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Boro leaders back Gillibrand

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If former Tennessee U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. decides to challenge U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), he will be hard-pressed to find support for his candidacy in southeast Queens.

Amid talk that Ford, who is black, is seeking to meet with black leaders in the state as he weighs whether to mount a challenge to Gillibrand, most representatives of southeast Queens have already come out in support of the state’s junior senator.

“Sen. Gillibrand has been a strong advocate for the people of New York and I am confident she will continue to serve our state well and bring a new vision to Washington,” said state Senate President Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans).

“The senator appreciates the strong coalition of support in Queens and across the state,” said Gillibrand spokeswoman Angie Hu in a statement. “She has been traveling to every county in New York, meeting with workers and businesses, and working to create jobs and make health care more affordable.”

When asked if Ford is meeting with elected officials from southeast Queens, an adviser to the former Tennessee congressman said as Ford decides whether to run, “he’ll be meeting with people throughout the state.”

The adviser criticized “party bosses” in the state for blocking opposition to Gillibrand.

Among those initially thinking of running against Gillibrand was U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria), but Maloney backed off.

Those looking to clear opposition to Gillibrand stretched from U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to the White House.

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), who served with Ford in the House of Representatives, has been an early supporter of Gillibrand, according to a Meeks spokeswoman.

It was unclear who the Rev. Floyd Flake, a former congressman and the influential minister of the Allen A.M.E. Church in Jamaica, is backing.

A woman who answered the phone at the church said Flake was unavailable for comment.

Ford made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee in 2006. He then moved to New York to work in the banking industry.

Outside of southeast Queens, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), chairman of the Queens Democratic Party, said he is backing Gillibrand, although he noted that the Democratic Party in the borough has not made a decision on the race.

“This is something we’ll take up in May. It’s not something we’ll do right now,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a lot of politics between now and then that will take place. We’ll see what develops.”

When asked if Gillibrand was dedicated enough to Queens, Crowley said, “I think she’s certainly mindful of us and I think she’s expressed her desire to be helpful in any way she can. It’s a major undertaking [running for re-election], it’s a big state and there are a lot of issues at play right now.”

“It’s my hope that between now and the time to make a decision as a party in Queens County, that she’ll have done all the work she needed to do to obtain that support.”

Like Meeks, Crowley was also a colleague of Ford’s in the House.

“I know Harold very well, he’s a good friend .... I know his dedication to public service. New York’s a big state, but it’s not clear to me yet whether or not he’ll be in the race.”

Gillibrand, a former congresswoman representing Albany, was handpicked by Gov. David Paterson for the Senate seat after former U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton was chosen as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state last year.

Paterson was criticized for his handling of who to name to Clinton’s seat, which was a drawn-out process that included allegations that his aides planted inaccurate reasons in the press for why Caroline Kennedy withdrew her interest in the seat.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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