You can see the blonde, the bustiness and it gives you a certain perception," she said. "He had his ideas, his notions. And once we got past that, he understood the importance of having another political party to advocate for these causes and one that's not corrupt."


The timing of the outreach was perfect.


Mr. Graham had become increasingly disenchanted with the Independence Party, in which he was registered, and had resigned himself to the notion that Democrat Andrew M. Cuomo would easily win election without his help.


The mayor began looking for candidates who espoused limited government and economic conservatism and picked two minor parties to carry petitions for: the Taxpayer Party organized by Carl P. Paladino and Ms. Davis's Anti-Prohibition Party.


As the summer progressed, Mr. Graham said, it became apparent that Mr. Paladino did "not have the temperament to govern." He also was flattered by the personal phone call he received from Roger Stone, the renowned political strategist assisting Ms. Davis's campaign.


To Mr. Graham, Mr. Stone's involvement gave the campaign an air of legitimacy — which caused him to take a closer look at the candidate, who had been defined largely by her looks, her former work as head of an escort service and a resulting four-month stint in Rikers Island.


Mr. Graham learned the candidate was valedictorian of her high school graduating class — at age 15. She received a business degree from St. Mary's College and rose to the ranks of vice president of a multibillion-dollar hedge fund before starting her escort service.


"Once you have to sit down and talk to her, you realize there's a lot of substance there," he said. "She's got a set of views that I'd call 'Barry Goldwater libertarianism.' Conservative without all the nonsense."


At the outset of her campaign, Ms. Davis appeared interested in four issues: legalizing marijuana, prostitution, casino gambling and same-sex marriage.


While those are still pegs in her platform, she said, she is really focused on "restoring economic growth to the state." Legalizing pot, which she notes she does not use, would generate $1.5 billion in new tax revenue. Casino gambling would attract more than $2 billion in new taxes.


Mr. Graham said it's smart strategy for the candidate to market controversial issues to attract the 50,000 votes she needs to get Tuesday to give the Anti-Prohibition Party ballot status for the next four years.


"When people say, 'I don't want legalization of marijuana,' I'm not sure I do either. But the present system is rife with duplicity and hypocrisy, so what's the problem with having a discussion on it?" he said. "Third-party politics is what brings unpopular issues into the arena."


As Ms. Davis's campaign evolved, she realized her knowledge was thin when it came to upstate issues and asked Mr. Graham to stay on as a de facto adviser.


"I'm downstate and being so removed, it's difficult to know what's going on up here," she said. "He's been instrumental in providing me advice."


Mr. Graham also has used his personal blog, Mayor Graham's View, to generate buzz about the candidacy.


Jefferson County Independence Party leaders, who didn't feel enough enthusiasm to reconstitute their committee in July, suddenly were energized by the third-party candidate.


Tammy A. Bramhall, the committee's former vice chairwoman, hosted Ms. Davis at her Carthage saloon, the Wicked Wench, this summer and cast an absentee vote for the candidate Thursday. John L. Rice, the former county Independence chairman, was one of about 30 who attended a party in Ms. Davis's honor last week at the mayor's bar, Fort Pearl. Mr. Graham said Friday that Mr. Rice "was a convert."


Mr. Graham now is assisting in the campaign's most important task: persuading Mr. Cuomo's supporters to defect to Ms. Davis.


"We can concede at this point in time that Andrew Cuomo is going to win. A vote for him is really a wasted vote," Ms. Davis said. "The people of Jefferson County have the opportunity to use their voice to send Andrew Cuomo and the career politicians in Albany a very clear message that these are issues that they want heard — whether you choose one of my issues or all of my issues."


Mr. Graham said his relationship with Mr. Stone, Ms. Davis and campaign manager Andrew Miller is "a friendship that develops around a common interest." While the mayor is committed to the cause this year, he's reserved about future endeavors.


"Let's see what happens Tuesday and who wants to get involved," he said.


Ms. Davis acknowledged she won't win Tuesday, but said she's considering creating a nonprofit to fight for her campaign's causes if she doesn't meet the 50,000-vote threshold. But for the candidate, getting ballot status is a certainty.


"Defeat is not an option," she said.

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