Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
New York Democrats are lining up to fill Anthony Weiner's seat in the 9th District special election, which is scheduled to take place later this year. But there's more for party bosses to consider than just who makes the strongest candidate.
Normally each party would put their best foot forward, hoping to retain or steal the district and hold on to it for as long as they can. But it's a redistricting year, and in 2012 there might not be a 9th Congressional District to run for—at least not as we know it today.
Do Democrats want to run the best possible candidate, then? If Weiner's district gets drawn out of existence as expected, could an ambitious freshman Democrat, originally intended to be a placeholder, end up challenging one of his neighbors for their seat next year? Alternately, what if the special election takes a Democrat away from an office that's more heavily contested by Republicans?
A lot of names are being kicked around on the Left: Assemblyman Rory Lancman, Judge Noach Dear, City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, State Senator Jose Peralta, Councilman Mark Weprin and Assemblyman David Weprin, his brother. There's also been speculation around former City Council members Eric Gioia and Melinda Katz, as well as Lynn Schulman, who narrowly lost election to City Council in 2009.
In accordance with special election rules, Queens Democratic Chairman Joe Crowley, who also represents New York's 7th Congressional District, will have the final say in which candidate his party puts forward. Chris Bragg of City Hall News reports that Crowley's ideal candidate is "an older statesman without long-term ambitions," one who wouldn't "potentially run against Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY5) or, especially, against Crowley himself if the district were eliminated."
That could be one of the Weprins. Both have enjoyed medium-length political careers, and both are entrenched enough in New York State politics (they followed their father Saul into the Assembly) that they'd have more luck finding office upon returning from the federal government. There's also little evidence that they're all that interested in national politics, meaning they might not run again in 2012.
But George Arzt, a veteran New York political consultant, dismissed the notion that future challenges to his own seat were a consideration for Crowley. "It is difficult to believe that a freshman can make that much of an impression in one year," said Arzt. "I don't think there's any such fear."
Rory Lancman, Elizabeth Crowley (Joseph Crowley's cousin), and Jose Peralta only have 14 years of experience in office combined. Crowley has been in politics since 1987.
According to Arzt, the most desirable candidate for Joe Crowley is probably one that's currently unemployed in politics.
"I think he would likely be looking for a person who is not holding a legislative position at the moment," Arzt said. "It's a cleaner selection. You don't have to worry about filling another seat."
Former legislators could be particularly attractive, and there are no shortage of names to choose from.
There's Eric Gioia, who worked his way through NYU as a janitor before going on to Georgetown for law school. Then he worked in the White House under Bill Clinton, and tried to get Al Gore elected in 2000. This was all before becoming a City Council member in 2002. Citing his opposition to extended term limits, Gioia bowed out of running for re-election in 2009.
It's been reported that Lynn Schulman, who only lost by a handful of votes in a six-way race for City Council in 2009, has been approached by the Queens Democratic party.
Melinda Katz lost to Weiner in the Democratic congressional primary in 1998. She served on the New York State Assembly and then the New York City Council until 2009, when she made an unsuccessful run for Comptroller.
Judge Noach Dear enjoyed a 20-year career as a City Councilman before becoming a New York State Civil Court Judge, and he hasn't held office in over a decade. Along with Melinda Katz, he ran for the Democratic congressional nomination in 1998, ultimately losing to Anthony Weiner.
George Arzt went on to say that Joseph Crowley's choice would be at least in part motivated by a desire to remove the taint of Weiner's tenure. Nominating a woman to replace a congressman disgraced by a sexting scandal might be just the way to do that.
Republicans have it much simpler: run the person with the best chance of winning. It would be the GOP's first foothold in these boroughs, and give Washington Republicans more motivation to preserve the seat, using it as a base from which to build support in a sea of traditionally Democratic districts.
Some have noted that this gives an immediate campaign advantage to the GOP. They can frame this race as one the Republican candidate is actually trying to win for the district, whereas the Democratic candidate just wants to keep the seat warm.
City Councilman Eric Ulrich has been brought up as a contender, as well as Bob Turner, a Republican who lost to Weiner in last year's election.
Granted, there are 150,000 more registered Democrats in the district than there are Republicans, but that doesn't mean the GOP candidate won't have a chance. "Turner got 40 percent of the vote [last year], which is pretty good for a Republican," George Arzt said. "I think in a general election they would have a real shot."
Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the date for this year's election will be September 13th.