Former Republican U.S. Rep. John E. Sweeney has joined Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as an attorney and delegate selection advisor.
Sweeney said he is doing election law compliance work for the New York businessman’s campaign ahead of Tuesday’s highly contested GOP primary.
“I’m their New York counsel,” he said Thursday. “In the campaign you do what you’re asked, and I’m doing compliance work.”
After the primary, Sweeney, who lives in Clifton Park, expects to continue with the campaign, helping with delegate selection as the Trump campaign heads toward a potentially contested convention in Cleveland in July.
Political observers believe there’s a strong chance of a contested convention, given recent caucus wins by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and antipathy to Trump from much of the Republican political establishment.
Trump currently has 743 pledged delegates, and Cruz has 545, with 854 still to be selected. A candidate will need 1,237 pledged delegates to succeed on the first ballot, preventing a floor fight.
There are 95 delegates at stake in New York on Tuesday, and a strong performance could help Trump secure the nomination.
“Tuesday is a very significant day in the [candidate] selection process, and we intend to do well,” he said in a phone interview with The Daily Gazette.
With chances for an open convention high, delegate selection will be critically important, because if Trump doesn’t win on the first ballot, many of the individuals selected as delegates will be free to switch to other candidates.
“It’s very important for the Trump campaign to be on top of the delegate selection process,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney served in Congress from 1999 to 2006, representing a mostly rural district that included Saratoga County and stretched to the Canadian border.
But before his congressional service, Sweeney had a long history as a Republican political operative. He brings that practical knowledge to the Trump campaign, which has been criticized for its lack of insider acumen.
While in Congress, Sweeney played an active role for George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida, and Bush affectionately dubbed him “Congressman Kick-Ass.”
Sweeney attended Monday’s enormous Trump rally at the Times Union Center and plans to travel to a rally today in Plattsburgh, but said his work for the campaign is mostly in Albany, “making sure i’s are dotted and t’s crossed.”
Sweeney, 60, was once seen as a rising star in the Republican party with the potential for running for statewide office, but his career was derailed by alcohol.
He was defeated by Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand in 2006 following reports about drinking-fueled erratic behavior and a domestic violence incident. He was arrested twice on drunken driving charges after he left office. He served a 16-day stint in jail after the second arrest in 2010. He also performed community service as part of his sentence.
Working with the Rev. Peter Young’s treatment organization in Altamont, Sweeney became sober, and last week marked seven years of sobriety.
In recent years, Sweeney has worked as an election law attorney on behalf of Republican candidates in the Albany area, handling compliance, ballot disputes that go to court, and other election matters.
He was previously counsel to the Tully Rinckey law firm in Albany, and is now self-employed.