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Former Mass. governor wants to 'earn' that title in N.Y.

NANUET, N.Y. -- Former Massachusetts governor William F. Weld said yesterday that he doesn't want to be addressed as ''Governor Weld" anymore -- unless he wins New York's gubernatorial election next year.

''I plan to run as 'Mister,' if I can make that stick, to emphasize that I've got to earn this," he said after his first meeting with state Republican party officials vetting the candidates.

Weld said his closed-door session with state GOP chairman Stephen Minarik and several county chairs at a Rockland County hotel was ''low-key." But Minarik and Erie County chairman Robert Davis were enthusiastic.

''The chairmen were very impressed," Davis said.

Minarik, asked whether Weld had hit a home run, said, ''I consider it to be at least a triple." He called Weld ''an outstanding candidate for governor."

Half a dozen other potential candidates were interviewed, as were all the GOP candidates for US Senate. But most of the attention was on Weld, who announced last month that 16 years after he was first elected in Massachusetts, he would seek the same office in his native New York, where incumbent Republican George E. Pataki is not seeking a fourth term.

Weld said the party chairs asked him about his positions on several issues, and he responded that his support for abortion rights was ''not everybody's dish of tea."

But he told them he also favors a ban on late-term abortions; sees no need to reinstate the prohibition on assault weapons; and although he supports ''100 percent equality of rights," does not favor gay marriage because the idea offends many New Yorkers.

The Republican nominee is expected to face state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat. In the most recent poll, Spitzer led Weld 56 percent to 19 percent.

Weld said he talked about campaign strategy with the Republican leaders, but he and Minarik refused to discuss it with reporters.

For the Senate nomination, the Republicans interviewed tax attorney William Brenner; Edward Cox, a lawyer and the son-in-law of Richard Nixon; Westchester's district attorney, Jeanine Pirro; and former Yonkers mayor John Spencer. Cox warned that the GOP could face a ''disaster" unless he is the nominee because, he said, he is the only Republican who could win the Conservative Party nomination. Most Republican leaders acknowledge that the Conservative line is essential because Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats.

Pirro, who won the most praise from Minarik and Davis, said she has had Conservative backing in previous races and expects it again.

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