Local Party Bosses Will Be Kingmakers for Weiner Replacement

The political jockeying has begun to fill the Congressional seat vacated by Anthony Weiner in New York’s Ninth Congressional District.

As word spread that Weiner was planning to announce his resignation amid a scandal, the cell phone belonging to Queens County Republican chairman Phil Regusa was ringing non-stop.

"Shut your phone off," his wife told him by mid-morning Thursday.

Regusa and Kings County Republican Chairman Craig Eton will be kingmakers if Governor Andrew Cuomo calls a special election to fill the seat, which is widely expected for later in the fall. In special elections, there are no primaries and parties choose their candidates according to their rules.

The ninth district stretches between two counties, so for both Democrats and Republicans, that means the county party chairs will select the candidate.

Regusa said he's already heard from about a half dozen interested candidates, "some credible." Likely Republican contenders include Queens Councilman Eric Ulrich and businessman Bob Turner, who ran against Weiner in 2010.

And while the district has long been held by Democrats, Regusa said the cloud of Weiner's bad behavior and the demographics of the district could work in the Republicans' favor.

"It's contestable," he said.

Of course, a candidate's victory could be all for naught because this seat could become a target for redistricting — and that could effect how much of a fight Democrats opt to put up.

At a time when New York district boundaries are being redrawn to eliminate two seats statewide, incumbent Democrats that neighbor Weiner's former district don't necessarily want competition from a strong candidate who will already benefit from the national spotlight of a special election.

Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf said he will be watching to see if the Democratic county chairs opt to tap a contender with a proven fundraising record, or a less flashy choice.

"You'll know whether that seat survives in some form by who the bosses choose, and whether that's a real candidate or not. It could just be a caretaker,” he said.

Among the Democratic names floated are Queens Councilman Mark Weprin, former Councilwoman Melinda Katz, former Councilman Eric Gioia, and Assemblyman Rory Lancman.

But Sheinkopf said if the Democrats opt to go with a party loyalist who can just keep the seat warm until the district is carved out of existence, he expects there will plenty of people interested.

"There are just people in the world who would love to be called Congressman or Congresswoman," he said. "That's a pretty heady feeling, even for a year and a half, most people never get the chance to think about it."