ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – When Hillary Rodham Clinton, an Illinois native then living in the White House, wanted to run for Senate in New York, she launched her now famous listening tour across the state.

Six years later, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld wants to become governor of his native New York but has a different spin on the “listening tour” concept. He’s planning a road trip to chop down some trees.

Weld told The Associated Press his formal campaigning for the 2006 Republican nomination will include a visit with regional GOP leaders Sept. 8 in Rockland County, the third such meet-the-candidates session staged by the state party. More sessions will follow.

The millionaire lawyer and private equity investment company partner said, “My hope is to be able to tie up enough of the business loose ends so my bride and I can hop in a car and tour some of the upstate counties after that – meet a few people, pick a few apples, let my bride chop down a few trees.”

Trees?

“She’s much handier with a broad ax than I am,” Weld explained. “When she graduated from Bryn Mawr (College), she moved to the woods in West Virginia and literally built herself a log cabin with a chain saw and a broad ax.”

Weld’s bride is writer-editor Leslie Marshall. The two were married in 2003. He had officially separated from his first wife of 25 years after moving back to New York in 2000.

Weld, 60, is no stranger to New York. He grew up on Long Island, the scion of a wealthy family. He spent his boyhood summers – and still does – at a family compound near Keene in the Adirondack Mountains.

Independent pollster Lee Miringoff said it makes sense for Weld to head out to traditionally Republican upstate New York “for the equivalent of a listening tour, without labeling it as such.”

“Part of his political need is to bridge the gap as a Republican with his upstate base, which may be more conservative than he is,” said Miringoff, head of Marist College’s Institute for Public Opinion.

Miringoff said Weld must “put down his anchor in New York in a contemporary way,” but also said “he does come with a political resume. He will create a stir in the communities he visits.”

Weld is used to causing a ripple. He once dove, fully clothed into Boston’s Charles River, to show how clean it was.

“He’s better than charismatic, he’s quirky,” said former aide John Stimpson who “there holding the towel” at the Charles River.

A host of other Republicans have also expressed an interest in the nomination. And, billionaire businessman B. Thomas Golisano, the three-time losing gubernatorial candidate of the Independence Party, told the AP he may seek the GOP nomination.

“The party is much stronger in New York than it was in Massachusetts,” Weld said. “In Massachusetts, there were always primaries and that’s not always the case here.”

In 2002, Golisano spent $75 million of his own money and finished a distant third. Republican Gov. George Pataki, who announced in late July he would not seek a fourth, four-year term, spent $45 million to win easily.

Weld hopes to get the blessing of the 6-foot-5 Pataki and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

“I’m hopeful, but you don’t know until the tall, thin man sings,” he said of a Pataki endorsement. Of Giuliani, he said: “I talk to him all the time and we’ve always supported each other for whatever we’ve run for, but I don’t want to get out in front of anything.”

Weld told the AP last week, in his first extensive interview since announcing Aug. 19 that he would run for governor, he expected he could raise the $40 million to $75 million needed for the race.

He must also worry, however, about the Conservative Party. No Republican running for statewide office in New York has won since 1974 without Conservative Party backing.

Michael Long, the state Conservative Party chairman, said he is concerned about Weld’s past support for abortion and gay rights.

“I believe it’s quite a hurdle for him to climb over,” Long said.

Nonetheless, Long said he was talking to Weld and “won’t shut the door on him.”

Weld noted that Pataki has also favored abortion and gay rights, and run consistently with Conservative Party support. Weld said he parts company with Pataki on the current governor’s push for tough gun-control laws.

And, while Weld urged Massachusetts lawmakers last year to accept same-sex marriage, and even offered the homily at a subsequent gay marriage in the Bay State of two friends, he told the AP, “I’m not for gay marriage.”

Weld said he believed accepting same-sex marriage was the only way the legislature could legally deal with a ruling by that state’s top court. He said he participated in the marriage ceremony because “that’s personal friendship. That’s not a public official’s position.”

Only one person in U.S. history has been governor of two states. Sam Houston was governor of Tennessee from 1827 to 1829 and Texas from 1859 to 1861.

State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is the only announced Democratic candidate for governor.

Weld was elected governor of Massachusetts in 1990 and easily re-elected in 1994. He lost a U.S. Senate race to Democratic incumbent John Kerry in 1996. Weld resigned as governor in 1997 when then-President Clinton nominated him to become U.S. ambassador to Mexico. The nomination was eventually blocked in the Senate.


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