Ferraro, Faced With Tight Race, Defends Herself in Rare TV Ad : Primaries: She stares full-face into camera and denies any involvement with organized crime. N.Y. Senate race reportedly is a 'statistical dead heat.'


The volatile and bitter Democratic Senate primary in New York ended Tuesday with former vice presidential candidate Geraldine A. Ferraro scrambling to defend her character against sustained attacks by her two main opponents as her once formidable lead in the polls evaporated.

Only hours before voting began, the Ferraro campaign broadcast an extraordinary commercial on the few remaining television stations where she could still buy time in an effort to stanch the slide.

Staring full-face into the camera, she declared: "My opponents have tried to turn me into an evil figure from the shadows. . . . I know of no other way to respond than to look you in the eye and swear to you that I have never been involved with organized crime."

In the last days of the campaign--particularly during their final debate last weekend--state Atty. Gen. Robert Abrams and New York City Controller Elizabeth Holtzman pressed the issue of Ferraro's alleged links to the Mafia and the general question of her ethics. And the contest's final polls showed the attacks apparently paid off, turning the race into a close one between Abrams and Ferraro, a former congresswoman who was seeking to become the latest in a series of women to win Senate nominations this year.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, a nationally known black activist, was the fourth candidate in the race to oppose Republican incumbent Alfonse M. D'Amato in November. He is viewed as vulnerable because of nagging charges of ethical improprieties.

While the Democratic Senate brawl held center stage, several New York congressional primaries also attracted interest.

--In a new district encompassing parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, Democratic Rep. Stephen J. Solarz--considered a foreign policy expert in Congress--faced a struggle to remain in office. Reapportionment divided the heavily Jewish district he had represented since 1974 into six slices. So Solarz sought his party's nomination in a district drawn to create a Latino majority.

On the plus side for him, five Latino politicians entered the race, raising the prospect that they will divide the ethnic vote. On the minus side, he had to overcome revelations earlier this year that he wrote 743 bad checks in the House bank scandal.

--On the West Side of Manhattan, Democrats were urged to vote for a dead candidate. Rep. Ted Weiss, 64, died Monday after a long bout with heart disease. Democratic leaders pleaded with voters to memorialize the liberal congressman by denying the nomination--tantamount to election in the heavily Democratic district--to Arthur R. Block, a fringe candidate. Party leaders can pick Weiss' successor in the general election if the deceased candidate wins.

--In the Bronx, former 10-term congressman Mario Biaggi, who served almost two years in federal prison for bribery and extortion, sought to return to the House. Concerned about Biaggi's health, a federal judge freed the 74-year-old Democrat last year. After Biaggi announced his heart condition and nerve damage had improved enough for him to return to politics, the man who took his seat and his opponent in Tuesday's vote, Rep. Eliot L. Engel, quipped he "must have gone to Lourdes."

Six other states and the District of Columbia also held primaries Tuesday.

--In Washington state, the announced retirement of Democratic Sen. Brock Adams after allegations of sexual harassment--which he denied--set off a fight for his party's nomination between state Sen. Patty Murray, who cast herself as a political outsider, and former Rep. Don Bonker. The winner is expected to face Republican Rep. Rod Chandler, the leading contender in the GOP primary.

--In Washington, D.C., former three-term Mayor Marion Barry was trying for a political comeback. Released from prison in April after serving six months for possession of cocaine, he was facing four other Democrats in a primary for a City Council nomination. A primary victory should be tantamount to victory in the heavily Democratic 8th Ward.

--In Massachusetts, veteran Democratic Rep. Nicholas Mavroules sought to win his primary despite his recent indictment on several felony charges, including bribery and tax evasion. Mavroules, who first won his House seat in 1978, was opposed by Barbara Hildt, a liberal state legislator, and Eric Elbot, an administrator at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

In the New York Senate race, Holtzman repeatedly charged that Ferraro and her husband, John A. Zaccaro, were slow to evict a reputed organized crime figure and child pornographer from a building they owned. Holtzman focused on $340,000 in rent the man paid while he remained a tenant three years after Ferraro had pledged he would be evicted.

Abrams contended that the House Ethics Committee had found that Ferraro had concealed her husband's business interests and that she had failed to disclose $60,000 in income while she was a congresswoman.

Ferraro, the first and only woman ever to run on a major party's national ticket, denied the allegations. She also sought to turn the tables on her opponents, contending that they tried to distort her views. She said that while serving in Congress, she was an early fighter for an environmental Superfund and for cracking down on corporate polluters.

She took a strong lead in polls earlier this summer and was viewed by many political observers as potentially the strongest Democratic candidate against D'Amato.

In Washington state, a gubernatorial race to replace retiring Democrat Booth Gardner saw Republicans Sid Morrison, a congressman from rural eastern Washington, pitted against state Atty. Gen. Ken Eikenberry and state Sen. Dan McDonald. Democrat Mike Lowry, a former congressman and unabashed liberal, was favored over state House Speaker Joe King.

Times researcher Doug Conner in Seattle contributed to this story.

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