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early and often

Candidates for Manhattan D.A. Breathlessly Await Times Endorsement

Leslie Crocker Snyder, Cyrus Vance Jr., Richard Aborn.

In races where no voter seems to know any of the candidates, and what the candidates stand for all sounds the same, the endorsement of the New York Times can be seen as a tipping point, and the candidate who may well need the Times endorsement the most this primary season is the person who wants to succeed Bob Morgenthau.

Manhattan D.A. is a hugely powerful office, and with the exception of the New York Daily News, no media outlet has put a reporter on the race full-time, leaving most coverage at drips and drabs on the blogs and candidate leaflets. Last week, all of the candidates met with the Times editorial board, and now their aides are waiting for the final verdict. The endorsement could come as early as tomorrow. Or next week. Or the week after that. Times endorsements are famously unpredictable — in terms of timing and results.

To wit: a quick handicapper's guide.

Leslie Crocker Snyder
The endorsement is Snyder's to lose — and there's good reason to believe she's already blown it. When Snyder was running against Morgenthau in 2005, the Times grudgingly endorsed her, writing that certain parts of Snyder's résumé "give us pause," and they held their noses over her "worrisome fondness for publicity." How will the board rationalize Snyder's about-face on an issue as controversial as the death penalty? (She was for, now against.) But what might bug the Times even more is Snyder's use of that 2005 endorsement's glowing language in her recent campaign literature. All candidates prune, but Snyder’s selectivity before this year’s endorsement could be perceived by the board as cute. Too cute.

Cyrus Vance Jr.
Vance has a connection to the Times that has yet to become an issue: For many years, his father, Cyrus Vance Sr. (Jimmy Carter's secretary of State), was on the newspaper's board of directors, along with a host of other influential people. Naturally, some aides to Vance's competitors worry that Vance's family ties to the Gray Lady give him the edge. Or do they? By picking Vance, who (fair or not) owes his modicum of celebrity and name recognition to his father, the Times could be seen (fairly or not) as endorsing the old-boys thing.

Richard Aborn
So far, Aborn has racked up more endorsements from elected officials than the others in the race, and he's done so with the least amount of name recognition and a late start to fund-raising. He even secured the endorsement of a wrongfully convicted man that Leslie Crocker Snyder helped between her campaigns.

Aborn's problem is his inconsistent courtroom presence — over the years he's strayed somewhat from work as a trial lawyer and gravitated toward the roles of a gun-control advocate and consultant to police departments. And then there are his overall chances of winning — in recent polls, nobody seems to know who he is. (Then again, the same polls also show that nobody really knows who any of the candidates are.) Finally, Aborn isn't a traditional Times man. His alma mater (the University of Dubuque — it's somewhere in Iowa) ain't exactly Harvard or Yale.

Yet that's also what the Times might like about him. He represents that work-hard-and-anything-can-happen attitude New Yorkers call on to reinvent themselves. But most of all, Aborn gives the Times something else to vote for: namely, a way out of having to decide between the other two.

Update: This just in! In a statement, Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty says, "We don't comment on what endorsements we may or may not plan to make." So is the newspaper thinking about punting on the D.A.'s race? The befuddlement continues ...

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Photo: Getty Images (Snyder), Patrick McMullan