Share this article

print logo

If Hillary wins, who fills Senate seat?

Charge it up to the standard quirks of New York politics that although a coveted Senate seat could be suddenly vacated only a year from now -- Hillary Rodham Clinton's -- no Democrat is making a move for it.

Stranger still is that no Republican seems to be positioning himself or herself for it, now that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a declared "unaffiliated."

Clinton's the favorite to be the Democratic presidential nominee, given her treasury and organization, in spite of surges by rivals in some early primary states. And current polls show Americans want fundamental change in the White House.

So, if she were elected Nov. 4, 2008, Clinton would have a window of two and a half months before her inauguration Jan. 20, 2009 to technically vacate the job.

These ten weeks would give her forces time to negotiate with Democratic Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer about whom he would appoint to succeed her. The timing also would influence when that appointee would have to stand for his or her own election. It would probably be November, 2010, for an unexpired term ending in 2012.

Among upstate House Democrats, Buffalo's Rep. Brian Higgins could be in the strongest position to be tapped by both Clinton and Spitzer. He stands well with both.

At the moment, Higgins does not have the money to run statewide.

He has nothing to compare with the cash Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., had when he was a congressman from Brooklyn. At the end of 1996, Schumer had $5 million in hand -- 10 times what he needed to run for the House -- two years before he ran in 1998 against then Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-L.I.

Higgins has $400,000 in his campaign account.

Schumer had also drawn statewide media attention as a House member by helping pass the assault weapons ban and favoring better service for upstate air travelers.

Clinton's vacancy would be only the second mid-term vacancy to occur in New York in more than a half century. The last was when a bullet ended the term of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Democrat, in June, 1968.

Kennedy's assassination in San Francisco created a political mess in New York that lasted almost a decade.

Then Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, Republican, willfully named a little-known Republican congressman from Jamestown, Charles E. Goodell, to replace the world-renowned Kennedy. Rockefeller, who was feuding with GOP presidential nominee Richard M. Nixon, liked Goodell because he was a liberal.

Goodell earned the enmity of New York's conservatives by goading Nixon on his Vietnam war policies, and he was unseated in 1970 by James L. Buckley, Conservative, the sole third-party candidate to serve in the Senate in the 20th century.

Buckley was defeated in 1976 by Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, after messy preliminaries in both major parties. Sen. Goodell was the father of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who has drawn statewide notoriety by outing Spitzer's aides in "Troopergate" and national attention from his work on student loans, appears the best positioned Democrat to win election to the Senate, if he wanted it. He has about $1.5 million left over from his campaign.

Others who might consider entering a Democratic primary fight include Mark Green, former New York City advocate; Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney of Queens and Rep. Steve Israel, Long Island.

But if the past is prologue, any vacancy created by Clinton in New York is apt to draw the ardor of a celebrity on the level of Bobby Kennedy, Moynihan or Hillary who could pull in free media and raise money quickly. That includes Bloomberg, who already has media and money -- enough money to create his own political party.


There are no comments - be the first to comment